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  • Writer's pictureBritish Unionist Admin

Harthill Speech: Maintain Union, Secure the Border, Rebuild Britain

Updated: May 1, 2023

The following speech was delivered at the British Unionist Party meeting in Harthill, Lanarkshire, on Wednesday 28th September.

First off, I’d like to thank everybody here for coming along tonight. I think it’s great that we’re able to hold this meeting having successfully elected our first councillor. Not many new parties actually get to the point of ever electing anybody, so it’s an important achievement and it gives us something real and meaningful to build on going forward. Alex Salmond’s Alba Party fielded 111 candidates at this year’s local elections, and didn’t even come close to getting a single one of them elected. When you look at the media coverage and the election spending that they had, going into the tens of thousands of pounds, it just shows you what an achievement it was for John Jo to be comfortably elected here in this ward.

That success didn’t happen overnight. We fought this seat twice and fell short, before we finally succeeded this May. Jeff McDonald stood for us here in the 2017 local elections, and was just a whisker away from getting elected. The Conservative candidate just pipped him to the post, but of course, it turned out that the Conservative candidate didn’t expect to get elected, and refused to take his seat. It was in the by-election resulting from that, in September 2017, that John Jo first stood for us, and although he didn’t win the seat that time round, he caught the attention of the media by coming second with a very strong result, and beating the SNP.

So when we did succeed this May, that success didn’t come out of the blue. It was the result of a lot of groundwork – from our end as a party, but also John Jo’s decades of hard work within the local community. He’s been on Shotts Community Council for three decades now, working away hard in the background. I was amazed when we were campaigning, because it seemed like everybody seemed to know him, whether we were in Dykehead, or Torbothie, or Eastfield or Allanton, anywhere in the ward, he was a “kent face”, who was clearly well liked and appreciated by the local community.

Going forward, there’s good reason to believe that there is a gap in the market for a Unionist alternative. Most people would probably agree that the political class in this country is wildly out of touch with ordinary people on a whole host of issues, from the cost-of-living crisis, to political correctness, to immigration, to constitutional issues like devolution. The politicians live in their little bubbles at Holyrood and Westminster, and they’re just so far removed from the everyday challenges and experiences that the ordinary British people are currently living through.

That’s why we don’t want the British Unionist Party to go down the road of being a single-issue party, just talking about constitutional issues, or just focusing on the devolved politics and the failures of the SNP administration at Holyrood. Of course, these things are extremely important, but we also need to look at the bigger British picture, because the SNP really hate it when we do that. They would love for us all to talk about nothing but devolved politics and Scotland-only issues, and to be stuck in that little goldfish bowl, because that plays right into their underlying nationalist ethos: this idea that Britain doesn’t matter, and we just talk about Scottish issues as if they are separate from the rest of the UK. This very unfortunate tendency has been massively exacerbated by over twenty years of devolution.

We need to push back against this and start talking about the bigger British picture. As British Unionists, we believe that the United Kingdom is a unitary state and one nation, and so we must take all the responsibilities of nationhood seriously. And that means looking beyond the devolved goldfish bowl here in Scotland, and addressing the fundamental issues that are affecting our country – the United Kingdom. That means that we need to take a meaningful stance on a wide range of economic, social and constitutional issues. That means that we need to be critical of the Conservative and Labour parties, and the national direction they have led us down. That means standing with the Unionist community of Northern Ireland when they are betrayed by a dodgy EU deal.

Most fundamentally, it means standing up against the broad constitutional, economic, social and moral dissolution of the United Kingdom by the political establishment in this country, that’s been going on for decades now. As Unionists, we can’t just retreat into a little Scottish bubble, where all we talk about is Holyrood and the SNP. We must participate as fully in British political debate, on national issues, as anybody anywhere else in the UK, whether that be Manchester, or Somerset, or Carlisle, or Cardiff, or Londonderry, or Hull or Sheffield. We need to break out of the Scottish echo-chamber that devolution has pressed us into.

That’s why we are seeking to build the British Unionist Party as a national party at the UK level, with a broad manifesto to put our country back together again. Our manifesto can be summed up in three broad points – Maintain the Union, Secure the Border, and Rebuild Britain. I think these are three key themes that the ordinary person can identify with, and they are three areas where the major parties have really let everybody down for a long time now.

Our first and primary core policy is to Maintain the Union. This, however, should not be confused with supporting the status-quo. As British Unionists, we are deeply critical of the devolution process, which has done enormous damage to the constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom. In 1995, four years before Holyrood was opened, George Robertson, Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, promised us that devolution would – to quote him - “kill nationalism stone dead”.

