Last night, Shirley Williams spoke at the East Dunbartonshire Liberal Democrats’ Annual Dinner. Someone has slipped us a copy of her speech. She joins David Bowie in calling for Scotland to stay within the UK but had a little more substance to her argument. She made the point that both Scotland and the rest of the UK lose out if we leave. She talked of the opportunities Scotland’s had and the contributions its politicians have made internationally. Here is her speech in full:
It is a privilege for me to be asked to speak at your annual Liberal Democrat dinner, a privilege not just to be here in Scotland when the huge question of your future is being discussed, but also because you have an outstanding young MP in Jo Swinson, widely recognised as a rising star and now a mother as well.
She holds her constituency, as you know, by a very narrow margin. She is already one of the most respected women in Parliament. And for me, after fifty years in politics – I was first elected in 1964 – it is marvellous to see the emergence of a new young generation of women MPs. In the devolved parliaments of Scotland and Wales, a much higher proportion of members are women than is the case in Westminster.
That is also true of the European Parliament. Once again Scotland has been one of those leading the way.
Jo and her husband Duncan are Liberal Democrats, and as such within the coalition have consistently fought for a fairer and freer United Kingdom. They have supported the drive to take the poorest in our society out of tax; hundreds of thousands on low incomes no longer pay income tax.
The NHS now makes the wellbeing of patients its highest priority. And Liberal Democrats are perpetual guardians of civil liberties, amending laws to make sure our freedoms are protected.
Now you are engaged in a crucial debate about the future of your country, and inevitably the future of the United Kingdom of which you are a vital part.
This evening I want to talk about some of the issues you have to confront. But I also want to talk about why, as a citizen of the United Kingdom who is not a Scot, I have found Scotland and its people an inspiration ever since, as a young woman, I first scrambled up the Trossachs, Ben Ledi, Suilven and the Cuillins.
Let me begin with the issues – and they cannot be easily dismissed. Scotland’s First Minister, Mr Salmond, has repeatedly said that a Scotland outside the United Kingdom would want to be a full member of the European Union. I agree with him. Leaving the European Union which has extended democracy and the rule of law far beyond our shores, which has become a magnet of hope to the people of troubled European countries like Ukraine and Georgia, and which above all has established in western Europe a zone of peace for the last sixty years, would be an act of lunacy.
But the European Union has developed its own rules, and expects them to be respected. Among the rules are those regarding membership. Scotland, seeking membership as a separate nation, would have to accept them, or at the very least, negotiate any change in them.
At meetings of the European Council, where the governments of all twenty-eight EU members are represented, two conditions have been laid down for new members in addition to the Copenhagen principles regarding democracy and the rule of law. The first was that any new members would be obliged to accept the Schengen agreement which removes border restrictions on the movement of people and goods within the European Union. The second is membership of the eurozone, the currency area which uses the Euro. The United Kingdom is not a member of either, and negotiated an opt-out from both.
An independent Scotland would have to either accept these conditions of EU membership, or seek its own opt-out which would not be easy to obtain. Among our fellow members, there is growing resistance to any more opt-outs in a single market seeking further integration.
What would accepting these conditions mean? The Schengen agreement would require Scotland to establish controls along its border with England. Hadrian’s Wall would, at least in the bureaucratic sense, be re-established along the Cheviots.
The Eurozone requirement would mean a separate currency. Creating that separate currency alongside a currency union with the rest of the United Kingdom would be very complicated and probably expensive. Whether or not it is attainable is surely something that should be explored during the current debate.
Alistair Darling, the chair of the Better Together campaign, has pointed out that the Royal Bank of Scotland was bailed out of its financial crisis in 2009 by the Bank of England. Its debts were such that bailing it out would, he says, have bankrupted an independent Scotland. The Eurozone has had to bail out several of its members, in particular Greece and Italy, mainly because Germany has been willing to pay. But it has done so on pretty stringent conditions, not least reductions in public expenditure and serious restructuring of banks and the national taxation systems. Scotland would face similar requirements were its banks again to need help.
Let me turn to a different subject but one that deserves discussion. In his response of February 17 to the speech made by David Cameron on February 7 as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Mr Salmond, the First Minister, referred repeatedly to “ the Westminster establishment”. I was interested in what he meant by his use of the term. I assume it was something other than the obvious point that Westminster is the site of the UK Parliament.
After all Parliament, from Prime Ministers to Cabinet Ministers, officials and MPs’ staff, is drawn from all parts of the United Kingdom. There have been Scottish Prime Ministers, both before and since the Second World War, and many Cabinet Ministers from Scotland, often in senior positions. So Mr Salmond cannot have been speaking simply of geography.
Perhaps he had in mind a group of men (and a few women) who share common values and common objectives. But that won’t quite do either. If I take the most contentious issue in recent British politics, the war on Iraq, I am proud, as then the LibDem leader in the House of Lords, of sharing the passionate opposition to it and its disastrous aftermath with our inspiring Party Leader in the House of Commons, Charles Kennedy, and his wise successor Sir Menzies Campbell. I honour too the then Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, one of only two senior Cabinet members to resign (the other was English).
I still remember the rumble of approval from the people who lined the street outside St Giles Cathedral when his funeral cortege passed.
Scotland has a global vision. It belongs to the world and must remain part of it. I can remember the excitement generated at the one European Council to be held in Scotland in 1992, when the churches and meeting rooms of Edinburgh were opened to a great civic debate on the European Union, one in which Jacques Delors, then President of the Commission took an active part. From the Edinburgh Festival to the international reputation of Scottish composers and choreographers like Kenneth Macmillan, from the great artists and poets , the engineers and doctors, the missionaries and scholars, Scotland has always moved out from its borders to embrace the wider world.
I believe a separate Scotland would be a diminished Scotland and would leave behind it a diminished United Kingdom.