17 June 2007

The Tory Twist

Could the Tories be about to support an independence referendum? Tory Vice-Chairman Richard Cook thinks they should, according to Scotland on Sunday. He reckons it would 'clear the air' and 'shoot the Nationalist fox'. He is, of course, assuming that the people would vote No.

If the Tories were to support a referendum Bill, it would pass: the SNP are (obviously) in favour, so that's 47 votes. The Greens would back it, that's 49. Add the Tories' 16 votes and you have the Magic 65, the number that guarantees a successful vote. Assuming that Margo MacDonald backs it as well, that's 66 votes in favour to Labour and the LibDems' 62.

But is this likely to happen? Not while Annabel Goldie is in charge. She considers the whole constitutional debate to be a 'distraction', and there's no guarantee that people would vote No, as Cook thinks. If they vote Yes, then it will be the votes of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party that bring about independence!

Indeed, the Tories are good at thinking out loud on this issue. Some want the Party to leave the UK Party. Some want extra powers for Holyrood to advance Conservative policies in Scotland. Some in England would probably welcome Scottish independence to remove a check on Conservative ambitions south of the border. But the boldest constitutional initiative to come forward from the Tories is 'English votes for English laws'. Even though the party is now supportive of extra powers, that argument was swept under the carpet by Goldie's 'bread and butter' approach, which must remain as long as she remains.

No, the Tories are good at thinking out loud on the Constitution, but not so good at turning those thoughts into concrete policies, possibly because of the jumble of ideas. Those who value the Conservative tag reckon that additional powers, perhaps even independence, would be needed to advance their cause. Those who value the Unionist tag even considered backing Jack McConnell as First Minister to keep the SNP out - an idea that was dropped following the thud of Conservative jaws collectively hitting the floor. And it is doubtful that every Tory member has undergone a Damascene conversion to the wonders of Devolution: there are, I'm sure, a fair few of people who would rather Scotland reverted to Direct Rule. This situation is another reason why this move would be effectively a Tory kamikaze: the two key strands of the Party, Conservative and Unionist, are now not necessarily as interconnected and compatible as they used to be. For the Tories to join this debate might actually be what splits the two strands completely: they have to sort out their own position first, they have to be clear on what they prioiritise, they have to make a decision (and even that will trigger a wave of departures, no doubt) before they can put forward their line to the country. They cannot do that while Goldie is still their Leader. It will take a Leadership Election, and a bitter, divisive one at that, to sort it out, with candidates representing each of the two primary approaches. The outcome of that would determine where the Tories go, and the defeated side would have to take time to work out whether it wanted to concede defeat, or go its own way.

Whether the Tories do go down an ultra-Unionist path, or take a more small-n nationalist approach (in which case they have to decide whether they support independence if they are forced to chose between that and the status quo: Michael Forsyth once said he'd prefer independence to devolution, remember), support for a referendum is to be welcomed - it gives the people the final say, and it would put to the test what Unionists have been saying for years about there being no appetite for independence. For a Unionist to support the referendum takes guts, but it shows they're willing to make their case and stand by their beliefs.

But first, they need to drop the 'this isn't what matters' approach. They need to stop thinking out loud and decide what they stand for.

This shouldn't cause the astonishment that Scotland on Sunday talks about, it's just one man thinking.

I'm not excited yet.


Separatist Worm said...

"This shouldn't cause the astonishment that Scotland on Sunday talks about, it's just one man thinking."

Which was probably Michael Forsyth. Despite the emphasis on "positive" the arguments keep coming back to a negative about spurious claims of deinvestment etc.

Cook is Forsyth's man attempting to rake it up and causing division with the Tory MSPs who are quite happy with the position they now find themselves of being able to influence and achieve basic 'bread and butter' policy objectives as they see them.

Osama Saeed said...

It is interesting that it's Cook that raised it, someone not even in the Parliament. Either he's flying an official kite or he's causing trouble. You're right about the Tories being deeply divided on Scotland's role in the world.

If they did get their act together, it would lead to an fascinating year ahead. One thing not picked up by the SoS was the timing. The SNP want to establish their governing credentials and have the referendum on fertile ground after 3 years. A poll after one year as Cook has proposed would be very interesting indeed.

Changer said...

Its highly unlikely that the Tories will get their act together anytime soon. Goldies poor leadership and the addition of those with form for troublemaking such as Carlaw means we are in for another period of declining tory support.