Scottish Conservatives are falling into the same trap
Attacking Westminster will damage unionism in the long run
A persistent problem with devolution, from a unionist perspective, is how often it aligns the short-term electoral interests of even pro-UK politicians against what’s best for the United Kingdom in the long run.
How much easier it is, for example, to complain about Westminster and demand more power than defend unpopular decisions made by the Government in London, as Labour so often do.
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Last night, during and after the first leadership debate of the upcoming Scottish elections, saw the Scottish Conservatives falling into a different version of the same trap.
Anas Sarwar, the new Labour leader, put in a solid performance and it’s clear that the Tories are worried that they might be set to lose second place. They thus took to Twitter to hammer him on the issue that matters most to the Conservative core vote: the Union. Here’s Andrew Bowie, the MP for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine:
“Anas Sarwar is ignoring the fact that if the SNP win this election, we will face a divisive, destructive referendum within months. He might not like it, but it is a fact.”
Is it a fact? That will come as a surprise to anybody who has been taking Boris Johnson at his word when he has said, repeatedly, that he will not grant the Scottish Government the Section 30 order required to hold a legal re-run of the 2014 referendum.
Should the Nationalists manage to pull off a majority in May, and that is far from impossible, unionists may come to reject having the Tories apparently endorse the idea that a referendum is Holyrood’s call to make – just as Alex Salmond’s Alba Party may rue the emphasis they’re placing on a ‘supermajority’.
(After all, it was just such a threshold which saw George Cunningham thwart Labour’s bid to introduce devolution in 1979, delaying its advent by 20 years.)
This is the great Conservative dilemma. For all that Douglas Ross rightly attacked the SNP for focusing on independence rather than education or healthcare, Tory strategists know that they were the beneficiaries of constitutionally polarised politics in 2016. It is defending the Union, rather than the specifics of their policy agenda, which energises their base.
Likewise, it makes tactical sense to attack Sarwar for refusing to talk about a unionist pact but in their hearts the Conservatives must realise that Labour’s best chance of maximising the overall vote for pro-UK parties is by winning back soft-SNP voters.
Time and again, at the 2019 general elections and local by-elections, the voters have shown that the combined Labour, Tory, and Liberal Democrat vote is not a fungible ‘unionist vote’. There is deep resistance to tactical voting. Sarwar’s quiet focus on public services is the right call.
In fact, a Labour revival on such terms could even directly benefit the Conservatives, if it saps Nationalist votes in marginals where they are challenged by the Tories.
Of course, the needs of the moment make it impossible to admit this. But the Scottish Tories should not, in their scramble to land blows on Labour, undermine the legitimacy of Westminster’s right to refuse a second referendum. That is the much more important defensive line than who gets the prime spot at First Minister’s Questions.
They’re going to be like a dog with a bone until they get their precious independence and wee Krankie gets her lifelong ambition of going down in Scottish history anyway so why not just cut them off along Hadrians wall or wherever’s mutually convenient and leave them to it? Bring the UK armed forces/naval yards back south, all our businesses, infrastructure, finances/taxes, get them to cough up the market value of Holyrood House and wish them luck; maybe the EU will be able to bail them out when the schism hits the fan? I’d wager if we had the vote they’d be gone tomorrow anyway so it’s ‘Good bye from him and good bye from me’ Missing you already…….
Thanks for giving Scotland much of Northumberland and Cumbria.
Great. You just cut off the best part of England and gave it to Madam McGuillotine. Not a great argument for regional expertise.
Imagine the hard border slicing through the divided city of Carlisle, with SNP border guards glaring into England. A cold damp Nicosia of northern Europe…
Opening with an ad hominem ‘wee Krankie’ The ad hominem is always the sign of a lost argument. ‘Cut them off?’ Nice Patel like bully tactics like she advocated with Ireland re Brexit. You then descend into ranting. Holyrood is ours. Our taxes are ours. It’s a fantasy England is subsiding Scotland. Torres only care about money. If we were a drain you would have booted us long ago or encouraged us to go. We are also a handy garage for the nukes. There will be no appetite in England for moving those South Your entire post sums up why so many Scots want out. Typical Empire mentality. Sad.
It is not a fantasy. If Scotland were left to pay for itself, it would be bankrupt within 10 years. Then we could let it back into the UK, but only on terms of no devolurion, no Barnett formula, no separate legal system i.e. it would become a proper part of the UK, just like Watford, and with no more in the way of spcial treatment.
But isn’t the alternative argument that Tories in England are going to refuse to allow people in Scotland a referendum, no matter what the people in Scotland want, going to generate even more support for a referendum?
Even if you don’t particularly want something there’s nothing more likely to get you riled than someone else telling you you can’t have it.
Maybe Boris would prefer to give the Scots independence? And this is his way of giving the SNP a little help on the way?
You are right, refusing a referendum would mean the SNP held their own, and it would show two fingers to English interference. But what are we (assuming “we” are English) so frightened of anyway. An independent Scotland would be no problem for us, and although one feels very sorry for the Scots initially, they would soon see how useless the SNP is at government and the Scottish political parties would realign, and Scotland would turn into the Republican of Ireland within a generation
Independence not equal to SNP. They have many faults but way more competent than Boris et al. By MILES. Typical Empire mentality arrogance re Ireland. It’s in better shape than UK.
It’s not a sustainable argument and Boris knows it, if SNP get a majority.
UK may be many things, but it’s not Spain.
I would hope that Boris will continue to refuse a legal referendum. Except that his track record on just about everything else shows him to be a ‘wobbly man’, or a ‘string puppet’!
What Westminster Tories SHOULD be doing is continually remind the Scots that with independence they would lose the Bank of England as a Central Bank and Pound as their currency.
Plus the Barnet formula of course.
Would the EU and the Euro really be such a great gain? And is that Independence?
IF a referendum was granted it should include ALL Scots. I.e. those living in England as well as those in Scotland. Sturgeon doesn’t have a leg to stand on.
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