The air in Scotland hangs heavy with history. Edinburgh’s cityscape is studded with monuments to memories. Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson, John Knox: they all compete for our attention. In Dundee, Captain Scott’s Discovery lies at anchor. In Aberdeen, King’s and Marischal Colleges remind us of a time when the Granite City had as many universities for its citizens as England had for all of hers. And while the hauntingly empty acres of the Highlands stand in mute memorial to the injustices visited on the victims of the clearances, Glasgow’s magnificent architecture and art galleries remind us of the mercantile greatness of the Empire’s second city.
For politicians north and south of the border, however, there is a danger of living in the past when thinking of Scotland. That is partly because its history is populated so thickly with great men and women who we might want to conscript for our contemporary battles. Those of us on the centre right will pray in aid of Adam Smith and David Hume: economic liberals and philosophical conservatives whose enlightenment thought laid the basis for later political action. On the left, the examples of James Maxton and Keir Hardie can still inspire class strugglers to one more heave.
This has been a pioneering country all its life: as a home of learning in medieval times; a nursery of literacy and learning at the time of the Reformation; a champion of liberty in the Enlightenment; the turbine hall of the Industrial Revolution; a recruiting ground for freedom’s fighters in two World Wars; the birthplace of John Reith, who gave us public service broadcasting; and as a powerful contributor to the last 25 years of economic growth. Scotland has so much of which to be proud and one of the reasons that we are tempted to look backwards is precisely because Scotland – as a nation and as part of the United Kingdom for over 300 years – has achieved so much.
But proud as that past and present are, I am convinced that both for Scotland and for the United Kingdom, our best days lie ahead of us. And that even though it may be a great historical construct, the United Kingdom is actually even more of an inspiring model for the future. Think of the key challenges of our times. There are the risks and opportunities of globalisation, with populations moving, cultures clashing, new routes to prosperity, and there is the impact of increasing economic competition from the new economic powerhouses of the world. I believe the United Kingdom has the answer to both of those challenges.
So I come here today with one simple message: I hope and wish that Scotland will vote to remain part of the United Kingdom. That is not because I want to dragoon Scotland into an arrangement that is in my interest or, frankly, in my Party’s interests. I know that the Conservative Party is not currently – how can I put this – Scotland’s most influential political movement. I am often reminded that I have been more successful in helping to get pandas into the zoo than Conservative MPs elected in Scotland.
So more than a little humility is called for when any contemporary Tory speaks in Scotland. In fact, some say it might be wiser not to speak at all. As well as avoiding any criticism from the press – or politicians from other Parties for ‘interfering’ – it might be thought wise of me to just let Scotland, in every sense, go its own way. And some people – not all of them Conservatives – have suggested that an independent Scotland might make it easier for my Party to get a majority in Westminster. But that does not interest me.
It is time to speak out – whatever the consequences – because something very special is in danger: the ties that bind us in the place that we call home. The danger comes from the determination of the Scottish National Party to remove Scotland from our shared home.
Now it is absolutely right that since the SNP won the Scottish elections, they should be able to determine the business of the Scottish Parliament and the agenda of the Scottish Government. They want to put the question of independence to the Scottish people and their ultimate ambition is clear: they want Scotland to leave the United Kingdom. And it is right too that the choice over independence should be for the Scottish people to make. But that choice should not be made – with its consequences for all of us – without explaining why I believe in the United Kingdom, and why it matters to so many of us.
From Waterloo to the Second World War, our servicemen and women have fought and won together. The liberation of Europe was a battle fought to the skirl of the pipes, as Lord Lovat’s Highlanders were among the first ashore on D-Day in the battle to defeat Hitler. Your heroes are our heroes. Men like Robert Dunsire, who – twice in one day – crawled out of the trench facing a hail of bullets to rescue injured men at the Battle of Loos in the First World War. And Lance Corporal Liam Tasker: the dog handler who helped save so many lives in Afghanistan before tragically himself being shot.
So of course I am happy – as I have said – to look at issues of devolution. I am sure there will be a debate after an independence referendum, if the answer to independence was no, but I hope we would not lose the solidarity that we have in our United Kingdom.
As for the fact that I am English, that I had a privileged upbringing and that I might annoy people by making a speech in Scotland; all I can say is this is what I believe – this is what I think – I care about our United Kingdom. People often say to me, ‘Do you know what, it would be much easier to be Prime Minister of England?’ My answer to that is, ‘I am not interested, I don’t care; that is not the job I want’. I want to have a United Kingdom where we all bring to the whole so much more than we would be separate.
That is what the United Kingdom stands for: common endeavour; being part of something bigger; a greater Britain which believes in the virtues of sharing, of standing together; and of making a difference for our fellow citizens; those things guide our every action. And if anything is worth fighting for, that surely is, which is why I am ready to fight for the life of this country.