As the people of Scotland put pen to ballot paper next week, you will be writing the UK’s future in indelible ink. It’s a momentous decision – there will be no going back.
That is why the main party leaders – Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and I – have agreed the right place for us to be today is in Scotland, not at Prime Minister's Questions in Westminster. There is a lot that divides us – but there's one thing on which we agree passionately: the United Kingdom is better together. At this crucial moment, we want to be listening and talking to voters about the huge choices they face. Our message to the Scottish people will be simple: 'We want you to stay.'
It’s difficult to put into words what our United Kingdom represents. This is the group of small islands in the North Atlantic that have punched above our weight for centuries – and we’ve done so together. When the world wanted representation, we gave them democracy. When they wanted progress, we had the Scottish enlightenment and the industrial revolution. When slavery bound innocent people, we abolished it; when fascism threatened freedom, we defeated it. A hundred years ago, our boys went off to war together – and they did so as comrades, united by purpose and hope for a better world. As individuals and as nations, we have done extraordinary things. This is the special alchemy of the UK – you mix together Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland and together we smash expectations.
And that’s just as true today as it’s ever been. Together we ensure that the sick are cared for in our NHS; that no-one has to reach for their credit card to get decent medical help. Together we ensure dignity and security for our elderly, with a pension system that we all pay into, from Land’s End to John O’Groats. Together, the United Kingdom embodies the values that the world looks on with awe and envy.
Just because our countries are great together, that does not mean we cannot be even better. That is why a No vote doesn’t mean a vote for the status quo – No doesn’t mean no change. It means significant further devolution for Scotland – major new powers over tax, spending and welfare all being passed to Scotland.
This is not about Scotland versus the rest of the United Kingdom. It is about two competing visions of Scotland’s future,
This week, the No campaign set out more detail on this. Power for Scotland over how much money it borrows, what taxes it raises, how it spends that money – all agreed by November, all put into draft legislation by January. This is the package that Gordon Brown outlined on Monday. It is one I wholeheartedly support. Because we know that brighter future for Scotland rests not only on staying in the UK, but also on having significant new powers.
This is the sort of clarity you need as you make this decision, knowing how it will affect your life, your job, the security of your country, the money in your pocket – especially when you’re not just making this decision for yourself, but for your children, your grandchildren, and their children too. With this timetable, we are giving people that clarity, showing that by voting No, Scotland gets the best of both worlds: power over the policies that matter, and the stability of the United Kingdom; the freedom to chart its own destiny, and the support of three other nations; the reputation in the world as a successful nation, and the clout of a world-renowned union.
But where we offer clarity, those who support separation offer only question marks. Just eight days away from the referendum, they are still unclear on what money Scotland could use without the pound sterling. The plan for Scotland to enter the EU is a blank page. The formula for filling the public services funding deficit is a blank space. While a Yes vote may be a lucky dip, a No vote is a guaranteed win for anyone who wants a stronger, more autonomous Scotland.
The United Kingdom is a precious and special country. That is what is at stake. So let no-one in Scotland be in any doubt: we desperately want you to stay; we do not want this family of nations to be ripped apart. Across England, Northern Ireland and Wales, our fear over what we stand to lose is matched only by our passion for what can be achieved if we stay together. If we pull together, we can keep on building a better future for our children. We can make sure our destiny matches our history, because there really will be no second chances. If the UK breaks apart, it breaks apart forever.
So the choice for you is clear: a leap into the dark with a Yes vote, or a brighter future for Scotland by voting No. You can have the best of both worlds in the UK. You can have more powers in Scotland. And you can be part of a United Kingdom – standing tall, forging a more secure future in this world, building more opportunities for our children and grandchildren and the generations yet to be born. That is the next chapter in our history; we can write it together – but only if Scotland votes No next week.