Saturday 30 May 2020

If you want to oppose separatism, don’t be separate.

I am a Conservative voter. I support Boris Johnson completely and think he is the best thing that has happened to our party for decades. I believe in free markets, gradually lowering taxes where possible and leaving the EU. I am represented by no one in the Scottish Parliament.

There are a lot of people like me in Scotland. 38% of Scots voted to leave the EU, but not one mainstream party campaigned for this view either before the EU referendum or after it. Four years on and it was more important for Douglas Ross to continue being part of the Remainer Rearguard than it was for him to attack the SNP. He would rather join the attack on Johnson and Cummings than come up with reasons why Scottish nationalism is hindering Scotland. Absurdly he did this even though he knew that he had driven from London to Moray and back again in order not to look after a child but rather to obtain better broadband.

The mistake that the Scottish Conservatives made in 2016 was to not fully get behind the British decision to leave the EU. 38% of the vote gives you a lot of seats both in a General Election and in the Scottish Parliament. Of course, not all of them would vote Conservative, but a distinctive message about the EU rather than agreeing with all the other Scottish Parties would have attracted votes to the Conservatives.

Ruth Davidson was an excellent leader, but her strategy was flawed not merely on the EU, but more importantly on where she placed Scottish Conservatism. She chose a position of consensus with the other Scottish parties on most issues thinking that this would appeal to generally left-wing Scotland. But you don’t win by being the same, you win by being different.

The task for the Scottish Conservatives is to be become the only party that British people vote for. In recent years both Labour, and the Lib Dems have flirted with Scottish nationalism.

Labour needs to find a way to attract its former supporters who deserted for the SNP. Many Lib Dems prefer membership of the EU to the UK. For this reason, both Labour and the Lib Dems are inherently soft on independence. Westminster Parliamentary arithmetic suggests that Labour could only come to power with the support of the SNP and the Lib Dems. When push comes to shove, they will make a deal that grants another independence referendum.

This is why an absolutely unequivocal Scottish Conservative attitude to independence is the key defining characteristic that can attract votes.

While opposing independence the Scottish Conservatives have always been wobbly about a British Prime Minister saying “No, you can’t have a second referendum”. Why? Because they are trying to attract people, who would never vote for us anyway.

The mistake was to have an independence referendum in the first place. There is no right to secession in any other European country and none would allow a referendum on such an issue. We are one nation, indivisible.

But the problem is that Scottish Conservatives don’t believe this. They think of the UK as a Union of Four nations as a sort of confederation. But this is not true. We are a unitary state like France that happens to have parts that are called countries, and which rather absurdly play international football against each other.

For historical reasons the Conservatives are called unionists, but the word unionist helps the SNP. Why else do they use it as an insult? Britain is the result of a union like a child. It is not itself a union. That is to confuse essence with origin.

Devolution did not change the unitary nature of Britain, but it did make our politics unfair and incoherent. This has never been clearer than during the present crisis.

The task of Scottish Conservatives is to become devolution sceptics. Is it really a good idea that there are four different policies on leaving lockdown? Is it sensible to allow Nicola Sturgeon to tell Scots in minutiae what we can do every day? I don’t believe that when Scots voted for the Scottish Parliament that they imagined this. We recently had the absurd situation where Boris Johnson spoke to the nation, only for BBC Scotland to immediately contradict him and say that his words were not for viewers in Scotland. Is he not our Prime Minister too? It is as if we didn’t take part in the General Election.

After the crisis is over Scottish Conservatives must analyse carefully if devolution hindered the response to Covid. Did the confused message that devolution gave us cause lives to be lost in Scotland? Scottish Conservatives need to argue that Britain needs less devolution not more.

The situation now is that Kate Forbes is begging the Chancellor for more money while at the same time demanding that Scotland holds a referendum on independence next year. This is untenable.

The Scottish Conservatives must make clear that it doesn’t matter how many seats the SNP wins at the next Scottish Parliament election there will be no independence referendum. If there were to be such a referendum, it would be logical for the Chancellor right now to exclude Scotland from the British bailout. If you don’t want to be British, how can you demand British money? We are receiving Treasury money because we are fellow countrymen. If you want to be a foreigner, you can whistle for it. Why invest in someone who wants to leave?

In every one of Nicola Sturgeon’s sentences Scotland or Scottish is mentioned as often as possible. The task is not to imitate this. No other European speaks this way. Potatoes in Poland are not called Polish nor do they have Polish flags all over the packet. It would be better therefore if the Scottish Conservatives were simply Conservatives no different from Conservatives on the Isle of Wight. Our leader would then be Boris Johnson and someone else could manage things in Holyrood. If you want to oppose separatism, don’t be separate.