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1996 - Mr Major’s Comments on Scotland

Below is the text of Mr Major’s comments on Scotland, made during an interview held on 28th August 1996.


QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked about Tony Blair’s policies for Scotland].

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I think it tells us that after 20 years the Labour Party still haven’t sorted out their policy on devolution. I think one has to realise why they’re following this policy. The real reason they are following this policy is that they wish to outflank the Scottish Nationalists. They believe the Scottish Nationalists are eating into their vote and thereafter they are trying to outflank them. And they frankly have not thought through their policy. Now I am not opposed to constitutional innovation. I have brought in a number in the last five or six years, not least the tremendous extra powers given to the Secretary of State for Scotland, and the innovation of the Scottish Grand Committee. I am not opposed to constitutional innovation. But what the Labour Party is trying to do is primarily for their own partisan party benefit and they have not thought it through. And it has now become apparent that they have not thought it through.

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked about a referendum in Scotland].

PRIME MINISTER:

I think you should ask the Labour Party. They are in favour of that. Not me. I think the whole policy is misconceived. And I believe that for several reasons. Some practical and some constitutional. The practical reason is that I believe that a tax raising power given to a Scottish Parliament which would be used initially perhaps only for three pence in the pound, but later I believe it would be a good deal more, will mean that Scotland is taxed more highly than England or Northern Ireland or Wales. That is bound to move investment from Scotland, investment and jobs from Scotland elsewhere. So I think it is bad for Scotland from that point of view. I think it is constitutionally damaging because once you establish a tax-raising Scottish Assembly at some stage in the years that lie ahead there will be conflict between the tax raising Scottish Assembly and in Westminster, and there is every chance, every risk that the forces that don’t want devolution but want separation would then win the argument, and then you’d be going down a separatist route which would be bad for the UK. I believe it would be bad for Scotland as well. And it is because I passionately believe that, that I have taken a stance that I know has been unpopular with many in Scotland. But I believe that what is proposed has short-term synthetic appeal that will be damaging to Scotland.

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked about the tartan tax].

PRIME MINISTER:

I believe that Labour’s plans are beginning to fall apart. There is beginning to be division within the Labour Party between those that really want separation and those who really want devolution and those who frankly would rather have nothing but have been swept along in the general enthusiasm to win votes for Labour in Scotland and outflank the Scottish Nationalists.

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked if he been out-flanked by Tony Blair in Scotland].

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I believe he’s wrong. But I don’t see this primarily as a short term party matter. If I was concerned with short-term party politics I might have gone down the route of devolution which seems in the short-term to be popular. But I am taking a long term view for what I judge to be right for Scotland, and I believe that is my responsibility. Because I judge it to be wrong for Scotland to go down the route that the SNP would go and the route that the Labour Party and the Liberal Party would go. And I have set that out clearly.

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked about a Scottish Parliament].

PRIME MINISTER:

I am not against constitutional innovation. I am not against giving more powers to the Scots in one form or another. But what could a Scottish Parliament do that the Grand Committee cannot do? Only one thing. Just one thing. The only thing a Scottish Parliament could do that a Grand Committee cannot do is to raise taxes and make Scotland the most highly taxed part of the UK. Only that. And I doubt upon that issue that Scotland would like the result, not necessarily just in the short-term but in the long-term, when it dries up the investment, dries up jobs and dries up the increasing prosperity which Scotland has begun to see in recent years. I would like that to continue. I believe Labour’s plans put it at risk.