LONDON - Prime Minister Stephen Harper is voicing support for a united United Kingdom, coming down squarely in the camp of those opposed to Scotland’s separatist ambitions to be decided in a referendum just weeks away.
Speaking to a business audience here Wednesday, Harper tackled the divisive debate unfolding in the British Isles as Scots vote Sept. 18 whether to cut ties to London.
He first made clear that the decision ultimately rests with the Scots, adding “that decision has to be respected and it has to be taken seriously.
“It’s momentous and should be treated as such by all sides,” Harper said.
The prime minister reached back to Canada’s own separation debate to comment on the decision, noting discussions over Quebec’s future for many years produced no clear winner and a “society that was very divided.”
He said Quebecers ultimately questioned whether the debate’s resolution would have any impact on the “things that actually matter in my life.”
“What would the division of a country like Canada or the division of a country like the United Kingdom advance solutions to any of those issues,” Harper said.
“We think, from a Canadian perspective, that a strong and united United Kingdom is an overwhelmingly positive force in the world.
“There’s nothing in dividing those countries that would serve either greater global interests or frankly the interests of ordinary people in these countries.”
Harper said separatism debates are “not normal politics.”
“Fortunately in Canada we don’t have to talk about it much recently,” he said, noting the stunning defeat of the separatist Parti Québécois in the spring provincial election.
“I don’t want to say the issue is resolved. One can never say that but certainly the trajectory is very good,” he said.
Harper said much of the ongoing debate over Scotland’s separation is lost on Canadians who see the Scots and English so “completely integrated” in Canada.
“The idea of separating English people from Scottish people in Canada is almost inconceivable. So we have trouble relating to it on that level,” Harper said.
But the prime minister said Canadians can relate to the Scottish debate and referendum vote because of the long-standing debate in Canada over Quebec’s future.