Ladies and gentlemen, people of Britain, English, Irish, Welsh and Scots, and every colour and culture in between who have come from all corners of the earth to make your lives here in our United Kingdom, I extend the hand of friendship – no, the hand of kinship – to you all, everyone. I may be called Cameron, I may be the elected leader, Prime among equals, but more than that, I am one of you. Whatever our name, whatever our nationality we are together on these islands today not just as a nation, not just as a society…but as a family. Our family name is Britain. The British family.
You often hear people say of their family that if only they had talked, or tried a little harder, if only they had listened, a rift would never have occurred. People spend their entire adult lives regretting one incident that broke them apart and it can resound down the generations. Let us not make that mistake in these critical times. Let us ensure that when there is unhappiness at home, we talk, we listen and we understand – because we care.
As part of that process, I need to be open and honest in a way that, frankly I have not been before and nor, I should add, have the leaders of governments in Britain before me. It has taken me some time but I now realise that a major part of the problem this country faces is that we have not been listening. For many years now there has been unrest in Scotland, not just from nationalists but from British-minded Scots of all political colours who have become exasperated that government hasn’t worked for them. It hasn’t respected their differences, paid attention to their needs, nor, I’m ashamed to say, shared their dreams. We in government have been distant, aloof and dismissive cocooned in London and expecting others with different backgrounds and attitudes to accept our views. Worse, at times, and as history shows, we have deliberately misled the Scots to bend them to our will.
It is true. It is a chastening experience to stand before you today and admit that successive British governments put greed for oil revenues before the interests of the Scots. We allowed the machinery of government to underestimate and undersell the value of our North Sea hydrocarbon bonanza. We even tried to pretend it wasn’t Scotland’s oil by creating a new economic region – Extra Regio – to which the oil could be ascribed. If there is mitigation it is that we looked to a wider British national interest but that should not be allowed to obscure the fact your government bent the truth. We should have told the truth – that if the Scots voted, as was their right, in the early seventies for their independence, they would have been in the words of an official report “as rich as Switzerland”. We, the rest of the UK would have been negotiating loan deals from Edinburgh, striking cheap energy arrangements and looking enviously on as the Scots built up massive sovereign funds to underpin what would have been the most generous pensions in Europe and riding downturns and recessions with barely a ripple. The truth can now be told, that £300billion of revenues have flowed to London from the Scottish oil fields and it has underpinned our policies even today is keeping our currency, the pound sterling, from declining in value by boosting our balance of payments. Friends, the other sad reality is that none of those billions has been saved. None. We poured into our current account and wrote cheque after cheque to pay for goods and services as if we were spendthrift lottery winners. Today I am redressing that situation. My government is setting up with immediate effect a sovereign oil fund which will channel a proportion of revenues to Edinburgh for unrestricted use by the Scottish government. The details of the fund will be agreed between Mr Salmond and myself. If you think that is a gesture instead of an apology. It isn’t. I also say today to the people of Scotland – to our British family in Scotland – I am sorry. Sorry that you were denied the transformational benefits of the oil, sorry that the British government – your government – misled you and on behalf of the rest of us in these islands, I also say a heartfelt Thank you. Thank you, Scotland for sticking with your family and sharing your windfall and helping to create a wealthier Britain.
I know that is one reason why so many of you are ready now to break up our family but before you do, here is another admission. I have been guilty of orchestrating a programme of misinformation in my desire to keep you in this family. Its message was that you would be poorer on your own. It has implied, and sometimes, stated that Britain subsidises Scotland, that money flows north without which Scotland would struggle. It is not true.
In fact all the government accounts shows the opposite to be the case, that, if anything Scotland hands a subsidy to Britain, equal on some estimates to £100 a week for every family in Scotland. I cannot undo what is done but it makes me realise how little we have truly appreciated Scotland’s contribution. Two things will now happen. No Tory minister will ever gain claim Scotland is a net recipient and no minister will bully or threaten Scotland or claim we won’t cooperate if there is a Yes vote. And on Monday I will fly to Edinburgh for a summit with the First Minister in which we will discuss the tax powers he desires to improve Scotland’s competitive economy. I realise I should have done this before we became engaged in this referendum campaign but better late than never. I have a slate of powers ready to be handed to Edinburgh, more I may say, than has ever been imagined before now.
To those who say I go too far, I can only reply that if I don’t there is a serious possibility that we will lose our Scottish friends, our cooperative relationship with them, 10 per cent of our economy, global credibility and the bedrock of our national defence which underpins ties to our greatest ally.
What I offer today is a transformational shift in the governance of Britain. To Scotland I offer an open page so we can start again with the opportunity for Scots to claim everything we can deem workable to be devolved to them without destroying the Union. The West Lothian Question will be answered by a different and reduced representation at Westminster.
To Wales and Northern Ireland I offer open-ended discussions on the powers they desire. And today for the first time I acknowledge the long-ignored mighty regions of England…the Midlands, the North East, the South West where we intend to build the decision-making architecture to produce vibrant economic hubs alive with innovation and manufacturing. I want them not feed off London but to compete with London.
There will be a moratorium on public spending in London. The Assembly will be allowed to raise its own taxes with a consequential loss of central funds. But in addition, major infrastructure spending above an agreed level will require national approval first in parliament and then by referendum. Just as people across the UK should engage with Scotland’s debate, so people across the UK should engage with London as we strive to juggle its success with the imbalances it creates. The new fast rail service HS2 will begin building in Birmingham AND London and as from today its scope is extended to Glasgow. If it is successful I will listen to plans for it to carry on into the Highlands up to Inverness, just as the Victorians did with today’s line. They didn’t hide from ambition, they took it as a dare and so will we.
I understand that we can only be a family if we listen and talk and see how inter-connected we all are. The remainder of my time in office will be dedicated to bringing the people of our island family together and allowing them as much freedom as they desire to run their own affairs and make the best of their lives. These last few years have made us all realise that what has been stirring in Scotland is also alive in the rest of Britain, that our people are desperate for better government, for meaningful representation and a sense of belonging. Scotland has wakened us up. Thank you again, Scotland.
To you I say, go if you must. If that is your destiny, you must pursue it but you will leave behind a saddened and disappointed family still reaching out to you as you go. Let us not suffer generations of regret. Here’s a hand my trusty friend and give me a hand that’s thine…Stay in our family. We can resolve our differences. Please don’t go. Thank you.