ELSEWHERE on this page Nick Johnston, a former Tory member of the Scottish Parliament, explains why he will be voting Yes to independence in the September referendum next year.
He is, to date, the most prominent Tory to back the independence cause, which perhaps says more about the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party than it does about the appeal of a sovereign Scotland. His comments coincide with the arrival of a new player in the referendum debate, a group called Wealthy Nation, founded by former Scottish Tory parliamentary candidate Michael Fry, which promises to argue the centre-right case for independence. The arrival of this group, along with Johnston’s declaration of support, amount to a significant moment in the referendum campaign. And they illuminate a difficulty at the heart of how the umbrella Yes Scotland organisation has chosen to conduct the push for independence.
There is a perfectly good centre-right case for more autonomy for Holyrood, up to and including independence. Conservative values place great emphasis on self-sufficiency, accountability and prudent finances. There is a compelling argument that says once Holyrood is made more fiscally accountable, it will become more fiscally prudent. It will no longer be able to blame Westminster for its troubles but will be forced to fall back on its own resources. A parliament that does not raise the money it spends should be an affront to those of a Conservative disposition.
And yet the main centre-right party in Scotland styles itself the Conservative and Unionist Party and has traditionally been the most reluctant to see power devolved – wholly or in part – from London to Scotland.
The trouble is that the centre-right of Scottish politics does not define itself solely on philosophical and ideological lines. Grafted on top of these beliefs is a die-hard adherence to the Union that is, in part, a relic of some of the less glorious aspects of Scotland’s past.
This is an accident of history, and it is one that – perhaps more than anything else – has held back the Conservative cause in Scotland for the past quarter of a century. But the chains that bind a political party do not necessarily bind its natural supporters. There is a small but potentially significant section of traditionally Conservative voters who may be fertile ground for the sowing of independence seeds.
The Yes Scotland campaign, however, does not seem to want these votes. It has pitched its entire appeal in terms of a rejection of Conservatism and all it stands for. In an independent Scotland, it seems, only one brand of political thought would hold sway. It is sometimes difficult to discern what this is, but it seems to be a more distinctly left-wing set of policies than the Scottish people have hitherto shown themselves willing to vote for over the past couple of decades. For example, when asked by the SNP in 1999 to pay an extra “penny for Scotland” in income tax, the voters politely demurred.
Furthermore, the vision of many Yes campaigners – at least expressed in the language they frequently use on social media – suggests Scotland is a country with barely any Tories at all, and that independence will marginalise them even further.
On the first point they are mistaken – in the 2010 general election, 412,855 Scots voted Tory – just 78,581 fewer than voted SNP. On the second point they are writing off a significant section of Scottish opinion as a political no-go area. For a struggling campaign, is this wise?
YESTERDAY’S Lockerbie anniversary commemorations in London, Arlington and Dumfriesshire were a poignant, moving and dignified way of remembering the greatest loss of life seen in Scotland in modern times. The marking of 25 years since the bombing will not – and should not – be the last time we remember this atrocity. It should serve as a permanent reminder to us that terrorism can strike anywhere, and that geopolitical disputes that may at times seem arcane and distant are capable of bringing death and destruction to the most prosaic of neighbourhoods, whether a quiet side street in Woolwich, as was the case with the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby, or a quiet town nestled among hills in the south of Scotland, as was the case on the night of 21 December 1988.
Millions of words have been written about the various conspiracy theories that persist about whether Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, the only person convicted of the Lockerbie bombing, was in fact innocent, and whether the attack was perpetrated by Iran, rather than Libya. And yet this weekend Bill Taylor, the Scottish QC who defended Megrahi at his trial, broke his silence of many years to dismiss the theories about Iran, and other alternative scenarios. “They did not stand up,” he says. It is now surely time to lay the grassy-knoll indulgences to rest.