The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997


Sir John Major’s Speech at the Scottish Parliamentary Journalists’ Association – 17 June 2014

The text of Sir John Major’s speech at the Scottish Parliamentary Journalists’ Association, held in Edinburgh on Tuesday 17th June 2014.


Thank you for inviting me to Edinburgh today.

Before saying any more, I’d like to make it clear that – since I’m no longer in politics – I speak for no-one but myself: but like any Englishman – I have a stake in the Referendum debate.

1707 wasn’t just the Act of Union: it was the creation of Great Britain – and it led to what the historian, Simon Sharma, described as “one of the most astonishing transformations in European history”. We are all, still, in that Great Britain – and I hope we remain so.

I believe in the Union as a force for good. In 1992, I opposed Devolution because I feared it would weaken the Union and open up divisions between Scotland and the rest of the UK. I saw it as a stepping stone to separation – and the dissolution of a partnership that was vital to our interests and those of our friends and allies.

Why do I – an English Conservative – care about Scotland remaining in the Union? For many reasons.

But, first, let me make a purely political point. Conservatives have only one Westminster MP from Scotland. Only David Mundell. One out of 59. Thus, in pure political terms – if Scotland left the Union – the Conservative Party would benefit enormously. We would likely win most elections at Westminster, condemning Labour and the Lib-Dems to almost permanent Opposition.

This raises the question: why is the Conservative Party in favour of the Union? Why are we campaigning against our own political interests?

Which other Party is doing that? Certainly not Labour: keeping the Union is life or death to their political future. Not the Liberals; and, obviously, not the SNP. It is only the Conservative Party who are campaigning out of conviction, and against their own political interests. I believe that gives us a right – English though most of us may be – to be heard with respect, and without the petulant name-calling that has been the response to some English interventions.

Nationalists claim the decision on the future of Scotland is for Scots alone or – to be more precise – people (including non-Scots) who happen to live in Scotland. That is certainly how it will be decided. The 800,000 Scots living elsewhere in the UK will be denied a vote.

But the decision will affect everyone in the UK: my children and grandchildren may have their future circumscribed by it. So will Scots living outside Scotland – and future generations of Scots. The UK cannot be broken apart without damaging repercussions for England, Wales and Northern Ireland – some unforeseen; some unforeseeable.

There are three possible outcomes to the Referendum vote. First, Scotland will vote decisively for the Union. Second, separation is defeated – but only by a modest margin. Third, the separatist argument wins, and Scotland becomes a foreign country.

I hope there will be a large majority for maintaining the Union – albeit with the promises of enhanced devolution. For a small plurality would simply prolong uncertainty and – in such circumstances – the Nationalists will not give up.

They are committed. They will re-group. They will fight on. And the ongoing debate may become more divisive – not only in Scotland, but also between Scotland and her neighbours. Separatist tactics are obvious: they demand ever more powers from the Westminster Parliament, and complain if they don’t get everything they want. The effect – perhaps, even, the purpose – is to create grievance; to foster maximum ill-feeling; to divide so they can rule. This is what Separatists have been doing for the last two decades or more, and it is a tactic that is damaging for everyone – Scots and non-Scots alike.

The campaigns for “Yes” and “No” are very different in character. The case for separation is based, at root, on emotion. On Scottish pride. Pride says “Scotland can go it alone” – which, of course, she could. Indeed, the nation of Adam Smith, James Watt, David Hume and Alexander Bell has played a vital part in building up the whole of the UK – it was Scottish talent and ingenuity that pretty much ran the British Empire. “Rule Britannia” may be considered jingoistic in its sentiment these days – but it was written by an Edinburgh Scot (James Thomson [1740]). In return, the Union has offered Scots greater opportunities than would otherwise have been available to them. This will be as true for Scots yet unborn, as it has been for Scots long gone.

The case for the Union is based on facts: facts are, of course, far less enticing than emotion – but they last longer. Voting “No” to separation is not turning away from a “once-in-a-lifetime offer”: it is holding on to the advantages of one of the most successful partnerships history has ever known.

We are safer together. Stronger together. More prosperous together. More influential together. We have more opportunities together. Our huge cross-border trade and investment is easier together: Scots may thrive as easily in London or Cardiff as in Glasgow or Edinburgh. Together, we have ridden out many economic crises – though whether Scotland alone could have saved RBS is debatable.

We have fought wars together more often (and more recently) than we have fought against one another. We were at war centuries ago – which is why I find it – frankly – rather sad that the SNP chose the anniversary of Bannockburn for the vote – presumably to maximise the opportunity for anti-English sentiment.

They seem to have forgotten two even bigger anniversaries this year.

