The Union is in trouble whoever wins the Tory leadership race

20 July 2022

4:18 PM

20 July 2022

4:18 PM

It’s not a question that has enjoyed much play in the Tory leadership election but it’s a pretty important one: Should the United Kingdom continue to exist? That is essentially what Isabel Hardman tried to tease out of the three remaining candidates in The Spectator hustings, which comprised separate head-to-head interviews. Penny Mordaunt and Liz Truss were interviewed in person at The Spectator offices while Rishi Sunak spoke to Isabel down the line.

None of the candidates had any great insight into how to preserve the UK. None broached fundamental questions, such as the inherent flaws of a devolved settlement that allows the Scottish government to use taxpayers’ money to constantly campaign for the dismantling of the UK. However, the exchanges were useful in recording how each instinctively reacted to a question about allowing another referendum. Each candidate was asked:

‘Are there any circumstances in which you would agree to a second Scottish independence referendum?’

It was obvious that one candidate in particular struggled to speak extemporaneously about this matter. Decide for yourself who you think that is from this transcript.

Penny Mordaunt:

PM: ‘I think this is a – a settled question. Uh, we recently had, uh, a referendum and this is not, uh, going to be something that I’m going to be looking at. We, we have so many more priorities and I think the people of Scotland, uh, want us to focus on the things that are of genuine concern to them. Cost of living. Uh, ensuring that the Scottish government is actually delivering for them on healthcare and other issues. So, uh, no, I – I – I’m – I’m not looking at that.’

Rishi Sunak:

RS: ‘This is… this process is now… playing out in the courts and the Supreme Court will make a decision… you know, I – I – you know, my… [laughs] I think I – I – I hope that they will, they will decide that, you know, it’s rightly for the constitution sets out how that’s meant to work, so, you know, that court process will play out. My – my general… view on the matter is: I – I care very deeply about the Union and I think, of all the challenges we’ve got ahead of us now, I think most people… in Scotland especially would agree that that’s not the priority right now is to have a – a divisive referendum. The priority for… all governments that represent them, and administrations that represent them, is to tackle the economic challenges that they’re facing with the cost of living and that’s what I certainly will be focused on doing and it – you know, I don’t think arguing about another referendum now is – is remotely the right priority.’

Liz Truss:

LT: ‘No.’

Isabel Hardman: ‘None at all?’

LT: ‘Well… the last referendum in 2014 was described as a ‘once in a generation’ referendum and we’re now in 2022. That is not a generation ago.’

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