Theresa May’s hymn to unity was heartfelt and robust

The only thing missing was the Queen barreling out of a helicopter with Daniel Craig. 

Theresa May’s speech to the Scottish Tory conference was straight out of Danny Boyle’s London 2012 spectacular — Britain as bold, bright, outward-looking nation.

And like Boyle’s Olympic-opening paean to all that is good about the UK, the Prime Minister’s address in Glasgow was an altogether sunnier take on the Union than Scots are used to.

Mrs May told delegates: ‘Together we form the world’s greatest family of nations but the real story of our Union is not to be found in Treaties or Acts of Parliament. It is written in our collective achievements, both at home and in the world.’

The hall loved it. Conservative conferences are a tale of two Tories. The mini-Mogg — suit from John Lewis, politics from John Redwood — and the No-Nonsense Auntie: A doughty, reliable type who knocks the doors, bakes the scones, and handbags Central Office when it gets too carried away with itself. The libertarian mini-Moggs set aside their iffiness about collectivism to rah-rah the Prime Minister’s words while the Aunties, terribly proud to be British but one doesn’t go on about it, thundered in applause.

It’s no wonder they lapped it up. This was a rare treat for Scottish Unionists. Panegyrics to our four-nation partnership are hard to come by north of the border, where supporters of the UK prefer to keep quiet for an easy life. The Nationalists have filled that void with lurid tales of oppression and colonial imposition. The SNP thinks the Union is a family too; they just think it’s the Mansons.

If the speech was proudly Unionist, it wasn’t terribly Tory. ‘Solidarity is the essence of our United Kingdom,’ Mrs May declared to sustained clapping. ‘The poorest and the most vulnerable in our society’ depend on the wealth redistribution that the Union allows. Somehow, Theresa May got 500 Tories out of bed on a Friday morning to cheer for socialism.

Mrs May’s hymn to unity was heartfelt, something her predecessor tried to pull off but never could. David Cameron’s speeches in 2014 were 10% emotion and 90% economics; Mrs May flips that around. Transactional unionism has been replaced by something more heartfelt. Stay with us, Scotland — not for the subsidies but because we belong together. ‘It is a union of people, affections and loyalties.’

She underscored the inventions and discoveries that had come about by Britons working together, such as the steam engine and penicillin. Tellingly, these are two innovations frequently hailed as ‘Scottish’ by the SNP, their tribalism too rigid to concede even cooperation.

The most recent example of this was JK Rowling, the Prime Minister added: ‘The Harry Potter books, which have sold over 500 million copies, were begun in a café in Edinburgh by an author from Gloucestershire.’

A forceful point crackled under her words: Scotland belongs to all of us; the SNP doesn’t get to decide who’s Scottish and who’s not.

Mrs May’s speech was mostly boilerplate but parse a word here and a clause there and you have the makings of a fresh approach to devolution. Mr Cameron’s respect agenda — which involved him being respectful to the SNP and them respectfully telling him to b****r off — has been replaced by a mutual respect agenda. Downing Street would seek to work with the devolved administration but the good of the Union, not appeasement of the Nationalists, would be the priority.

The Prime Minister was relaxed, even allowing herself the odd smile. She looks less apprehensive when speaking in Scotland than her old boss did; her shoulders are less hunched, her words less halted by fear of saying the wrong thing. Every few months, Mr Cameron would come north to deliver a ‘defence’ of the Union and every time it would fall flat. By seeking to defend the United Kingdom, he accepted that it was on trial. Mrs May celebrated our shared values and prosecuted a strong case against separatism.

She gets what Mr Cameron seemed not to: Scotland is her country too, and she needn’t be afraid to talk about it.


Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail. Letters: scotletters [insert @ symbol]

One thought on “Theresa May’s hymn to unity was heartfelt and robust

  1. Stephen ,I cannot begin to tell you how much I enjoy your articles and how much I agree with every single word you write! Having become quite depressed and dislocated in my own homeland it has been a lifesaver ( no exaggeration) to me to find you and your writing , thank you. It has also amazed me that you can keep a sense of humour and it never fails to make me laugh. One thing I can’t understand is:
    The SNP State they have a mandate to call Indi2 because ‘Scotland voted to remain’ in EU
    Can someone not effectively challenge this false conclusion,? based on the false premise that 62% ofScots voted Remain and are being dragged out against their will? I voted for the UK to remain, there was no caviat about Scotland and although I was dissapointed – as a democrat can accept the result and now just want politicians to work together to deliver the best we can get for all of the UK. So appalled am I by the attempt to subvert the result of a democratic vote that I now support Brexit. (Despite my fears)
    I am scunnered that my vote is being marginalised and abused to support this false premise which leads to the false conclusion that ‘Scotland voted Remain’ To me if we can challenge this effectively it would remove their (ostensibly ) basis to claim ‘ a mandate’ for indiref2
    Can’t understand why leading opposition politicians and commentators aren’t focussing on this which I see as a key issue
    Thank you Stephen and never underestimate the importance of your writing.
    With kindest regards and support


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