Lords’ Maiden Speeches: Ming Campbell on the Scotland Bill and the F word

Lord Campbell of Pittenweem (a very pretty fishing village in North East Fife) made his maiden speech unexpectedly early. I had been taking to him a few weeks ago and he had said it probably wouldn’t be till January. He couldn’t resist the temptation to come in on the Scotland Bill, especially as he’d chaired two commissions on how more power could be devolved to and beyond the Scottish Parliament.

Here is his speech in full:

My Lords, I am not entirely clear how to respond to that but I think that the good people of Pittenweem will make their own judgment.

I hope that it will not be thought presumptuous of me to suggest that we should be loath to draw any parallels between the Schleswig-Holstein question and any of the contents of the Bill. It will be remembered that one of those who claimed to understand the question went mad, and it may be thought an unfortunate omen.

Contrary to expectation, this is not the first time that I have spoken in your Lordships’ House. The last occasion was more than 30 years ago but I have good cause to remember it well. Outside, there was a most Indian of Indian summers; inside, being after 1 October, the central heating was going full bore, and I was dressed in full court dress and wearing the necessary full-bottomed wig when appearing before the judicial committee in the Chamber. Notwithstanding that ordeal, worse was to be suffered. I spent a whole day being eviscerated by Lord Bridge of Harwich, whom some of your Lordships will remember for his robust interventions on the judicial committee. It is only very recently, and reluctantly, that I have come to the view that perhaps he did not care for my argument.

For maiden speakers, the advice is clear: be grateful, be short and be uncontroversial. I believe that I will be able to meet the first two of these but I have some reservations about my ability to adhere to the third. I am indeed grateful to all those who have successfully piloted me through the necessary steps to enable me to become a Member of your Lordships’ House but I have little doubt that I shall be seeking their indulgence for some considerable time to come. However, if I may offer a tentative conclusion, it is now patently clear to me that the House of Lords is run by the attendants. I am left with the feeling of a junior who has left to join the seniors, and I mean no adverse implication by that characterisation. As for being short, I believe that I can meet this requirement, as in my previous life I never showed any enthusiasm for long distances or indeed endurance events.

However, it is the third of those pieces of advice of which I am less confident. This is a debate nominally about Scotland but, as has been made clear in some of the contributions, it is also about the future of the United Kingdom. In the febrile and sometimes intimidating environment of Scottish politics, it is almost always necessary to state one’s qualifications for joining in the debate, and that is why I will state mine.

I was born in Scotland, my parents were Scottish, I went to school and university in Scotland, I am married to a Scot, I qualified in and practised Scots law, I represented a Scottish constituency for 28 years and I am the chancellor of Scotland’s oldest university. I believe that I have the right to participate in any debate about the future of Scotland and the United Kingdom wherever it may be held. But my pride in Scotland is not exclusive: I am equally proud to be a citizen of the United Kingdom. At Murrayfield I cheer for Scotland, although not always to good effect; at the Oval I cheer for England; and, wherever the Ryder Cup is played, I cheer for Europe. These are not competing but complementary affiliations.

So why should I be proud to be a citizen of the United Kingdom? Here are a few reasons. This country has had no civil war since the last convulsions of Jacobitism in 1745. It successfully resisted the fascism and the communism which blighted so many countries in Europe. It invented the welfare state and created the National Health Service. Human rights are at the very heart of our governance and we have a judiciary, both north and south of the border, of enviable independence. Our freedom of speech, expression and assembly are admired by liberals everywhere. Beyond that, we are permanent members of the Security Council of the United Nations, the G8, NATO, the European Community and the Commonwealth. We have much to be proud of in our unique contribution to international affairs.

And yet our union is under threat. I have no doubt that the people of Scotland agreed that we are better together but, following the events of the last few weeks, I am equally convinced that we are safer together. I simply do not believe that an independent Scotland would be capable of providing the level of security required if we are to live in safety. A failure to do so would have dangerous implications not only for Scotland but for the rest of these islands. If we are to preserve our union, I believe that we need to legislate for a new Act of Union; legislating for England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, and setting out clearly the responsibilities and rights of all four nations. If you advance that proposition, you have to answer the question of what form such a reinvigorated union should take.

Until very recently the F-word was not mentioned in polite society, and certainly not before the BBC’s 9 pm watershed. But now, it is in common parlance. My personal view, agreeing with that of my noble and learned friend Lord Wallace of Tankerness, is that the case for federalism has never been more popular or stronger than it is now. This is not the occasion for a detailed debate on a new Act of Union or indeed on the principle of federalism itself. However, I hope that we shall return to these matters early here. If I may, out of nostalgia as much as anything else, I will say as I said on the previous occasion when I spoke in your Lordships’ Chamber: my Lords, I rest my case.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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