And the biggest threat to the Union is….Ruth Davidson

If short-term party political advantage is the aim of the game, then you can understand why the Scottish Tories have chosen to play the unionist card in the Scottish election. Ruth Davidson knows that Tory economic and social policies do not win elections (or even the runner-up spot) in Scotland. She must despair at her colleagues supposedly running the show in London who are tearing themselves apart on Europe and rapidly abandoning any claim to economic competence or social conscience.

Instead, she has put the independence question at the front and centre of her party’s Scottish programme. This is a headline currently on the “Herald” website:

Ruth Davidson: SNP wants to keep wounds of independence debate open.

I did a double take when I first spotted the story because at first glance I didn’t take in the “SNP” part. Of course, if you read it without the “SNP” it still makes perfect sense. Every time Ruth Davidson harps on about the union – and she does it an awful lot! – she is poking at the scab.

What the Scottish Tories are trying to do is realign Scottish politics to make us like Northern Ireland albeit without the religious element. She wants Scottish voters to define their political allegiance in a simple binary way – unionist versus nationalist – and then lays claim to the unionist mantle because the LibDems and Labour decline to gag or purge the minority of their party members who voted “Yes”.

Those who rally to this particular flag should pause and think. In Northern Ireland, almost no voters switch from a unionist to a nationalist party, or vice versa, at election time. Religious demographics have given unionism the upper hand at every election since partition. In Scotland, the political pendulum is not blocked by such intense community loyalty.

If Ruth Davidson succeeds in replacing the traditional left-right axis by a nationalist-unionist one, then she could go down in history as one of the key figures in the process leading to Scottish independence.

We could, of course, face a problem on June 24 if we wake up to learn that the UK has voted to leave the EU while Scotland has decisively voted to stay. In separate referenda less than two years apart, the Scots would then have chosen to remain in two different unions which would no longer be legally possible. Some way would have to be found to allow the country to indicate which union it prefers, and it would need to be done quickly. We have to hope this won’t happen.

In the meantime, Willie Rennie is absolutely right to focus on the issues that really matter to people and to offer an optimistic liberal alternative to the authoritarian, centralist and fiscally illiterate agenda of the SNP.

* Simon Horner was Lib Dem candidate for North-East Scotland (European Parliament) in 1989 and 1994 and for North Tayside (Westminster) in 1992.

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8 Comments

  • As a resident of East Lothian, I agree with a lot of that, Simon. I’d go further and say that Cameron is also responsible for what looks like yet another omni-shambles. There really has to be a question about his competence in setting himself up for a fall by over-selling what he could achieve in re-negotiating and initiating a high risk referendum.

    He’s not the only one who couldn’t see into the crystal ball. We had our own omni-shambles between 2010 and 2015. It was toxic and self induced on the Inverness/Sheffield Hallam axis. The consequences were well set out by Tavish Scott after the last Holyrood election.

    I like and admire Willie and wish him well….. but if the choice is between many more years of Tory austerity and incompetence coming up and being imposed from a south east of England viewpoint …. then other choices of sovereignty become less unattractive.

    Is it that Machiavellian to wonder if the goal of permanent Tory rule in England is being sought and paid for at the price of the Union and by getting rid of “the troublesome Scots ?”?

  • nigel hunter 27th Apr '16 - 11:33am

    David Raw. Very valid thought. Get rid of the pesky Scots and the world is ours. Divide and conquer is a Tory speciality. Is that what the future holds, 2 one party states leading to division, disunity economic decline. Rennie must fight for unity for all, not disunity. You can tell him that.

  • John Mitchell 27th Apr '16 - 8:10pm

    I agree. Willie Rennie and the party are correct to focus on the issues as has been the case throughout the campaign.

    To be fair to the Tories, it is the SNP who gave them the chance to jump on this with the ‘renewed call for independence’ in the summer that the SNP proposes. There is that and also Labour’s abject failure in actually setting out where they stand on Scotland and its relationship to the UK. Yes, it isn’t in Labour’s manifesto, but the party has been so unconvincing on the subject since after the referendum and especially the UK general election of 2015. I get the wider feeling that Labour is continuing to play the nationalist card which is not a change in platform at all really. It is just Labour increases to amplify it. Ruth Davidson’s similar attacks towards the Lib Dems hold far less merit, not least because I cannot see the party ever embracing nationalism as a party of liberalism.

    Ultimately though, as the article suggests this only helps the SNP if they can contest elections on these terms.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 27th Apr '16 - 11:25pm

    What has happened to and in Scotland , to me , as an Englishman in the modern world aware of past grievances and as a student of history which we should all be permanently, is unfathomable.

    That a significant part or more , of the Scottish people see more in common with or reason to unify with the rest of Europe , than with the rest of the United Kingdom.And that loyal and Liberal individuals like David Raw , feel a period of so called Tory rule which hardly covers any major policy as it is all devolved , from here on leads even him to consider so called independence !

    Scotland already is independent .It runs nearly all its government its way . On absolutely every aspect of domestic importance it can do what it likes .

    It is England that is not independent .Even in our party , noises to get rid of the English party , the federal party is it is it not ?!NO!

    The United Kingdom is becoming a dream like that of many idealists .It is only those like me whose family in part has lived through dictatorship , that knows how good and great, Britain , was , and is , and could be , if the petty bigots that the current and yes , Scttish , nationalists really are, would get it .

  • @Lorenzo Cherin

    “Scotland already is independent .It runs nearly all its government its way . On absolutely every aspect of domestic importance it can do what it likes .”

    Nearly all welfare, the great majority of taxation, energy, broadcasting, constitutional issues, monetary policy, fiscal policy are not devolved. So nowhere near independence.

  • @ Lorenzo Cherin Now be careful, Lorenzo, don’t get muddled and drag me into your private disputes. Peace ‘n light ‘n all that…….and lay off Tony who’s worked his socks off for this benighted party for over 55 years.

    Andy Allen is quite right on the issues and Scotland is most certainly not independent. A few more examples – the EU referendum could mean Scotland being dragged out against its will…… and being stuck with Trident against its will.

    We (yes, as an ex-pat Yorkshireman I feel a kindred spirit) look at the world very differently to the English home counties. Here community and public service values still mean something unlike the individualistic devil take the hindmost economic liberalism and privatisation notions that that benighted part of a creaking UK seems to believe in.

    We also feel the occasional resentment when patronised, whether by some Bournemouth bus driver who believes a Scottish £ 10 note is not legal tender…… or by the focus of some London luvvies (look up what Cobbett called London) who know nothing about the rich cultural life of Scotland.

    You’ll be interested to know we have some pretty nifty ice cream parlours originating from Italy – and my own county of East Lothian is twinned with Barga (the most Scottish town in Italy). And finally, here’s a wee bit of entertainment for you from Barga. Enjoy.

    The Royal Scots Borderers in Barga – YouTube
    Video for Barga Pipe Band▶ 1:37

  • Lorenzo Cherin 29th Apr '16 - 9:37pm

    Andy Allen

    Tax rates are an important part of fiscal and monetary policy , now devolved , as for constitutional matters the only one the SNP are concerned about is independence , yet on both , hypocritically think they could keep the pound as part of so called independent fiscal policy , and the monarchy , as part of their so called constitutional independence !
    On welfare , I think that , at some point , shall ,become devolved , and broadcasting should be out of government hands altogether as I do not favour the licence fee model now at all , and think we should have a slim and genuine BBC public service channel , funded by a grant from the Department of Culture , media and sport , the allocations of which could obviously be decided in direct consultation with the nations .

    I believe all government and politics needs adaptation, that can be national , for and involving our nations , but not nationalist !

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