SCOTTISH Secretary Alister Jack has been pushed to answer why the Scottish people should care about the Union, when his own party in Westminster apparently does not.
The SNP MP who asked the question, Pete Wishart, was referring to comments made by Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross over the weekend.
Speaking at the Conservative Party’s virtual conference on Saturday, Ross urged his party to turn away from “defeatism and disinterest” around the Union.
He said: “The case for separation is now being made more effectively in London than it ever could in Edinburgh.”
He added that “far too many members of [the Conservative] party in England have forgotten” that they are supposed to argue for the strength of the Union.
At Scotland Questions in the Commons today, Wishart, who represents Perth and North Perthshire, pressed the Scottish Secretary over Ross’s remarks.
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He said: “[Jack] says that the job retention scheme is a great example of their Union. But according to his boss, the ever-cheerful [Ross], the Westminster Tories aren’t interested in their Union anymore.
“He says the case for ‘separation’ is being made more effectively in London than in Edinburgh. Is his boss right? Are the Westminster Tories full of defeatism about their Union?
“And if they don’t care about their Union, why on earth should the Scottish people?”
Jack responded: “Well first of all, the new leader of the Scottish Conservatives cares deeply about the Union and that’s something we can’t say for the Scottish nationalist party.
“But I mean I go further, he was making the very clear point that Westminster should not devolve and forget. Huge sums of money and support go to Scotland and other parts of the United Kingdom.
“And he was just pointing out that departments in Whitehall should stay focused and stay connected and follow up on those funds.”
Jack said the economic strength of the Union and a commitment to the pooling of resources had supported jobs and businesses throughout Scotland.
He told MPs: “The Government has always stressed the importance of the Union. The UK is a family of nations which shares social, cultural and economic ties that together make us far safer, more secure and more prosperous.
“As we have seen throughout the Covid crisis, it is the economic strength of the Union and our commitment to the sharing and pooling of resources that has supported jobs and businesses throughout Scotland.”
He added: “Not only will the shared prosperity fund help, but under the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill, the UK Government will be in the place of the EU where the EU previously spent money in Scotland and other parts of the UK, the UK Government will do that, something the SNP have got a serious objection to.
“I think it’s sort of strange ideology from the nationalists that they object to money coming from the Great British government, but they do quite happily take it from the EU.”
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For Labour, shadow Scotland secretary Ian Murray also raised the fortunes of the Scotch whisky industry, adding it was one year since the US announced a 25% tariff on Scotch whisky – leading to a “devastating 32% drop” in US Scotch whisky exports “costing a massive £360 million”.
He said: “What is he actually going to do to encourage the US to lift the tariffs on Scotch whisky or is this just another example of what his new Scottish Conservative leader describes as the Tories not caring about Scotland?”
Jack responded: “It’s unfair, it’s harmful to both industry and consumers, but during the trade talks that have opened up with the US, we have got agreement now to have a bilateral discussion, in other words not using the EU negotiators any more, we’re having a bilateral discussion with the US and the good news I can tell him is we have moved to a new phase and the Secretary of State for International Trade this week is starting discussions to try and resolve this problem.”