“Last week Gordon Brown delivered a speech in Edinburgh about Britishness. Because of Labour’s leadership crisis it didn’t receive the attention it deserved.
The Chancellor made some valid points about the economic case for the Union. But the case for the Union isn’t just economic.
I don’t believe that, in the 21st century, Scotland will be cowed or intimidated into remaining part of the UK through fear of the economic consequences of going it alone.
Those of us who believe in the Union have got to do better than that.
We need to make a positive case for Britain that speaks to the heart as well as the head.
So, today, I want to take a fresh approach.
Acknowledging the problem
In some ways the links between Scotland and England have never been stronger.
More Scots live in England, and more English people live in Scotland, than ever before.
Almost half of all Scots have English relatives.
Travel back and forth across the border is at an all time high.
Nevertheless, all’s not well with the Union.
A poll in last week’s Sunday Times showed more Scots favouring independence than the status quo.
The last couple of years have seen renewed squabbling over the West Lothian Question and the Barnett Formula.
During the recent World Cup, tensions boiled over with Jack McConnell being criticised for adopting an ‘anyone but England’ attitude.
There were also isolated but ugly incidents of English supporters being assaulted on the streets of Scotland.
So how should those of us who support the Union respond to the current discontents?
We could bury our heads in the sand and make more speeches proclaiming the virtues of Britishness.
We could launch ferocious attacks on the SNP.
But I’d rather ask an honest question:
Why, in the post-devolution era, are so many Scots still dissatisfied with the relationship between Scotland and England and what, if anything, can be done to make things better?
The historical legacy
Next year is the 300th anniversary of the Act of Union.
It was a seminal moment in the history of these islands.
Many of us will celebrate it.
Some others may prefer to mourn.
One thing we can certainly all agree on is that it’s an appropriate moment to take stock.
We need an undogmatic, balanced reassessment.
It should be neither North Brit nor Braveheart in character but sober and objective.
Personally, I’m convinced that the Union has served both countries well.
That’s not just my view.
Unionism, in both an intellectual and emotional sense, is a mainstream position with a long and noble tradition.
The facts are compelling.
The 18th century saw the flowering of the Scottish Enlightenment
The principal cause of this was the unique genius of the Scottish people.
But the Union helped create the intellectual vibrancy and sense of possibility that inspired men like Hume and Smith.
The 19th century brought unprecedented prosperity and influence to Scotland, both as a centre of industrialisation and as a dynamic participant in Empire.
It was also as part of Britain that Scotland made an outstanding contribution to the greatest moral endeavour of the 20th century - the defeat of Nazi Germany.
Taken together this is a proud record but let’s not pretend that it’s all been good.
The last three centuries have also witnessed an erosion of Scottish identity.
In the aftermath of the ’45 Rebellion, the Scottish Establishment, in its desire to remove the taint of treason, collaborated in a form of cultural cleansing that left an uneasy inheritance.
This injury to Scottish self-confidence found a practical parallel in the Highland Clearances.
Again, the truth about the Clearances is less simplistic than folk myth may allow but the reality of emigration and depopulation certainly affected Scotland for many decades after.
So the legacy of the last three hundred years of Scottish history is inevitably an ambivalent one.
I certainly don’t go so far as Irvine Welsh who recently suggested that many of the main thoroughfares of Edinburgh, like Princes Street, should be renamed to remove the supposed taint of their Hanoverian associations.
Scotland has certainly not been an occupied or oppressed country these past three hundred years but I recognise that it has not all been a triumphal procession either.
The Conservative legacy
We all need to come to terms with the problematic nature of the relationship between Scotland and England.
But Conservatives have a particular hurdle to overcome.
Surveying the political landscape, we need to ask ourselves a simple and stark question:
How did it come to this?
We hold one Scottish seat out of 59 in the UK Parliament…
17 seats out of 129 at Holyrood….
And we control one Scottish council out of 32.
That’s pretty dismal.
Yet Scottish Conservatism is not some alien implant.
Fifty years ago we secured more than half of all votes cast in Scotland.
In the 1970s we were the senior partners in a coalition that ran Glasgow.
Until the 1980s Edinburgh had never had a Labour administration and most of the city’s MPs were Tories.
What went wrong?
Part of the answer lies in the passing of an era.
People of the stature of Hector Monro, who died recently, loved Scotland and served her faithfully.
We’ll miss him.
But the principal reason lies elsewhere.
It’s painful to acknowledge - but acknowledge it we must.
A series of blunders were committed in the 1980s and 90s of which the imposition of the Poll Tax was the most egregious.
We all know why it happened - the rates revaluation and the rest of it.
But the decision to treat Scotland as a laboratory for experimentation in new methods of local government finance was clumsy and unjust.
On devolution too we fought on against the idea of a Scottish Parliament long after it became clear that it was the settled will of the people.
It’s no compensation to see the Labour Party displaying the same insensitivity today.
It weakens the Union and reminds Scots of Tory mistakes.
For example, the destruction of much-loved and historic regiments like the Black Watch by this government reprises the unwanted regimental mergers initiated in the early 90s.
So much for the past - what of the present?
