With permission, Mr Speaker, I wish to make a statement to the House about the position of Scotland within the United Kingdom.
As hon. Members will know, on 18 September the people of Scotland voted in a referendum on independence. I am pleased to report to the House that, by a margin of 10.6%, or by 55.3% to 44.7%, the people of Scotland voted to remain part of the United Kingdom.
The referendum was underpinned by the Edinburgh Agreement, signed between the United Kingdom Government and the Scottish Government in October 2012. That agreement ensured that the referendum would have a clear legal base, that it would be conducted in a way that commanded the confidence of both Parliaments, Governments and people, and, most importantly, that it would deliver a fair, legal and decisive expression of the views of people in Scotland—a result that everyone would respect.
More than 2 million people made a positive choice for Scotland to remain part of the United Kingdom. The franchise for the referendum included, for the first time ever in this country, 16 and 17-year-olds.
At a time when our elections have suffered from declining participation, the turnout across Scotland was nearly 85%—something that I am sure all across the House would welcome. Politics works best when people take an active interest in supporting the things that matter to them most. It also adds emphasis to the democratic result.
The decision of the people of Scotland was clear: they voted to continue to be part of this family of nations; they voted to continue to work alongside people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland; and they voted for all of us to remain together as a United Kingdom. It is important that everyone now accepts that result. We should all move on from being part of the 55% or the 45% to working for 100% of the people of Scotland.
That is what we are doing. The vow made by the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition during the referendum campaign is already being put into practice. The Smith Commission, chaired by Lord Smith of Kelvin, was up and running on 19 September. He will convene cross-party talks to reach agreement on the proposals for further devolution to Scotland.
His terms of reference make it clear that the recommendations will deliver more financial, welfare and taxation powers, strengthening the Scottish Parliament within the United Kingdom. But that process is not just about the parties; the referendum opened up civic engagement in Scotland across sectors, communities and organisations, and Lord Smith has made it clear that he wants to hear from all those groups to ensure that the recommendations he produces are informed by views from right across Scottish society.
By St Andrew’s Day, Lord Smith will publish “Heads of Agreement”. The Government are committed to turning those recommendations into draft clauses by Burns Night 2015. The timetable is demanding, but that is because the demand is there in Scotland to see change delivered, and it is a demand we shall meet.
On Friday 10 October, all five main Scottish parties submitted their proposals to the commission. In the case of the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties, the proposals reflect the positions published by the parties prior to the referendum campaign. The Scottish National party and the Green party agreed to join the cross-party talks after the referendum, and they too submitted proposals on Friday—a development that we welcome.
Today I can confirm that the Government are meeting the first step in the further devolution process by publishing a Command Paper. The Command Paper we are presenting today provides a clear, factual summary of the proposals for further devolution in Scotland published by each of the three pro-UK parties, as we committed to do during the referendum campaign.
Those plans encompass a broad, complex and often interlinked range of topics, from taxation to borrowing and from welfare to regulation. To inform and assist consideration of each of those proposals, the Command Paper also sets out factual information about the current situation in the key policy areas, as well as presenting some background information about devolution in Scotland to date. The publication is wholly without prejudice to the work of the Smith Commission, which will look at proposals from all the parties and others and seek to establish the ground for consensus.
This will be the first time in the development of Scotland’s constitutional future that all its main parties are participating in a process to consider further devolution. It is a truly historic moment, and one that I very much welcome.
With all five main Scottish parties working together in collaboration, I am confident that we will reach an agreement that will provide the enhanced powers to the people of Scotland and accountability for the Scottish Parliament while retaining the strength and benefits of being part of the United Kingdom.
That was the message heard loud and clear during the referendum campaign, and it is one that this Government, and all Scotland’s political parties, are committed to supporting.