Theresa May today warned she is ready for a showdown with the SNP over the return of post-Brexit powers to protect the “integrity” of the UK at the Scottish Conservative conference in Glasgow today.
The Prime Minister also set out plans for a sea-change in the way devolution works with a new “collective responsibility” which will see UK ministers seek greater collaboration where SNP minisxters at Holyrood have responsibility.
But she was accused of “mind-boggling hypocrisy” by the SNP which claimed that the Tories’ “constitutional obsession” is threatening Scottish jobs and livelihoods.
Mrs May issued a rallying call for the union insisting the “case has never been stronger” during an address to delegates at the Scottish Conservative conference in Glasgow today.
The case for independence “simply does not add up”, Mrs May said, in her address as she launched a withering attack on the case for separation. Nicola Sturgeon has warned a second referendum is now “highly likely” after the Brexit vote last year saw a majority of Scots vote to Remain, but the weight of votes south of the border swung the vote in favour of Remain.
The SNP has demanded that Scotland is handed full powers over areas like fishing and agriculture when these are returned from Brussels, with these areas already administered by Holyrood.
But Mrs May warned today that she will ensure the “right powers sit at the right level” to ensure our United Kingdom can operate effectively.
“We must avoid any unintended consequences for the coherence and integrity of a devolved United Kingdom as a result of our leaving the EU,” she added.
“As I have made clear repeatedly, no decisions currently taken by the Scottish Parliament will be removed from them. While the SNP propose that decision-making should remain in Brussels, we will use the opportunity of Brexit to ensure that more decisions are devolved back into the hands of the Scottish people.”
“Unlike any of the individual devolved administrations, the United Kingdom Parliament is elected by the whole UK, and the UK Government serves the whole UK. That places on us a unique responsibility to preserve the integrity and future viability of the United Kingdom, which we will not shirk.”
Mrs May also set out plans for a new era of ‘collective responsibility’ across the United Kingdom, which “unites all layers of government” to work positively together to improve the lives of everyone in our country.
She added: “As the Government serving the whole United Kingdom, formed in a Parliament drawn from the whole United Kingdom, the UK Government exercises a responsibility on behalf of the whole UK that transcends party politics and encompasses all aspects of our national life.
“While fully respecting, and indeed strengthening, the devolution settlements and the devolved administrations across the UK, we must unashamedly assert this fundamental responsibility on our part.”
“So in those reserved policy areas where we govern directly for the whole United Kingdom, we will explicitly look to the interests of the Union – both the parts and the whole – in our policy-making.
“And in policy areas where responsibilities are devolved, we will look for ways to collaborate and work together with the devolved administrations to improve the outcomes for everyone.”
The Prime Minister accused the SNP of “twisting the truth and distorting the reality” to talk down the union and promote independence.
She added: “We need to be equally determined to ensure that the truth about our United Kingdom is heard loudly and clearly. As Britain leaves the European Union and we forge a new role for ourselves in the world, the strength and stability of our Union will become even more important.
“We must take this opportunity to bring our United Kingdom closer together. Because the Union which we all care about is not simply a constitutional artefact. It is a union of people, affections and loyalties.”
The Prime Minister also lambasted the SNP over its “failure” in office at Holyrood in areas such as education, the health service, farm payments and tax policy.
Mrs May said: “People in Scotland deserve a First Minister who is focused on their priorities – raising standards in education, taking care of the health service, reforming criminal justice, helping the economy prosper, improving people’s lives.
“Instead, they have an SNP Government obsessed with its own priority of independence, using the mechanisms of devolved government to further its political aims and all the while neglecting and mismanaging public services in Scotland.”
But SNP Deputy leader Angus Robertson said: “This was an ironic, hypocritical and surreal speech from Theresa May, who before the EU referendum supported a campaign warning that leaving Europe would be a disaster, but is now determined to pull us over the cliff edge of an economically catastrophic hard Brexit.
“Theresa May is guilty of mind-boggling hypocrisy – it is her government’s constitutional obsession with a hard Brexit which is directly threatening Scottish jobs and livelihoods.
“In those circumstances, we have a duty to stand up for Scotland, and to have a plan in place to protect our vital national interests.
“And the Scottish Government has a cast-iron democratic mandate for an independence referendum if that is the chosen route to protect those interests. It was a specific manifesto commitment on which the SNP was re-elected just 10 months ago.”
He added: “The Prime Minister’s claim the UK is a family of nations rings especially hollow, when the Scottish Government’s genuine offer of compromise has been repeatedly rebuffed and ignored.”