A BURGEONING centre-right movement for Scottish independence is boosted today by a former Conservative politician pledging his support for Yes Scotland.
Nick Johnston’s announcement that he is to become the first former Tory parliamentarian to campaign for a Yes vote comes at the same time that a selection of high-profile right-wingers have formed a group to argue for independence.
Johnston, who was part of the first intake of MSPs in 1999, says that independence would “kick-start” a regeneration of Scotland resulting from citizens being given control over tackling inequality in a nation that was able to guarantee individual liberty.
Writing in Scotland on Sunday, Johnston says the Scottish Parliament needs the “grown-up powers of an independent country”.
Johnston’s contribution to the independence debate has been welcomed by Yes Scotland, but it jars with the social democratic credentials of the vast majority of the pro-independence campaigners, who envisage a left-of-centre independent Scotland.
Last night, left-wing members of the Yes campaign admitted that Johnston’s politics would not sit easily with their vision for a socialist independent Scotland. And Alex Salmond has repeatedly condemned the Labour Party for entering an alliance with the Conservatives under the No campaign’s Better Together umbrella.
The former MSP, who also worked as a successful car dealer, acknowledges that so far there has been little sign of a centre-right argument for independence but says that the case needs to be made
“The Yes camp draws support from across the political spectrum, but there is a lack of expressed enthusiasm from Scotland’s centre-right, decentralist tradition,” he writes. “But this voice needs to be raised and heard.
“To encourage people to think for themselves and to influence the decisions that affect them is not to abrogate responsibility, rather it increases and strengthens democracy.”
Johnston’s intervention coincides with the launch of Wealthy Nation, a group of prominent right-of-centre Scots from academia and business who believe that independence chimes with their belief in personal, social and economic freedom.
Founded by the historian, author and former Conservative candidate Michael Fry, Wealthy Nation acts independently from Yes Scotland. Supporters include the Dutch-born financier Peter de Vink, the former SNP Treasurer and businessman Ian Blackford and Laurie Clark, the managing director of Anglo Scottish Concrete and a former Tory donor.
In his article, Johnston says he welcomes the Wealthy Nation initiative, which takes its name from the Scottish economist Adam Smith’s classic book on capitalism The Wealth Of Nations, and says he hopes “it will help the debate to reach new places and win new converts”.
The vision for independence presented by Johnston and Wealthy Nation represents a departure from the politics favoured by a Yes Scotland campaign, dominated by the SNP – a party which describes itself as social democratic.
The SNP is in partnership with the left-wing Green Party and the Scottish Socialist Party. Furthermore, the Yes Scotland board chairman is the former Labour MSP Dennis Canavan, who has consistently claimed that an independent Scottish Parliament would be more likely to pursue left-wing politics.
Last night the socialist politician and Yes Scotland advisory board member Colin Fox said: “The case for independence is so profound that we are even getting support from the Tories. I don’t think we will be campaigning together much. My hope is of persuading the working class majority on the centre left of the case for independence.”
John Wilson, the SNP MSP on the left of Salmond’s party, said he welcomed anybody who comes to the independence cause.
But he added: “In relation to the independence debate, clearly the views expressed by those in recent announcements would not sit comfortably with my own views. However, similar to the Better Together campaign, which brings together a broad spectrum under their banner, then clearly the Yes campaign will bring together different political persuasions and none to move towards a Yes vote.”
Johnston served in the first Parliament from 1999 to 2001 before resigning from Holyrood after six months away from work with stress-related pneumonia. He was succeeded on the Holyrood list by the Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser.
Last night Fraser said: “With growing uncertainty over currency issues and EU membership in the event of independence, the great majority of Scottish businesses know that we are better together as part of the UK.
“Already substantial tax powers are being devolved under the Scotland Act with the prospect of more in the event of a No vote. We don’t need the risk of creating a separate state in order to establish a more entrepreneurial business friendly environment.”
Blair Jenkins, chief executive of Yes Scotland, claimed the former Conservative MSP’s intervention showed that support for independence was growing among those holding a wide variety of views.
Jenkins said: “Nick Johnston’s backing for a Yes vote highlights the fact that a fully empowered, independent Scotland has increasing appeal across a broad political spectrum.
“He hits the nail on the head when he says that only a Yes vote will give Scotland the opportunity to fully realise our great potential and ambition.
“We know that the more people learn about the benefits of independence the more likely they are to vote Yes and Mr Johnston’s support underlines that.”