Friday, 15 July 2016

Keep the United Kingdom together

Theresa May has decided to make her first official visit as Prime Minister to Scotland, to hold talks with Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister. The new PM has said she wants to maintain the union, but Scotland's First Minister is already preparing for a second referendum on independence - and after the Brexit vote, Nicola Sturgeon could well win.

Can Theresa May do anything to reverse the renewed support in Scotland for independence? We suggest there are now two main factors driving the desire for independence in Scotland, which both need to be addressed if we are to keep the United Kingdom together.

First, there is a long-standing mismatch between the political values in Scotland and the majority of England - resulting in a Tory government that Scotland did not vote for. Understandably, Scots do not want to be "ruled from London" and that is why devolution has been so important and needs to go further, to deliver on all the promises made before the last Scottish referendum. But devolution on its own can never be enough if Westminster continues to be at odds with the views of the majority of Scots.

That's a problem for England and Wales to solve. It's not impossible: if we can form a consensus in favour of more liberal and social democratic values. However, while it is still too early to say Theresa May's new government will be unable to move significantly in that direction, the chances are not good.

Secondly, while England and Wales voted to leave the EU, Scotland (and Northern Ireland) voted to stay. The 48 Movement can understand Scotland's strong desire to stay in the EU - we share it. Nonetheless, Brexit is almost certainly going to happen; but Scotland has an alternative, and that alternative must be looking very appealing right now.

The only way the anguish at being forced to leave the EU against the will of the Scottish people can be reduced is if we get the best possible version of Brexit. That does not simply mean getting a "good deal" in the exit negotiations, it means all reaching agreement about the sort of country we want the UK to be - and ensuring it is rooted in the outward-looking, inclusive values of those who voted to remain in the EU.

The omens are not good. Theresa May has put many of the people who led the Leave campaign in charge. That's why progressives from all parties need to join together in support of a common programme in response to the Brexit vote. It's the best way to heal the divisions in our country - and also the best way to try to keep the UK together.