Brian Monteith: Ruth Davidson job and abandoning Northern Ireland show Scottish Tories’ moral failings

Former leader Ruth Davidson’s PR job being seen as ‘perfectly acceptable’ is just another moral failure, says Brian Monteith.

Whatever happened to the Scottish Conservatives’ moral compass?

The unravelling of the Prime Minister’s proposed withdrawal treaty continues unabated, indeed it picks up speed the more often any curious mind chooses to read it.

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If the prime minister finally manages this week to get the general election he desires and which the country desperately needs he may find that rather than focusing on the blame game of who stopped him delivering Brexit by 31 October the public is waking up to just how bad a “deal” it actually is.

Ruth Davidson. Picture: GettyRuth Davidson. Picture: Getty
Ruth Davidson. Picture: Getty

I explained to readers last week how the proposed border for customs and most single market regulations down the Irish Sea was going to require paperwork to be completed before “exporting” goods from Great Britain to the province.

Now, thanks to House of Commons Library research, we also know that to achieve the level playing field the EU desires across the whole of Ireland it is probable that Northern Ireland businesses shall have to adopt VAT rates on the items they are applied to.

Yes, tax rates – and not any old tax rate, but one of the most important that affects peoples’ everyday lives – could be set for Northern Ireland’s people by politicians in the south who will not be accountable to those in the north for their decisions.

Rarely has “no taxation without representation” been likely to mean as much since the American War of independence.

Yet again the ratchet toward Irish unification is turned, and in full breach of the Good Friday Agreement that requires consent before such institutional changes can happen.

Funny how Taoiseach Varadkar and the EU’s Michael Barnier are not rushing to cast up the articles of the Good Friday Agreement now.

Imagine the uproar there would be if to establish a level playing field with the rest of the EU that the SNP claims it desires, Scotland’s VAT rate and the items it would be applied to were decided in Brussels without any say by the Scottish people.

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Yet there is silence in Scotland, not just from nationalists but from those that call themselves unionists.

On top of sacrificing the UK’s democratic and constitutional arrangements comes the news that British exporters could also be expected to give proof of origin of the goods they send to Northern Ireland.

These requirements are made when trade deals are established to ensure any benefits of receiving low or zero tariffs are given only to goods having a minimum content made in the country they depart from.

Without this assurance goods from say, China, could simply be imported here and then passed off as British and sold into the EU via Ireland.

Requiring such additional paperwork that involves the whole supply chain could mean some manufacturers deciding it is not worth the effort and ending sales to the province. Again the ratchet turns.

While this abandoning of the Union’s institutional foundations by a government desperate to save its own hide comes as no surprise to me I am genuinely taken aback that no one in the Scottish Conservative & Unionist Party identifies with their unionist brothers and sisters across the water.

Unionism is indivisible.

Allowing the bonds with Northern Ireland to be unpicked will have serious ramifications for the similar bonds that tie Scotland with the rest of the UK.

Instead of one or more of the Scottish Tory MPs saying the government is putting Unionism at risk, the silence from the Scottish Conservative & Unionist Party is deafening.

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Instead what fills the news columns and broadcasts is the party’s former leader Ruth Davidson taking a £50K per year part-time consultancy role with a London PR firm while remaining a member of the Scottish Parliament.

Davidson claims to have done due diligence to ensure there will be no conflicts of interest but a look at the Tulchan Communications client list shows Diageo, Co-op and Whitbread (which owns Premier Inns, Beefeater and Brewer’s Fayre) – all with operations in Scotland.

How will Davidson deny claims of conflict when any of Tulchan’s clients have a planning application for a new operation in Scotland or her constituency?

What if a Tulchan client like Royal London bids for a Scottish company as it has done before? These are not unreasonable possibilities that might develop.

Astonishingly when interviewed by London’s Evening Standard Davidson said she will be providing clients with insight into what is coming down the tracks, what “government thinking is”.

In financial markets that could be challenged as insider trading, which is illegal; in PR and lobbying it is becoming increasingly heavily regulated. While there’s no reason to believe Davidson will be anything other than scrupulously above the law, that is not the point.

Legislators need to be above suspicion – but by having a legislator on its books Tulchan has gained its clients an advantage. Why else engage her, is an obvious question.

I recall when I became a Tory member of the Scottish Parliament in 1999, as a PR consultant of 25 years’ experience I had little alternative but to end voluntarily all my contracts so as to avoid any accusation of benefitting myself or my clients by what I might support or oppose as a legislator. It comes as no surprise to me the professional trade body, the Public Relations Consultants Association, has issued a condemnation in the strongest possible terms.

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Stating Davidson’s appointment is “wholly unethical” is exceptionally strong language from wordsmiths expert in smoothing over differences between people.

And yet the Scottish Conservative & Unionist Party is saying it is perfectly acceptable. Not only can it be argued Davidson is bringing PR practitioners into disrepute (Tulchan is not a member of the PRCA) but she is providing oxygen to the claims MSPs should not have second jobs.

This is a great pity for if there is a problem in Holyrood it is the lack of real life experience of too many of its MSPs.

Unable to identify when unionism is being threatened and act to defend it – and unable to recognise when one of its own members is giving succour to opponents who attack what they call crony capitalism, the Scottish Conservative & Unionist Party appears to have lost what moral compass it once had.

It must choose Unionism for all – or not at all – and it must ask its former leader to decide which career she is committing to, and quickly. Politics is all about choices and it’s time for the Tories to define themselves.

Brian Monteith MEP is Chief Whip of the Brexit Party in the European Parliament