William Hague: So much stronger for being in the union

1
Have your say

IN Britain, our overlapping allegiances and identities are among our great strengths.

I am a Yorkshireman with a constituency in the North of England. I am married to a Welsh woman. It’s a fair bet that over the last 300 years, generations of my ancestors have roamed every corner of the British Isles. But I would never want to choose between any of these identities.

I am proud to belong to the United Kingdom. I am a Yorkshireman, an Englishman and I am British. Here in Glasgow, I’m not a local, but I’m not a foreigner either; nor is any Scot anywhere in Britain or Northern Ireland.

Just as I was taken on holiday as a boy to see the magnificence of the Highlands, to marvel at Glencoe and to explore Loch Ness, I believe Scottish children should always be able to look upon the Dales of Yorkshire, the mountains of Snowdonia, the coasts of Cornwall and Pembrokeshire and the White Cliffs of Dover not as sights in a foreign country, but as their own country, forever.

When I went overseas as Foreign Secretary, I was proud to represent the whole of the United Kingdom, and I used the UK’s influence in support of our common interests in every international body that matters: from the UN Security Council, to the G7, the Commonwealth and Nato.

I lost count of the number of times when I pushed for markets to be opened, tariffs reduced, and counterfeits scrapped to protect and promote Scotch whisky, one of our greatest exports.

I worked with our security and intelligence services to confront terrorism and protect every family and every part of the United Kingdom; keeping safe the Olympic Games where TeamGB competed; and the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow where our national teams did so well.

All the time, I drew on the advice and expertise from exceptional Scots in our diplomatic service, serving from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe.

Together we built up our overseas network, one of the best in the world, so that it is even better equipped to promote the whole of the UK – without distinction.

There are almost 2,000 Scottish firms that can testify to the help that they received from UK Trade & Investment last year: from winning oil and gas contracts in Brazil to meeting buyers at Milan Fashion Week.

And 13,500 Scots are in work this year because of inward investment from overseas, with three-quarters of these projects won with UKTI help.

The value of our diplomatic network shows when any of our people run into trouble abroad. No one plans for a holiday to go wrong, but if it happens, then help is close by.

It’s not the case, as the nationalists would have you believe, that a Yes vote means no change to the consular help for people in Scotland.

An independent Scotland would have to support its own citizens. But there are no plans to match our network of 14,000 diplomats in 267 locations; our trade network of 169 offices, including nine in the USA; and our 800 consular advisers.

The nationalists plan a cut-price diplomatic service with a third of the embassies and a fifth of the staff. Scots in trouble overseas would then find the help is spread much more thinly.

Being part of the United Kingdom enables us to do more as a country. This is not just about how we see ourselves, it is about how the world sees us. Around the globe other people see the United Kingdom as something special, something precious.

They look with envy upon the stability of our country, the strength of our democracy, the richness of our culture and traditions, the breadth of our global role, and the extent of our diplomatic influence.

They prize their relationship with the United Kingdom, and in many cases reminisce about the role that the Scots, Welsh, English and Northern Irish made to the development of their nations.

From introducing football to building railways; fighting slavery and surveying mountains; and promoting education and democracy, underpinned by the rule of law, our forebears left their mark all over the world. These countries are waking up to the prospect that our Union could be rent apart. And universally, you will hear the question: Why?

Our enemies – those who spread terror in the world, who attack our citizens and despise our common values – would be satisfied if this happened. Our friends and allies are dismayed. They know the United Kingdom is a force for good; a valued partner; a stable friend.

We help those in need as one of the few nations that meets its target for development aid; saving lives in emergencies, enabling girls to get a good education, and using our Armed Forces and security services to support our allies abroad and to keep our families safe at home.

In a world that is becoming less stable, less safe we should be working together, not tearing ourselves apart.

Take Gaza, where the Scottish Government donated £500,000. It added to the £30m given by the UK government, and backed up by our actions to halt the fighting in the UN Security Council.

Or the preventing sexual violence in conflict campaign, where the UK is leading the way in seeking an end to rape as a weapon of war, stirring the conscience of the world as well as the actions of governments.

There is every sign the world is becoming systemically more dangerous. There are storms brewing in the Middle East and beyond that will buffet the UK.

We are facing far greater economic competition, a direct challenge to the prosperity of our future generations, and global threats from cyber attack and organised crime to terrorism.

Thinking forward to 20 years from now it will be even more important for the people of Scotland to benefit from the protection of one of the largest and most capable Armed Forces in the world and the best diplomats and intelligence agencies in the world.

We will need every ounce of ingenuity and strength that we can muster together.

It is absolutely not the time to break up our United Kingdom.

• William Hague is the Richmond MP and Leader of the House of Commons. This is an edited version of a speech delivered in Glasgow.