Who Decides?

Our membership of the European Union is a decision we take as the United Kingdom, and that’s why, in the referendum, every vote counts the same. We don’t count them in constituencies, we don’t count them in districts, every vote’s the same whether it’s in Stornoway or St. Ives. It’s a decision for all the people of the United Kingdom, and we should take it on the merits of the European Union Debate.
Liam Fox

I grappled with this question when I was Environment Secretary. I would talk to my opposite number, Richard Lochhead, and he would sometimes come to Brussels and we would discuss the matter in question beforehand. However, the position always was, and remains to this day, that it is the United Kingdom as one country that is negotiating.
Hilary Benn

We must leave the EU as one country not just because it preserves the Union but because it is the best option for jobs, businesses and trade across the UK.
Stephen Kerr

So did London vote to Remain but that is irrelevant as it was a national UK decision in which the majority voted for Brexit
Lord John Kilcoony

We voted in the referendum as one country, and we need to respect it as one country.
Dominic Raab

We entered the EU as one country and we will leave as one country, whatever the European Commission might desire.
Jacob Rees-Mogg

That is a very good point, we voted as one country.
Kwasi Kwarteng

It is important that we now move forward together as one country, very clear in what we want to see in our future relationship with the European Union, and that we go into the negotiations with that confidence.
Theresa May

“The UK voted as one county, the UK will leave as one country.”

This is a common refrain we hear – usually, but not exclusively, from those advocating to leave – when one brings up the fact that no less than two of the four constituent nations of the United Kingdom voted to remain. This is simply because the huge population difference between England and the other three means that even a mere 53% vote in favour of leaving in one nation completely overruled the 55% and 62% votes in favour of remaining in the other two.

But who, exactly, decided that this should be the case?

I must say to the hon. Gentleman, however, that our nation will not be taken out of Europe against its will. His nation and my nation are the same thing.
Chris Grayling, in response to Pete Wishart

The history of votes to increase the powers of the Scottish people & their parliament is a sorry one indeed, and has been covered at length here and elsewhere. The question of Scotland being dragged out of the European Union against its will was brought up long before the 2015 General Election, but with the UK Government’s victory in England and Wales, it became a very urgent issue.

Here’s the most important vote for the purposes of this particular aspect of the democratic deficit, where none other than Alex Salmond proposed an amendment which would have sent the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill back for review.

The debate was fairly predictable:

ALEX SALMOND: On the question of the double majority or quad lock, why should it be the case that Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland—or, for that matter, England—should be taken out of the European Union against the will of that nation? [Interruption.] From a sedentary position, the Foreign Secretary says that it is because we are a United Kingdom, but it was the Prime Minister who said only last September that the essence of the United Kingdom was that it was an equal partnership of nations. He said that we in Scotland should lead the United Kingdom: he did not say that we should leave Europe. Of course, it would be outrageous, disgraceful, undemocratic and unacceptable to drag Scotland out of the European Union against the wishes and will of the Scottish people.

MIKE GAPES (Labour/Co-operative, Ilford South): I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. He is surely aware that the population of London, which is the powerhouse of our economy and dependent on relations with the European Union, is almost double that of Scotland. Using his argument, should not London have a separate say too?

AS: I know that many people in the Labour party find the argument about the difference between a country and a county or city very difficult. I advise the hon. Gentleman that there are many routes to revival for the Labour party in Scotland, but suggesting that Scotland is not a nation, or is equivalent to a city or a county, is not one of the best avenues. All of the four component nations of the United Kingdom should be treated with equal respect.

The UK Government Party’s MP for Chesham and Amersham attempted to provide a financial explanation as to why 53% of one nation should be enough to override 55% and 62% of two others:

DAME CHERYL GILLAN: I hope that the Government will resist the call for the triple lock, quadruple lock—or whatever we are going to call it now. I asked the House of Commons Library to look at the disaggregation by UK constituent nation of the EU budget contributions and receipts. My right hon. Friend the Minister will be interested to know that it clearly shows that although the average cost across the UK in the last year for which figures were available was £48 per head, when that is disaggregated, we see that the real burden falls on England. The cost of membership is £72 per capita in England, whereas in Scotland, it is a mere £2; in Wales minus £74; and in Northern Ireland minus £160. So the devolved nations, which are effectively feather-bedded against the real cost of membership, should not be allowed to slant the results of any referendum by demanding an individual country lock on any result.