Two weeks ago was the 70th Anniversary of D Day. One of the most brave and ambitious military operations in history. The commemorations at Normandy saw many moving moments, not least the image of a silhouetted lone piper – at dawn – playing a haunting lament on Gold Beach, where so many perished in 1944. And who can forget the parachute drop by 89 year old Jock Hutton – who joined the Black Watch at the age of 15, before a lifetime of service in the parachute regiment?

For hundreds of years, patriotic Scots have fought and died alongside their brothers in arms, under our national flag – the Union Jack.

In July, we commemorate the beginning of World War I. How ironic it would be if – come September – we are marking the joint sacrifice of so many brave men as separate Nations.

All we have ever done together – achieved together – we take for granted. Yet – if we part company – much of that is at risk, and both Scotland and the rest of the UK will be the losers. Pointing this out – setting out the truth for Scottish voters – is surely morally right – yet it is criticised as negative campaigning.

Unpalatable facts are derided and dismissed by the Nationalists – who ignore valid and complex points and merely abuse the messenger. In so doing, they are deceiving the Scottish electorate, who deserve an intelligent response – and to be told the truth.

When the Conservatives, Labour and the Lib-Dems say an independent Scotland cannot use the Pound, the Separatists say they’re bluffing, or bullying.

Believe me, they are not: a currency union requires a political union – and the latter would no longer exist. Experience of the Eurozone surely proves the importance of that?

When the EU says Scotland must wait in a queue to apply to join it, Separatists brush it aside as nonsense. But it is the truth. Entry may take years – and may be probable – but is by no means certain. Nations like Spain and Belgium – with separatist tendencies in their own countries – will not be keen to see any Separatist Nation waved easily into the EU.

The SNP like to present Scandinavian countries as models for an independent Scotland. I hope they heard the former Prime Minister of Sweden, Carl Bildt, lamenting the impact of breaking up the UK. He is not alone. Or are we to believe that such eminent Europeans are “bluffing” too? Their views of independence may well influence any negotiations with the European Union.

And, is it not bizarre for the SNP to campaign to leave one highly successful Union, whilst applying to join another far less successful one that is seen – even by its most ardent advocates – to be in serious need of reform? This is even more difficult to understand when you consider that there have always been Scottish voices around the Cabinet table at Westminster – and at the top of our public services. By contrast, Scotland – as a mere 1% of the population of the EU – will be guaranteed no senior roles at all. The SNP are campaigning to replace influence in the UK with irrelevance in the EU. This makes absolutely no sense whatsoever for Scotland.

When the SNP threaten to expel Trident from Faslane, they not only undermine the UK, but NATO as well. America would not forgive – nor forget – this, and yet the Separatists assume membership of NATO is almost a given. Trust me, it is far from that. What – exactly – would an independent Scotland be able to offer NATO in return for membership?

As the Referendum approaches, Ming Campbell, Gordon Brown and Tom Strathclyde have all made striking proposals. There are promises to enhance devolution from all three mainstream political parties: it is absurd to suggest these would simply be shelved after the referendum. They won’t. They will be enacted. Three political parties could not possibly resile from such explicit commitments.

Tom Strathclyde has suggested that – if separation is defeated – there will need to be constitutional talks involving every part of the UK.
I am sure he is right. Devolution is no longer simply a West Lothian question: experience shows us it is a West Berkshire question, too. Our United Kingdom can sustain constitutional anomalies – and has, thus far, with existing devolution – but, to find an equitable long-term settlement, we need to consider the impact of enhanced devolution on Government and Parliaments across the UK. Solutions can be agreed – and may be wide-ranging – and it is right these be carefully considered. The status quo at Westminster and Cardiff cannot be sustained and must be changed: the question to be decided is – how?

At present, there is an unhealthy atmosphere surrounding politics across the UK and Europe. It is one of the factors causing disenchantment with the traditional political Parties: but we must not allow it to contribute to the disintegration of the United Kingdom.

One of the first men to call for Union was a 16th Century Philosopher who taught at Glasgow and St Andrews Universities. His view was clear: once broken, it cannot be put together again. His name? John Major. And although no descendant, I echo his call for Union. Voting for separation – with Scotland becoming a “foreign” country – is not a temporary arrangement that can be reversed. It will be permanent.
Back in the 1500s, John Major the Scot had some more wise words to offer: “It is of more moment to understand aright, and clearly to lay down the truth of any matter, than to use eloquent language”. That is what the “No” campaign is doing.

Britain is Great. From the lochs and glens of Scotland, to the valleys of Wales, to the peaks and gorges of England and to the coastline of Northern Ireland. Each has its own unique beauty, and its own people. But collectively, we four small and proud nations – for all our differences – have achieved so much together as a United Kingdom.

With separation, we will no longer be United, but fractured – and we will all be the poorer for that.