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1992 - Mr Major’s Press Conference

Below is the text of Mr Major's press conference held on Wednesday 18th March 1992.


PRIME MINISTER:

I think the best way to spend the next few minutes is for you to ask whatever is on your minds rather than me to regurgitate what doubtless you have heard from me and other Conservatives on several occasions over recent days. We have got a limited time; let us deal with the matters that concern you.

QUESTION:

Could I ask about Scotland?

PRIME MINISTER:

Sure! We are going to win some seats in Scotland

QUESTION:

How many?

PRIME MINISTER:

I don’t know, we will have to wait for the General Election but we will hold our seats and we will win some back.

QUESTION:

[Inaudible].

PRIME MINISTER:

Let me talk about both independence and devolution and the concerns that I have about it because I do think it is, as I said elsewhere, an issue that in many ways transcends the election. Let me take separation first and then I will come on to devolution because I think there are slightly separate arguments with the two.

I believe that collectively the Union has served every part of the United Kingdom extremely well. The Act of Union was the establishment of Great Britain. There was no Great Britain until there was the Act of Union voluntarily entered into between Scotland and Britain. If that were suddenly to be thrown away, I believe it would have a very weakening effect not just upon Scotland but upon the whole of the United Kingdom. I do not base my arguments on saying as an Englishman what is right for Scotland; I do believe, as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, that I have a responsibility to speak for the United Kingdom and I believe to wrench any part of the United Kingdom out in terms of separation would leave that part of the United Kingdom much weaker in representing its interests than it is as part of the United Kingdom and it also leaves the other parts of the United Kingdom much weaker.

Let us take the Scottish position in Europe. Let us presuppose, for example, that Scotland were separate and Scotland were in Europe - it had negotiated its way into Europe and everybody had accepted it and it was safely in Europe. What authority would it have in Europe? It would probably have in the Council of Ministers two votes; it would have the same sort of clout in the Council of Ministers that Luxembourg has so it would not be in control of its own destiny in the European Community.

Let me tell you as a matter of fact that when you sit round the European table with the other Heads of Government, the big nations with the large voting authority actually determined European policy; it is not determined by the tiny nations. If Scotland thinks it would be moving into a position in Europe in which it had complete freedom to determine its own affairs, it wouldn’t. It would find in the European setting that it did not have a great clout. It does have a great clout as part of the United Kingdom and we defend very forcibly the interests of every part of that Kingdom so I think that it is an important part, but essentially I believe that the Union has served Scotland well and England well and the United Kingdom well and I don’t want to lose it.

There are grievances and concerns in Scotland, it is difficult for a non-Scot to be absolutely certain what the origin of them is, but as you will know, I have spent a lot of time on and off in the last two or three years going backwards and forwards to Scotland and whatever the origin of it is, I understand the depth of the sentiment that is there but I cannot believe after getting on for three hundred years that it is beyond the wit of the rest of the United Kingdom and Scotland to find other ways of solving that grievance short of what is at present proposed and which I think would be very damaging.

Let me turn separately to devolution. I am sorry this is a lengthy argument but I believe this is as important a matter on the domestic agenda as any. Were I a Scot, I could understand the arguments that are put for devolution. It must often sound to Scots; “Here are Englishmen, Welshmen and Northern Irishmen down in London telling we Scots we can’t look after our own affairs!”. It truly isn’t that way as I see it but let us assume for the sake of the hypothesis that there was a devolved Assembly in Edinburgh with tax-raising powers, which is the proposition proposed by the Labour Party and the Liberal Party.

That devolved Assembly would have complete responsibility for some aspects of policy, perhaps health, perhaps education, perhaps other matters. What would that in practice mean for the United Kingdom Parliament? That, in a sense, is the price for Scotland - what is the price for Scotland of that actually happening and how does it impact on the rest of the United Kingdom?

The first point, I think, is this: that Scotland would not retain the same representation at Westminster as it does at the present time.

But the second point is an even more damaging point than that. What one would then have in Westminster would be two sorts of MPs: MPs from England, Wales and Northern Ireland who would vote on every issue that went through the Westminster Parliament and MPs from Scotland who could not because the rest of the United Kingdom would not say: “Yes, you in Scotland can determined absolutely alone in Scotland health, education and other matters without English, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs voting or affecting that, and then Scottish MPs come to Westminster and have a say in what happens on those very same subjects in other parts of the United Kingdom!”. It simply would not be in the real world of politics and it would not happen so you would have two tiers of MPs - those who could vote on everything and those who could only vote on some things.

That opens up a range of difficulties. Firstly, would any Government be able to command a majority? Very possibly not. The second point that it clearly opens up is what would be the impact in Scotland of having effectively second-tier status at Westminster? I believe in the short-term or the medium-term it would lead to huge frustration and bitterness in Scotland and might well push Scotland that extra mile towards separation rather than devolution.

Nobody can be certain whether I am right about that or whether I am wrong about that and I don’t pretend to you that I have got divine wisdom but those are the concerns as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom that I have.

The argument about devolution has gone on for a long time but it has been an argument about what the Scots could do in a devolved Parliament, not what the impact of that would be on the rest of the United Kingdom, and what I am saying to Scotland is: Let us sketch in the whole canvas, not just what you can have in Scotland but what it would mean in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and what it would mean for Scotland at Westminster. Let us sketch in that whole canvas and have an honest and serious debate about it and see then where opinion lies. I believe opinion would like quite differently.

I am sorry that is a lengthy argument but I believe it is one of the most important constitutional arguments that we have had on our place for many years.