AS: I will not go into feather-bedding and 30 years of oil revenues, but I do wonder where this argument is taking the right hon. Lady. If she believes the referendum should be based on financial contribution, by extension her argument would mean that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland should not get a vote at all. Is she aware that 3.5% of the population, or 13 states, of the United States of America can block a constitutional amendment there?

DCG: This is not the United States of America, and the people of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have a vote as members of the UK—and long may they remain so.

(That last sentence hasn’t aged well, has it?)

Then newly-elected Tommy Sheppard also contributed:

TOMMY SHEPPARD: I ask the hon. Gentleman to reflect that the appetite for this referendum is not the same in all parts of these islands. At the recent general election there were parties who advocated a referendum and parties who advocated not having a referendum. Over 80% of the people in Scotland voted for parties who did not want a referendum, and according to most of the opinion polls the great majority of Scottish people are content to be Europeans and with their relationship with the EU. I presume the hon. Gentleman does not support the amendment, so what is going to happen—

The response from Peter Bone was, if anything, even worse:

PETER BONE (Conservative, Wellingborough): I take on board the hon. Gentleman’s intervention and he makes a fair point, but I do not think SNP Members are here in numbers because they oppose the EU referendum Bill. I think they might be here for other reasons. Also, as a democrat, I am sure the hon. Gentleman was pretty pleased about the referendum that happened in Scotland, although he might not have liked the way the Scottish people voted.

If I had stood up here three years ago and suggested this House was about to vote for an EU referendum Bill, I would have been laughed at. Every party was against it. The coalition Government were against it, the Labour party was against it; it was just never going to happen. That proves that this House and MPs can change things. The people were ahead of Parliament. They wanted their say on whether we should be in or out of the European Union. We have seen how Parliament slowly changed its position and how the excellent Minister for Europe, my right hon. Friend Mr Lidington, has been on the same journey—I am sure I shall be cheering his speech tonight, as I was booing it three years ago. People say that this House and MPs do not matter and that everything is done by Government and by people sitting on sofas in No. 10, but that is simply not true. Another party, the UK Independence party, might have been born out of this, but I do not think that that is what changed things—it was Members of this House.

My hon. Friend is far too kind, as always, but I was not making a point about any individual Members. My point, to all Members sitting here, is that if we really care and campaign about something—as Ian Austin has done consistently —we can get there in the end. We should never be scared to stand up and be in the minority, because after a while the minority often becomes the majority.

I’m not sure how Mr Bone expects the SNP to ever be a minority that might become the majority in the UK Parliament – unless that was the entire point of his wee speech, and he was subtly telling the Scots to know their place in the grand order of things.

Finally, Stewart McDonald devotes part of his debut speech to bring the issue to the front for a third time:

STEWART MCDONALD: I and my 55 colleagues have been sent to this House to argue for Scotland’s place in Europe and for the rights of young people and European nationals to have a say on our future in Europe. However, so rose-tinted are the spectacles of some Conservative Members that they cannot see the problem that they are walking into: the problem that, in trying to kill one Union, they may end up killing two. If Scotland is to be dragged out of the European Union against its wishes, and on the back of votes from people in England, that may be the result that they do not see coming. If only they had a little of John Maclean’s foresight, rather than engaging in the navel-gazing that we have seen this afternoon.

Alas, these calls fell on deaf ears, as even in this debate, description of the United Kingdom as a “country” or “nation” was prevalent:

HILARY BENN: This Bill will set before the British people a clear and simple question: should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union? It is 11 words, but the answer will have profound consequences for the future of our country, as the people of the United Kingdom make the most important decision on our place in the world for 40 years.

JOHN REDWOOD: The nation would like to hear a debate about the United Kingdom’s relationship with the EU; not these silly jibes.

PHILLIP HAMMOND: Our record in the past five years shows that we can deliver change in Europe that is in Britain’s national interest.

