In Scotland the contrast between past economic experience and future prospects is greater than in most other parts of the United Kingdom. Yet today Scotland feels just as severely as anywhere else the effects of inflation.
Unemployment has been a grim presence in too many Scottish homes over the years. It is still well above the national average, despite the benefits of oil activity in the North East. Taxation takes as much out of the weekly pay packet in Glasgow as it does in Manchester or London.
The Scottish pound buys as little as the English pound at home or abroad.
The burden of national debt has increased for every British family, north and south of the Border. We all share in the misery of the present economic situation. We have to find our way out together. It is a hard and bitter reality of everyday life. In Parliament and at home, it is impossible to ignore,
Yet it is not of economics which I wish to speak today in the presence of this distinguished audience—but of freedom and democracy. [end p1]
Economically we as a nation are still uncertain about our social and political future. We have not found that new role which Dean Acheson noted we were searching for. We are not confident about the place we should take on the world stage.
It is understandable that we should want to look at the way in which we preserve our democratic freedoms. Some will question our voting system, and our Parliamentary institutions, including the make-up and function of the second chamber. Should we, some will ask, emulate many of the newer democracies and aim to safeguard the fundamental liberties of our people in a written constitution?
Such questions have been brilliantly analysed by Lord Hailsham in his Dimbleby Lecture. He has given them a characteristically decisive answer.
We have taken some steps forward. We have largely given up our imperial role and set about establishing ourselves as a close and involved member of a Western European grouping. Events have forced us to re-examine how Northern Ireland should be governed; and it is natural at this time that we should also look anew at the relationships between the countries which make up the United Kingdom.
In an ideal world, perhaps, we might have taken all these issues together. We might have worked out and implemented a Grand Plan which embraced our position in the European Community, a newly structured United Kingdom and a newly organised local government; all with a clear out description of institutions, powers and representation.
Such an ideal world does not exist. Because we are human, because we are practical politicians, we tackle these matters one at a time.
The problems are diverse and the attitudes of the people in the different parts of the kingdom are not the same. That is why different solutions are needed.
As far as Scottish Devolution is concerned, I would like to make this point first. The Conservative approach has been consistent. [end p2]
Our members and supporters in Scotland have made it their business to ensure that we have been aware, if we needed to be kept aware, of the growth and concentration of Scottish feeling and pride: and of their determination to have more say in their own affairs.
Scottish pride stems from the achievement of its people throughout the world, including its contribution to the growth and administration of the old Empire.
Scottish national feeling rests in the distinctiveness of the Scottish people, of Scottish history and of Scottish law. You may ask why the last Conservative Government, if it was so aware of the depth of feeling in Scotland, did not take action.
The answer is that a Royal Commission had already been appointed to consider these great Constitutional matters. It was hoped to find a solution neatly tailored to the feelings and needs of the different parts of the United Kingdom—and indeed of the United Kingdom as a whole.
The Scottish voice must have a greater say in Scottish affairs. As we said in Perth in May—and let me repeat it so that there can be no confusion—Conservative policy remains that there should be a directly elected Scottish Assembly.
But, as we also said then, such an Assembly must not jeopardise the Union. A British voice over British affairs must remain strong and united. That way lies the greatest benefit to all our people.
It is probable that the next session of Parliament will be dominated by a Debate on the proposals of the Labour Government—if they are still in power—for Devolution. This will be a constitutional debate of immense importance. It will concern all the people, and therefore all their representatives in the Westminster Parliament.
It will concern them all because any constitutional change would affect all the people whether it involved devolution of power or separation of one part of the United Kingdom. [end p3]
We have made clear the Conservative position. We believe that the Government's proposals, as set out in their White Paper, would impose a still heavier burden of bureaucracy on the Scottish people, with additional costs to the taxpayer.
And we cannot, we will not, support any legislation which we consider threatens the political and economic integrity of the United Kingdom.