Laurie Clark: It is time for a new deal

Picture: TSPL
Picture: TSPL
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THE independence debate is helping us to better understand the nation in which we live and hopefully to have more confidence in Scotland.

For example, we found out recently that Scotland more than pays its way in the UK (8.4 per cent of the UK population, contributing 9.9 per cent of UK tax revenues but getting back only 9.3 per cent of public spending in return). We also know an independent Scotland would be in the world’s top ten wealthiest countries. We have moved beyond whether we could to whether we should be independent.

In the same vein, I believe we will discover there is more support for conservative (with a small c) policies than we might have been led to believe – and backing for an independent Scotland among those who espouse them.

It is true, that the Tories remain without much support in Scotland. It seems to me the issue is not with any lack of a conservative outlook but rather with the history, personalities, brand and policies of the UK Conservative Party.

As a card-carrying member, I appreciated an invitation to meet Prime Minister David Cameron while he was in Scotland earlier this month. In particular, I wanted to emphasise the need for fellow conservatives and business people to think more deeply about the opportunities of independence.

Nowadays the Tories are wedded to a London-centric outlook that goes against natural conservative values. It seems to me there are many Scots who believe in power closer to the people, self-responsibility, prioritising business growth (especially the manufacture and selling of real goods) and the benefits of free trade and competition. I believe we need a more credible platform for these voters if their perspectives are to influence the outcome of next year’s referendum and the country which develops thereafter.

In my view, a Yes vote represents the beginning of a fairer and mutually beneficial partnership between Scotland and the rest of the UK. It means addressing a democratic deficit by bringing power and representation closer to the people who pay their taxes.

It means local businesspeople in charge of their own future with the networks they need to succeed and the flexibility to sort problems and seize opportunities quickly.

It represents the best of both worlds where we maintain the UK monarchy, currency and common market, but lose an out-of-date parliamentary union that has lost touch with Scotland’s pulse.

A Yes vote also preserves Scotland’s place in the European Union which is important for business. The Prime Minister claims he wants the UK to stay in the EU, but he is committed us to an in-out referendum by 2017, the result of which is highly unpredictable. It is conceivable, perhaps even likely, that Scotland would vote to stay in Europe, but the weight of South-East of England voters will force us to exit.

The referendum next year is not a choice between Scottish and British identity. It is about retaining and creating wealth and jobs and expanding the private sector in the interests of the nation as a whole. It means the transfer of economic powers to more successfully compete with London and the rest of the world.

I also believe we can and will have a more balanced political discourse that’s healthy for our democracy, perhaps through the formation of a new party which advocates free-market solutions whilst understanding that fairness and prosperity are two sides of the same coin.

We know we cannot address our significant social problems without the tax revenues from a growing and profitable private sector. Likewise, in contrast to the prevailing wind at Westminster, Scotland understands a successful private sector depends on the most productive, well-
educated, most talented and healthy people, no matter their social background.

I do not subscribe to the view that Scotland will become some sort of high-tax socialist dominion after a Yes vote. It is much more likely to strike a healthy balance between the need to stimulate private sector and economic growth and the desire to care for those in need, address inequality and boost productivity.

Progressive conservatives like myself should look forward not backwards. Scotland can start with a clean sheet. We can build a better small nation with a spirit of self-belief in which successful business is celebrated and prosperity shared. Not old Tories painted up in new clothes trying to sell a spent brand of Conservatism and Unionism that looks backwards and towards London.

No one in business would work to a 300-year-old contract. It is time for a new deal. «

• Laurie Clark is managing director of Anglo-Scottish Concrete Group and an advisory board member of Business for Scotland