ALAN MAK (Conservative, Havant): My parents not only taught me how to serve people from all walks of life, but instilled in me an enduring faith in the enormous possibilities of our great nation, our great United Kingdom.

DAVID NUTTALL (Conservative, Bury North): It is 40 years since the people of this country last had their say on this issue. Back then, the question was whether or not the United Kingdom should remain part of the Common Market—the European Economic Community.

The result:

The majority of MPs voted in favour of a referendum, to be held before the end of 2017, on whether the United Kingdom should remain a member of the European Union.

MPs were considering the European Union Referendum Bill[1]

The motion being considered was:

  • That the Bill be now read a Second time.

In this vote an amendment which would have replaced the text of the motion was rejected. The rejected text stated:

  • That this House
  • declines to give a Second Reading to the EU Referendum Bill because it fails to meet the gold standard set by the Scottish independence referendum in terms of inclusivity and democratic participation, in particular because the Bill does not give the right to vote to 16 and 17 year olds or most EU nationals living in the UK, the Bill does not include a double majority provision to ensure that no nation or jurisdiction of the UK can be taken out of the EU against its will, and the legislation does not include provision to ensure that the referendum vote cannot be held on the same day as the Scottish, Welsh or Northern Ireland elections.

Had the amended motion been passed the Bill would have made no further progress towards becoming law.

That means:

59 for, 339 against
For: 54(+2) SNP, 3 PC, 2 SDLP
Against: 332(+2) Con, 6 DUP, 4 LD, 3 Lab, 2 UUP, 1 UKIP, 1 Ind
Absent: 252

Or, if we’re only including Scottish MPs:

56 for, 2 against
For: 54(+2) SNP
Against: 1 Con, 1 LD
Absent: 1

So. No less than 95% of Scotland’s democratically elected representatives wanted Scotland’s – and Wales’ and Northern Ireland’s – voice to be considered on equal footing to that of England, and a mere 3.4% opposed (1.7% clearly not bothered either way). In terms of vote share, the party supported by 50% of the Scottish electorate ran away with the vote, with the parties supported by a combined 22.4% choosing to reject the very principle of the “Partnership of Equals” they so fervently promoted during the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum, and the sole representative of the then-second largest party supported by 24.3% not even bothering to turn up.

Even after the vote itself, amendments which would have allowed Scotland’s voice to be heard were summarily rejected:

STEPHEN PATERSON: The constituency I represent voted by over 67% to remain, and in Scotland, of course, the figure was 62%. Can the Prime Minister understand the democratic deficit that exists in Scotland, where we are being dragged out of Europe against our will?
DAVID CAMERON: My constituency voted by a majority to stay in the European Union, as did most of Oxfordshire, I am pleased to report, but we are one United Kingdom, and we take this decision on a United Kingdom basis.

The majority of MPs voted not to allow the devolved administrations in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to modify EU law retained as UK law following the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.

The majority of MPs voted against requiring the approval of MPs and the devolved administrations in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, as well as a report on the preservation of reciprocal healthcare agreements, before allowing ministers to make regulations to implement the terms of the United Kingdom’s agreement with the European Union on its withdrawal from the union.

The majority of MPs voted against only allowing the Prime Minister to give notification of the United Kingdom’s intention to leave the European Union a month after the approach to, and objectives for, withdrawal negotiations have been agreed by representatives of the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland administrations.

The majority of MPs voted not to give the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland a veto on if they should prevented from ammending EU law retained as UK law following the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.

The majority of MPs voted against requiring the consent of the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales and the Northern Ireland Assembly for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union.

(I would include the many questions asked of Theresa May in the Article 50 debate (including a rather blistering contribution from my own MP) on the clear contradiction between the promises made in 2014, and the reality of how the UK Government is treating Scotland now, but you get the idea.)

The only reason the “UK wide vote” meant 1 person 1 vote for all the citizens of the United Kingdom – treating the “Family of Nations,” the “Union of Equals,” as if it was one nation – is because of a party which achieved 14.9% of the vote and a single MP in Scotland, and a pitiful 36.9% of the vote across the entire UK. That’s who gets to decide whether the United Kingdom is truly a Union, or a Nation.

You can respect that if you like, but I sure as blazes will not.

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