THE BLOG

Post #Indyref, This Is a Time for Leadership - We Must Be #StrongerWithEU

25/09/2014 14:46 BST | Updated 25/11/2014 10:59 GMT

The most important legacy of the Scottish referendum will be how vividly it made real the huge disenchantment with both our politics and our politicians today. But voters for Yes were not simply rejecting a Westminster elite they perceive as out of touch, remote and uncaring, they were also voting to embrace a more positive vision of Scotland.

Remarkably Scotland rejected independence despite passionate grassroots engagement in the Yes campaign, the negativity of the unionist case and clear hostility to English Euroscepticism amongst Scottish voters.

It is therefore disappointing that the response at Westminster to the historic referendum result was not to seize the chance to unite the country around a new vision. Instead, it immediately turned in on itself. Within minutes commentators and politicians alike began obsessing about constitutional questions.

Although we will see changes in the way Britain is governed after the referendum, I don't think they will be the most important outcome. What we learned from Scotland is that people need hope, and not just fear, from politicians.

In a poll we commissioned, carried out by You Gov last weekend, 55% of respondents said they feel the country is divided. In Scotland that rises to 76%. More surprisingly, 53% said that in order to unite the country and create a new Union story, political leaders must end the divisive and self-harming arguments about Europe. Only 18% disagreed. Finally 45% agreed that new vision for a truly United Kingdom should include leading in Europe in the coming years - only 22% opposed this proposition.

In fact a majority from all parties and all regions yearned for their leaders to speak for Britain. Twice as many people wanted Britain to stop cowering in the shadows and get leading in Europe. Tellingly, in Scotland, a much clearer majority felt divided, craved unity and wanted leadership in Europe.

Today, I have joined figures from business, politics and wider society to endorse a call for leadership on the European question. And it is in the same spirit that the British Influence launches a new campaign called "Stronger with Europe". This is a rejection of a Westminster establishment that seems unable or unwilling to provide leadership in Europe and a call to lead on the European reform agenda to make the UK stronger, economically and politically.

I want to see a Britain that is both positive and engaged, as well as leading and winning in Europe and the world. We are not going to tackle the economic disadvantages that caused so many Glaswegians to reject the union by leaving Europe - that would make our economy smaller, increasing unemployment and reducing incomes. As Alex Salmond has said, a UK departure from the EU would doubtless provoke calls for a new referendum vote which could finally endorse a Scottish departure from the UK.

So this is crucial. The question of Europe has been left drifting for too long, with leaders astonishingly talking down our chances of improving the EU despite the fact that, in June, all member states signed up to a A Strategic Agenda for the Union in Times of Change which could have been written in London. Why do they fail to step up when we have today the best opportunity to lead Europe - exactly what the people want them to do?

Carping and whining on the fringes of Europe must end. The UK needs now to exert positive leadership and make the most of the many chances it has to exert its influence with our allies in Europe to create the vision, growth and jobs the country is crying out for.