AS IF not wishing to be outdone by their compatriots down south, the Scottish Conservatives are showing they are no slouches when it comes to falling out among themselves – and airing criticism of their leader in public.
Ahead of the party’s annual conference in Stirling in two weeks, Lord Forsyth, the former Scottish Secretary of State, has described Scottish party leader Ruth Davidson’s plans to give Holyrood further tax powers as “a bit like a suicide mission”.
To many it must seem that the Conservatives in Scotland have been on a suicide mission for many years. It has declined from being the party that once attracted the largest number of votes in Scotland to an impotent rump, with just one Westminster MP and a poor third party in the Holyrood Parliament. The choice of Ms Davidson as leader in 2011 was intended to halt this decline, make a fresh start and catalyse a revival in Conservative fortunes. Unfortunately for her, the wider failure of the Conservative-led coalition government at Westminster to reduce government debt and turn round the economy has counted against this. While the party may claim examples of increased support in Scotland, its efforts are barely noticed in the larger preoccupations of voters.
A fairer verdict on her leadership requires more time, but Ms Davidson has yet to demonstrate a leadership style distinctive enough and forceful enough to trigger a turning point. Lord Forsyth fears that her change of tack towards more tax powers for Holyrood will alienate a large number of Conservative supporters who will find themselves hit “extremely hard in the pocket”.
However, these concerns were aired when Scotland first started down the devolution road. Since then the contours of the political map have altered. A Scottish Parliament is now broadly accepted and, as Murdo Fraser MSP argues from the other side of the Conservative divide, a parliament charged with having to raise the money it spends is the best means of bringing fiscal restraint and discipline to bear. If Lord Forsyth’s arguments had powerful resonance with Scottish Conservative opinion (let alone voters generally), significant support for it should surely have manifested itself before now.
That said, party members may well query why it has taken so long for fresh policy positions to appear. Its devolution panel has yet to be agreed. Ms Davidson’s supporters may feel that she has nothing to lose in making a fresh start. But the tardiness hardly suggests a new broom keen to get on with the job of revival.
The imminent conference gives the leader an opportunity to set out her thinking in detail and to send a message to the wider audience of Scottish voters. It is an opportunity that should not be lost to promote a clear agenda and rally her troops.
Many will fear it may be too late. But one thing is clear. Further delay will make the challenge of turnaround for the Scottish Conservatives all the more daunting.
No win for Hibs, but no need for despair
HOPE springs eternal, a truth to which a near deserted Easter Road in Edinburgh testified yesterday. It may have been 111 years since Hibernian last won the Scottish Cup, but that did not deter thousands of fans streaming through to Glasgow yesterday in the valiant hope of beating favourites Celtic.
The Glasgow east enders chose a sombre black strip for the occasion, presumably to avoid any green confusion on the pitch. But for much of the game they seemed to appear to the Hibs defence as ghostly grey shadows.
For the first 20 minutes, Hibs were the dominant force and might well have gone ahead.
But two similar goals by Celtic in quick succession gave Neil Lennon’s charges a commanding lead by half time. It was a dispiriting turn of events for Hibs after such a promising start. But to its credit the underdog did not fade and continued to show spirit and endeavour, until Celtic’s third goal put the matter beyond doubt.
While there are areas to improve, this was not a performance over which Hibs manager Pat Fenlon and the fans need despair too much. There are the makings here of credible challenges in the season ahead.
But Hibs supporters can be excused an anguished frustration. They have waited long enough and are entitled to feel that this trophy is overdue to a club that has provided more than its fair share of thrilling moments.
There has been suggestion from the superstitious – and from the mischievous – that the cup will not return to Easter Road until the trams run again through Edinburgh’s streets. Hibs fans must hope they don’t have to wait until the line is extended all the way to Leith.