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1997 - Mr Major’s Comments on the General Election

Below is the text of Mr Major’s comments on the General Election, made in an interview on 5th January 1997.


QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked about the talks between the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats].

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, I think there are several things to be said about it. I don’t think there’s any secret that they’ve been talking. The substantive part of what they’ve been agreeing of course has been secret. I’m rather surprised they’ve kept the whole thing quite as secret as they have, it’s clearly leaked in the Sunday Times and they then briefed other papers. But the substantive issue of what they’re discussing I think is very important.

Now what is shown this morning of their agreement I suspect is just the hors d’oeuvre of what they’re really discussing. The key point of course, that they will turn to, is the Scottish Assembly, the Scottish Parliament and then of course changing the voting system in the United Kingdom. Those will be the points of greatest interest and I suspect that’s the agenda that they’re really turning to. Now I believe that is profoundly dangerous for a range of reasons, I think it is more important than pure party politics, I’ve set out often enough my fears about a Scottish tax-raising Parliament and my fear remains that if you go down the route of a Scottish tax-raising Parliament you are lighting the fuse towards an independent Scotland and the break-up of the United Kingdom.

Now I have set that out before the last general election and I passionately believe that to be the case and you can see the way in which opinion in Scotland, particularly amongst young people, seems to be moving. And if you had a Scottish Assembly, it would fail, of course, that would come into conflict with the Westminster Parliament most certainly, then you are setting up the scenario for a dispute between Westminster and the Scottish Parliament that would lead to a demand for independence. Now whether that would be in five years, ten years, I don’t know, but I it is profoundly dangerous that people look, not just at the short-term politics of this, but as the long-term constitutional implications of what the Labour Party and the Liberal Party are proposing. I think it is very dangerous, it is certainly going to be a substantive part of their secret discussions, of that I’ve no doubt and I believe the impact upon the United Kingdom will be thoroughly bad and the job of politicians is to stand up and look at the long-term implications and to explain, even though it may be popular in the short-term, why it is a bad thing for the United Kingdom in the long-term.

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked if a bad thing for the United Kingdom would be popular north of the border].

PRIME MINISTER:

Well superficially popular in Scotland certainly, but I don’t think the extra taxes they’d get would be very popular. I mean this would be followed by a new Scottish Parliament, that’s going to have to be paid for, more money on more bureaucrats, more money on more politicians and an agreement already that they could raise tax in Scotland by 3 pence in the pound. Now in the abstract one can see that people are not too worried about that, when the reality occurs and they have to pay more tax than the English, the Northern Irish and the Welsh I think it will be different and then when companies stop investing in Scotland because their employees paid higher tax and demanded higher wages then the huge change you have seen in Scotland over the last ten years, the tremendous drop in unemployment, the great widening of job opportunities will begin to disappear and I think then people would look back and say ‘we have bought a pig in a poke’. I don’t believe Scotland wants to be divorced from the rest of the United Kingdom.

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked if he thought a Scottish Parliament would win votes for parties that supported it].

PRIME MINISTER:

Well I don’t see it primarily as that, I think it may well be providing we can persuade people of the dangers and I will attempt to do so and I’ve been consistent on this for a number of years. I believe it is a profound mistake to the United Kingdom, that is the first point. The other element of their agenda of course, is the proportional representation and what they’re seeking to do of course is to, as the with the Scottish parliament which they would propose to introduce without reducing the number of Scottish MPs at Westminster, what they’re proposing to do effectively is to gerrymander the constitution. They’re determined to try and change a voting system, we have seen what that means right across Europe where you have minority governments, the inability to take really difficult decisions and perhaps above all the removal of choice from the electorate. If you have proportional representation and cosy agreements between the political classes then the electorate’s choice is diminished, they cannot say “I’ve had enough of this lot, out with them”. Because they’re fixed with other people unless there is a quite cataclysmic change in voting habits that would simply return the same people time after time.

So I believe it is very, very damaging and I hope people will focus firstly on the fact that this has been done in secret, I wonder how many of the Shadow Cabinet know about the detail of these discussions before they leaked. I wonder how many of the Liberal Parliamentary Party know. I wonder after all this Labour talk of consultation what consultation there’s been with the average Labour supporter up and down the country. The answer is none of course, absolutely none.