Rory Stewart's remarkable Commons speech showed how to make the case for the union

Rory Stewart: 'Far too independent to ever be allowed near the front bench'
Rory Stewart: 'Far too independent to ever be allowed near the front bench'
Ian Dunt By

For too long now, the debate on Scottish independence has pivoted on constitutional issues and judgements about how much richer or poorer it will make the country's inhabitants.

It has been highly unsatisfactory. If our emotional commitment to the union is so weak as to be affected by these relatively dull issues then perhaps it is not worth saving.

But Britain is worth saving. It is worth saving for very big reasons that are to do with identity, with diversity, and the sense that one can live happily alongside those who are different to oneself.

The backbench debate taking place in the Commons today is tragically tedious. Most MPs find their way to Westminster by virtue of conformity rather than ability. They are consequently of little use when the time comes to make an impassioned case for something. It is like trying to feed a robot a biscuit.

But one MP stood out: Rory Stewart.

The Tory MP is a remarkable member of parliament. Of course, he is far too independent to ever be allowed near the front bench, and this fact is telling. Any system which doesn't know what to do with a man of his quality is one which is in serious need of reform. And a system which would close the door on him specifically because of those qualities is barely worthy of it.

His speech today was full of the type of gusty, emotional rhetoric we need if we are to convince Scotland to remain part of a union of nations, to reject the stale and nasty idea that people of different identities must live apart.

It was one of the best speeches I have heard in the Commons for some time. I typed as much of it down as I could. It's worth reading in full when Hansard gets to it. But for now, it's worth noting the way in which he manages to express the ideas which can save Britain from the nationalists.

"We're not very good, as politicians, at talking about emotions. We've become bad at it.

"I, as a member of parliament love Scotland. I love it for its egalitarianism, for its realism, for Scotland's sense of humour.

"There is a great appeal to Scottish nationalism. We all feel it. We feel it in our gut. And we feel it because the world is bewildering.

"People are angry. People feel Westminster is out of touch, that their lives have never been so complicated. But the answer to those problems is not to get smaller. When we feel angry or disappointed the answer isn't to get smaller and shut the door. The answer is to expand.

"What we need is the human expression. On 19th July this year [the date of a Hands Across the Border event at Hadrian's Wall] I'm hoping thousands will join hands across that wall and link arms across that border.

"What matters is not the wall that divides us but the human ties that bind in the arms of love."


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