Speaking now twenty-seven years later, I think it’s fair to say he got that one wrong. Devolution has proven to be a deeply divisive, expensive, failed Blair-era experiment, that has served only to embolden the SNP. We’re forking out over £100 million every single year for the devolved assembly at Holyrood alone, including lavish six-figure salaries for third-rate politicians, at a time when millions across the country are choosing between heating or eating. In return, we’ve had fifteen years of SNP mis-government as a result of devolution, and constant demands for a repeat of the deeply divisive 2014 referendum.

Most fundamentally, devolution has changed both the practical and perceived nature of the United Kingdom. We no longer function as “One Nation” – instead the UK is increasingly regarded as nothing more than a composite of four largely separate and self-governing “home nations”. As British Unionists, we must push back against this narrative and make the case that the United Kingdom is a unitary state with a common national interest. To make that a reality, we have to actively campaign against legislative devolution – we desperately need an anti-devolution voice in Scottish and British politics that will challenge the constant, one-way flow of powers to Holyrood, and dare to say that devolution has failed, and that it is incompatible with the Union.

Our second core policy is to Secure the Border. In a single twelve-month period until March this year, 1.6 million visas and permits were granted by the UK government.[1] Net migration is now in the hundreds of thousands every single year. This is mostly legal migration, because that current Conservative government has implemented the most liberal immigration laws in our nation’s history – more liberal than even the Blair government. With current net migration figures, a total of around 600,000 people are added to the UK population every two years – that’s more than the population of some of our largest cities like Liverpool or Manchester. A lot of people think that following Brexit, immigration is no longer an issue, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Just this week, the Prime Minister announced that she would further liberalise immigration laws by lifting caps on seasonal workers and easing English-language requirements.[2]

Currently, there is no party with any profile that is speaking up on this issue. And yet, as the Brexit vote showed, there is a silent majority that wants to see immigration reduced and that is crying out for a voice in party politics. The establishment parties have failed them, and I believe the British Unionist Party could finally give them that voice by making a clear, sensible and reasoned case for current levels of immigration to be reduced.

The third and final core theme in our manifesto is to Rebuild Britain. For decades, Britain has been shutting down, and our once serious, industrial economy has been replaced by a shallow, service-sector gig economy that offers little in the way of skilled or stable jobs. Unfettered globalisation has allowed our manufacturing to be outsourced abroad, and put British workers in price competition with much of the developing world. The effects of this have been devastating for the British working-class and the communities that were once based around stable, industrial jobs.

It doesn’t have to be this way. There are other developed, Western nations with strong manufacturing, industrial economies. Manufacturing accounts for a quarter of German GDP, but barely 10 % here in Britain.[3] How do they do it? Well, they invest in their youth and give them skilled, technical training. Young Germans are much less likely to go to university than British youth, because they are much more likely to get vocational training at technical colleges instead. And that’s why the majority of German manufacturing is focused in the medium and high-tech sectors. There’s no reason why we couldn’t begin to do that here in Britain, and rebuild industries like British Steel and British Shipbuilding as high-quality, specialist manufacturers. We maybe can’t beat China and the developing world on price, but we can beat them on quality by investing in skilled, specialist, industrial jobs.

We need to reverse the shutting down and de-industrialisation of Britain. The old days of mass, heavy industry may be over, but the solution to that is not to devolve into a low-pay, low-skill service economy. We need to invest in our youth and give them a future; we need a serious, substantial industrial economy that makes things and that focuses on providing high-tech, high-quality manufacturing.

To do this, we need to get our national infrastructure up and running again. Right now, Dutch and German state-backed companies run our railways and profit handsomely from them, while commuters pay exorbitant fares. A few years ago, British Steel was haggled over by a Turkish military pension fund before it was eventually bought by the Jingye Group, a Chinese state-backed company. Imperial Chemical Industries, the UK’s premier chemical company and at one point the largest manufacturer in Britain, was sold off to Dutch-based multinational AkzoNobel in 2008. Privatised water companies are pumping sewage into the sea, while even the very postal service, which was established as a state monopoly in the 17th Century by Charles I, has been sold off by the government to make a quick buck. We are in the extraordinary position where not just core manufacturing, but basic national utilities have been handed to unaccountable, greed-driven multinational corporations.

We need to stop this – we need to rebuild, create things, create wealth, create skilled jobs, and that way we’ll have the money there to fund quality public services, to ensure a well-funded NHS, to make sure that no pensioner even has to choose again between heating and eating.

As Unionists, we need to talk about these things, because we should never fall into the trap of thinking that the Union is just a constitutional arrangement between the different parts that make up the UK. It’s much more than that – we’re making the case for Britain, for a country, and all that that entails – a common national interest, a sense of shared interests and values, of shared institutions and experiences.

And that’s why we want to build as a UK party, and to stand on a broad manifesto that will give a voice to the silent majority and resonate with the ordinary voter – a manifesto to Maintain the Union, Secure the Border and Rebuild Britain, and to start putting our country back together again.

[1] [2] [3]


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