Like so many other Scots, Britain is in my blood. My mother is English, I have Welsh relatives, I have a son and daughter in law from Northern Ireland and a Daughter in law from England. I was born, raised and live in Scotland. I love Scotland.
Some argue that it is only an Act of Parliament or a treaty that binds our United Kingdom together, but this is false. My family, like the family of so many others, proves it. We share national institutions. The NHS, the BBC and our Armed Forces are British institutions respected the world over and that are etched firmly onto all of our hearts.
Nationalists want us to make a choice between being Scottish and being British. I reject this choice. I am proud to be Scottish and British. The identities are not a contradiction, they are complimentary. Any other interpretation drives wedges between people, between me and my grandchildren. Why are the nationalists intent on making strangers of our friends? Why do they wish to strip millions of their identity?
I will be supporting the Scottish National Team at the Euros coming up and Team GB at the Tokyo Olympic Games. Supporting both is a natural expression of who I am. Millions of Scots, Welsh, Northern Irish and English citizens share the same view, supporting our own teams whether they are representing our home nation or the United Kingdom as a whole.
For me, Britain is about more than a flag or a point painted on a map. It is about a spirit of sharing and cooperation between our four nations. Within Britain we pool our resources in solidarity. The successes are sweeter and the failures easier to bear because we do so together and our struggles as individuals, families, communities, towns, regions and nations are shared by all in a common bond. Captain Sir Tom Moore demonstrated this solidarity during the pandemic and his example is one to follow.
We have been and still are in the unknown. Daily routines are coming back to life and there is hope for the future as we emerge from the covid crisis. None of the nations of the UK got everything right, but when we pulled together we achieved a great deal. The furlough scheme and the vaccine procurement led the world and we should be very proud of what we achieved together.
It was the solidarity of the Union that brought us this. Despite the collapse in economic activity during the pandemic, millions of jobs have been saved thanks to the furlough scheme backed by the UK Treasury. In Scotland alone, almost one million workers received this support. The solidarity between taxpayers in all parts of the UK supports this and the future growth of our shared economy is enough to guarantee stability and the ability to pay for this into the future. Would independent nations in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England be able to afford the same? The SNP cannot say so, they don’t even have a plan for what currency we would use in Scotland.
The vaccine roll-out should be a template for how Scotland should work together with the rest of the UK. I made this point to John Swinney in one of my first contributions to the Scottish Parliament. Even he had to concede that this demonstrated the benefits of Scotland’s two governments working together.
Britain has the highest rate of vaccines distributed per head of population in the G20 and no part of the UK is left behind. Our approach has been to show solidarity with each other and that is why vaccines are rolled out everywhere.
This is not about having a UK government that commands and controls, instead it is about institutions that bring people together. The UK parliament and Government which taxpayers pay for and voters vote for in Scotland, Wales, England and Northern Ireland must be interested in the affairs of all of us. It must be about working together. There do not currently exist good mechanisms for inter-governmental cooperation within the UK and not enough is done to encourage cooperation and solidarity at all levels of government. The “Devolve and forget” mentality of Whitehall where they simply hand off responsibility to the Devolved Administrations and then show no interest further down the line is the perfect environment for nationalism to thrive.
We know how this happened. When Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Donald Dewar set up the Scottish Parliament in 1999 they envisaged that inter-governmental coordination would happen through the internal workings of the Labour Party. They did not foresee the time when different parties would be in government in all parts of the devolution landscape. With Labour at Cardiff Bay, SNP at Holyrood and Conservatives at Westminster we need structured ways for leaders to cooperate. We urgently need these formal structures in place.
We need these structures as we move out of the pandemic. The new UK internal market act is key to protecting and enhancing domestic trade within the United Kingdom. We should never forget how important this is to Scottish Business. Having no barriers to trade within the UK helps rebuild our economy.
The SNP want barriers though. Even without EU membership there would still be a necessity for an independent Scotland with different regulations to have border posts at Gretna. Tariffs, quotas and different regulations would be one thing, but these seem almost easy to bear when compared to the heartbreaking division of closing a border that has been open for hundreds of years.
Opposition to insular and divisive nationalism cannot be left to a purely Scottish debate. Opposing the SNP, Sinn Fein and Plaid Cymru is best done by British people across the whole UK making the positive case for Britain. All of Britain would be diminished by the loss of any part of it. Whether it be the manufacturer in Wales whose products are on the shelf in Aberdeen, the hill farmer in Argyll sending his Lambs to be fattened on Herefordshire Grass or the Artist in London planning a show at the Edinburgh Fringe the exchanges and bonds within Britain run deep.
We are seen by the world as a force for good. The UK Aid symbol is seen around the world as a symbol of our generosity and commitment to solving global problems. I saw this myself when I visited Kenya as the UK did its bit to combat tropical diseases. The UK is a global leader on climate change, hosting COP26 in Glasgow later this year.
We are all part of this, Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland. We can all take pride in these shared endeavours. Solidarity within Britain means we can fight a virus that threatens our lives and ways of life. Unity gives us the ability to affect change on a global scale.
We have to counter nationalism with these positive and uplifting arguments. The UK Government must be visible and actively promote partnerships between the different parts of Britain. It must demonstrate how citizens in all parts of the UK play a part in this and what it does for them. Our arguments are not the answer to a formula based on dry economics or fiscal transfers. It is that emotional attachment to the solidarity and unity that we feel with our fellow men and women who we share our country with. They are our customers, our helpers, our friends, our relatives. Together we can achieve so much more and write a positive future that is united.