Tom Peterkin: Arguing Tories must unite in battle for UK

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A RESOLUTE determination to save the United Kingdom was in evidence at the Scottish Tory conference in Troon yesterday. Given the political colours of those attending, that was inevitable. But amidst the determination was a fair amount of confusion as to precisely how the Union will be saved.

Assuming Alex Salmond succeeds in his plan to delay the vote until autumn 2014, there is still a bit of time for the pro-Union camp to sort itself out. The informal cross-party talks that are taking place between the Conservatives, the Lib Dems and Labour will step up after May’s local government elections.

Then, we can expect the creation of an umbrella pro-Union organisation consisting of more than just the Tories. Even the most ardent Conservatives believe this is essential, given the Tories’ unpopularity in Scotland.

But there were clear differences of opinion evident at the fringe meeting that saw David McLetchie and Alex Fergusson in disagreement over how to deal with the Prime Minister’s promise to look at devolution again in the event of a “No” vote.

Mr McLetchie firmly believes that, as he put it, the Heinz 57 varieties of devolution (devo-plus, devo-max, indy lite, etc) are a dangerous distraction from the important issue, which is ensuring that Scotland votes “No” to breaking up the UK.

Mr Fergusson, however, is of the belief that the unionists owe it to the voters to define what might be on the table after the “No” vote.

Of course, it is healthy that the Conservatives are prepared to argue about these differences in public. There is, of course, a major political party in Scotland, where disagreements rarely make a public appearance.

But in a constitutional game with such high stakes, it is important that such constitutional differences can be overcome and a unified approach is arrived at.

Yesterday, there were candidates for the council elections claiming they were not armed with the economic statistics required to argue against independence.

It is one thing preaching about a passionate belief in the Union to the converted at the Scottish Tory conference. The real battle will be fought far beyond Troon Concert Hall.

Last night, we saw some of the groundwork beginning to be laid, but it is clear that there is still much more work to be done if the pro-Union camp is to outfox Alex Salmond.