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Cambridge Union debates whether or not the United Kingdom is still united

Last Thursday (February 25), the Cambridge Union hosted a debate on the motion, ‘This House believes the Kingdom is no longer united’.

The Cambridge Union
The Cambridge Union

Opening the debate - which was hosted by Freddie Fisk, Union president for Lent 2021 - for the proposition was the leader of the SNP at Westminster and the MP for Ross, Skye, and Lochaber, Ian Blackford.

He firstly drew attention to the infighting at Downing Street over the newly created Union unit and suggested that this exemplified the disunity in our Kingdom.

He pointed to two main explanatory factors: 1) Brexit, which had seen Scotland taken out of the EU against its will, and 2) A decade of Tory austerity, which was “likely”, he said, to be renewed in the wake of Covid-19.

Responding to Blackford, the first speaker for the opposition was Ian Murray, the shadow secretary of state for Scotland and the MP for Edinburgh South.

Murray plead for the audience not to conflate the current occupants of Downing Street with the country at-large. He expressed his fundamental belief in the Union on the premise that it is in the best interests of the people that live on these isles.

He also took issue with a number of unanswered questions over a future independent Scotland, not least the currency and re-accession to the EU.

The next proposition speaker was Conservative Welsh Assembly member, David Melling. He argued that devolution entailed a “dangerous energy” and that it was blighted by a fatal flaw in that it had left out England from the project.

Melling emphatically denied that the 2014 No vote was a generational mandate, pointing to a strong 45 per cent Yes vote.

Oscar Wilde and George Orwell debate at the Cambridge Union on January 23, 2020
Oscar Wilde and George Orwell debate at the Cambridge Union on January 23, 2020

Following Melling was the Scottish Liberal Democrat, Christine Jardine, who is the MP for Edinburgh West and is also the treasury spokesperson. Jardine emphasised a “common purpose” when tackling major crises, such as Covid-19.

She argued that many people were tired with nationalist politicians, whose raison d’etre is to foster disunity. Jardine suggested that there is a calculated amnesia in the SNP camp at Westminster, in that talk of devolved education, or the Scottish NHS, is shunned.

The former Liberal Democrat MP for Southwark and deputy leader of the party from 2010 to 2014, Simon Hughes, closed the case for the proposition.

He argued that beyond emotion, the case for the motion was overwhelming. Hughes suggested that our current disunity was not inevitable and that had we gone federal, like Switzerland, India, or Australia, we might have saved the Union.

Closing the case for the opposition was the Scottish Conservative, Andrew Bowie, MP for Aberdeenshire and Kincardine.

Bowie reiterated the language of “shared values” that had been advanced by Jardine and talked of a proud collective history involving the abolition of slavery, the fight against fascism, and the role the UK played in the creation of post-war institutions, such as the UN and NATO.

The results were 28 ayes, 36 noes, and one abstention. The motion was thus not carried.

For more on the Cambridge Union, visit cus.org.

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