Addressing institutional difficulties
In dealing frankly with the current difficulties in the relationship between Scotland and England we need to address both sides of the equation.
The West Lothian question is a problem.
Most Scots acknowledge this.
Sending an MSP to Holyrood to vote against tuition fees for Scotland is fine.
Sending an MP to Westminster vote for tuition fees for England is fine too.
Doing both at the same time is problematic, to say the least.
I’ve asked the Conservative Party’s commission on democracy, led by Ken Clarke, to look at possible solutions.
We should address the asymmetrical nature of the current arrangements in a calm and considered fashion.
We should not forget that Alex Salmond couldn’t ask for more effective allies in his campaign to break up the Union than sour Little Englanders who cry ‘good riddance’ when independence for Scotland is suggested.
I’ll fight them all the way.
No one is prouder of being English than I am.
But I’m also passionately attached to the idea of Britain.
Being British isn’t about ethnicity or local identity.
It’s one of the most successful examples in history of an inclusive civic nationalism.
Britain has given the world so much and I believe that we still have more to give.
Of course, there are some in England, including a few in my own party, who think my pro-Union position is crazy.
“Look,” they point out. “At the last general election the Tories got more votes in England than Labour did. If Scotland split off, you’d find it much easier to become Prime Minister.”
And so I would.
But I have a message for these siren voices.
Sorry - not interested.
I’m a Unionist and every corner of this United Kingdom is precious to me, including Scotland.
Addressing economic difficulties
There’s another grievance held by those in England who seek to dismember Britain.
They want to end the Barnett Formula.
Politicians like Ken Livingstone regard the Scots as subsidy junkies who get far more of the national pot than they’re entitled to.
Again, I’m sorry - it’s more complicated than that.
Other areas within the UK are subsidised more heavily than Scotland is.
Nowhere outside London has as large and profitable a financial services sector as Edinburgh’s.
Let’s remember that before throwing accusations around.
We all know that families can fall out bitterly over money.
I’m determined that won’t happen to the British family.
We’re bigger and better than that.
Addressing cultural difficulties
There’s one other aspect of Scottish-English relations that I want to address.
It may seem trivial to some but I happen to believe that it’s almost more damaging to the Union than institutional or economic difficulties.
It’s a question of attitudes.
And, in particular, the ignorance of English people about Scots and Scotland.
Why should this matter?
After all, we’ve all got broad shoulders.
Well, it matters because the Union is supposed to be a relationship of equals.
Not in terms of size, obviously.
But certainly in terms of that most precious of commodities, respect.
For most Scots - like people everywhere - their nationality is only one part of a broader identity.
They’re fathers and mothers, doctors and teachers, bowlers and golfers, shoppers and students.
But, perfectly reasonably, they do expect their distinct Scottishness to be both recognised and respected.
Let’s be honest.
In the British context, they don’t always receive that respect.
All too often Scots switch on their televisions to be greeted with ignorant and inaccurate stereotypes.
Whether it’s Russ Abbott-style lampooning or the inevitable aggressive Glaswegian drunk in TV programmes, the cumulative effect can be depressing.
Even as an Englishman, I find it a bit embarrassing.
Another aspect of English cultural insensitivity that rears its head in the media is the vexed question of sporting identity.
Why is that Scottish sportsmen and women who win are habitually claimed by English media commentators as ‘British’ only to be promptly redesignated as ‘Scottish’ the moment they lose?
One other aspect of the interface between the Scots and the English causes offence.
And here there’s absolutely no excuse.
Scottish banknotes are every bit as good as those issued by the Bank of England.
That’s something everyone working in shops or other parts of the service economy anywhere in the UK should know.
Yet Scots often have to endure the indignity of having their money examined by suspicious staff south of the border as if it’s come straight out of a Monopoly box.
Sometimes Scottish fivers and tenners are simply refused.
Of course, it’s not the end of the world but it’s hard to think of a clearer demonstration of disrespect.
It seems to say to Scots - “Do things our way - or take a hike.”
Instead of deriding Scots as chippy or difficult, isn’t it time that English people of good will educated themselves?
Part of the problem is that some English commentators don’t seem to know what to think of Scotland - when they can be bothered to think at all.
They appear seriously confused.
One moment they deride Scots as hopeless drunks and beggars.
The next they complain that England is run by something called the Scottish Raj, a race of superhumans led by John Reid and Kirsty Wark.
Less than twelve months ago, I stood for the leadership of the Conservative Party because I wanted to it to speak for all of all of modern Britain.
I have a vision of the 21st century Conservative Party as a vibrant, forward-looking force for good…
An organisation that understands the world as it is and can meet the challenges we face as a society.
For me, Scotland is a key part of this.
As we prepare for the elections to the Scottish Parliament next year I’ve got a message for the people of Scotland.
Yes, we opposed devolution - but the world is very different now and the Conservatives are determined to make a success of Holyrood.
Yes, we centralised too much in the past - but today we’re serious about giving decision-making power to local people and local communities.
Yes, we made mistakes - but we’ve faced up to them.
I understand what needs to happen.
If I become the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, I’ll never, ever take Scotland for granted.
Every part of Britian is entitled to full and equal respect.
Let’s go forward together - and make the Union work for all of us.”