Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The strange death of the Scottish Conservatives

One of the key reasons that Cicero joined the Scottish Liberal Democrats 27 years ago was that they believe in a Federal Britain. Federalism is not, as the Separatists would argue "the Union in another form" and neither is it "Devolution" in the sense of powers handed down from Westminster to Scotland.

Federalism is based on "Home Rule"- that is to say that the Scottish People agree to share certain areas, like defence, foreign affairs, environmental policy and some finances with the rest of Britain, but otherwise control their own affairs, including most taxation.

This is not the system that we have now, which is merely democratic oversight over the former Scottish Office. Neither, however, is it complete independence. It is a distinct policy that allows Scotland the best of both worlds- the benefits of controlling affairs at the most local level, with the benefits of working with the other nations of Britain.

Once, the Conservatives stood for a distinctive policy- "The Union". The idea that despite the legal, educational and cultural differences, despite the fact of government being devolved to the Scottish Office, the government of Scotland was in no way legally distinct from the government of the United Kingdom. Only one problem- it was increasingly obvious that Scotland WAS distinct. The collision between the Scottish people and militant Thatcherism revealed a chasm between Scotland and the Conservative Party. The result was that the Tories collapsed in Scotland- reduced to a rump of largely elderly backwoodsman.

Next May 3rd, the third elections for the Holyrood Parliament are set to take place. The result may be somewhat different from the previous two Parliaments. The Conservatives remain becalmed at only around 10% of the vote in the latest opinion polls. The Socialist bloc, beset by scandal looks like they may not even qualify for the Parliament at all. The fall in the Conservative vote and the end of the SSP will leave a lot of votes up for grabs, especially as the Labour Party is growing ever weaker.

The question then emerges: what of the three main parties. Labour and the Liberal Democrats, who have run the Scottish Executive since 1999, and in particular the opposition, separatist, party -the SNP?

The SNP in most policy respects are as left wing as Labour. Both Labour and the SNP believe in socialist policies for Scotland's problems. Yet, the fact is that the share of the state in the Scottish GDP is now as large as anywhere in Europe- and the even starker fact is that state Socialism has failed.

There are examples of successful, small economies- and all of them are free market based, not Socialist. It is time for the Scottish Liberal Democrats to remind the people of Scotland that we stand for policies that allow the individual more rights and more control over their own affairs. When we talk about localism we mean, for example, that the City of Aberdeen should be deciding its infrastructure needs- and should be given the appropriate resources. We mean that local people should be deciding the local levels of health care and education, and that this should not be in the hands of centralised government, whether in London or Edinburgh. This is part of the DNA of Federalism- making sure that decisions are taken as close to those most affected as possible. No unelected quangos, and a bonfire of unnecessary regulations- Nick Clegg's call for a Great Repeal Act most definitely applies to Scotland.

The message of the smaller states, in the European Union, like Estonia, is not that independence is attractive. Scotland is different from the Baltics because Scotland has always had the choice. Britain was and is a free country and at anytime, if the Scottish People wanted independence and voted for it, then independence would happen. The occupation of the Baltics made those countries determined to be independent. It made them more determined to be free, by which I mean they were determined to give personal autonomy to the individual. The great thing is that this has worked- Estonia is growing rapidly in wealth and cultural, economic and political maturity.

The message of the death of the Scottish Conservatives is complex. Firstly, and most importantly, it reminds us that parties must listen to the people that they offer to serve.

More critically- the death of the Tories in Scotland is a harbinger for Britain as a whole. The Conservatives have not had a good week in Bournemouth and this was really their last chance to set out a case to be elected with a majority in Britain as a whole. Without any significant support in Scotland, the Tories are relying on England for their majority- and it is not enough. The SNP may well now get the support of ideological free marketeers, who now finally give up on the Scottish Conservatives, but the fact is that the SNP is still a socialist party, and the influx of right wingers will make it a fractious and ungovernable party.

Yet the Scottish People have a better choice that either separatist incoherence or state socialism. A Liberal Scotland built on a Federal Principle is now within our grasp. The Liberal Democrats can emerge as the real winner in the next Holyrood elections- and the future of Scotland and of Britain now depends on the march of the Scottish Liberal Democrats.

Scotland should be free. However freedom does not mean independence, and independence is not necessary for freedom. The death of the Scottish Tories makes it clear that the inflexible Union is not wanted- the weakness of Labour suggests that the half measure of devolution needs to be completed.

Home rule and a Liberal Scotland should be our rallying cry.

9 comments:

Tristan said...

As an Englishman, I can't really comment that much, but I fully support that.

It does leave the English questions to be answered, and they will have to be answered in some way.

And of course their's Wales and NI. NI should be treated like Scotland if possible (of course, with the politics there, its particularly difficult).
Wales, again, the same status as Scotland if people want it.

The problem is England is so big in comparison. I really think that if we get federalism, we could end up with England breaking away from the union. If we tried regionalism, it would have to be regions people themselves choose, its no use haivng a 'west midlands' region, there's no identity in that.

Etzel Pangloss said...

Cicero, I'm a typical English mutt. I would hope so much to remain British.

Cicero said...

I am a mutt too, and to be British is at least part of my identity. I agree that regional government is not generally popular. My personal view is that the countiues are actually quite large entities and I wwould give them a lot more power. Where people want a regional group: Wessex? East Anglia? then that can fit into a country-based structure.
In Spain there are several "national" units: Galicia, Catalonia, Euskadi. However there are also several single county regions: La Rioja, Murcia, Asturias.
As far as England is concerned, I would offer every county the cahance to run more and to work with other counties as they wish- one size does not necessarily fit all.

Richard said...

Nice idea. Shame that England is too large in relation to Scotland, Wales and NI to ever be a federal unit on its own. For that reason, both federalism and 'asymetrical devolution' went into a political coma with the North East referendum result.

Like it or not, Independence is the only remaining constitutional option which the Scots have the ability to choose for themselves. Everything else, from federalism to further devolution, requires a consensus of opinion across the UK which simply doesn't exist at the moment.

Cicero said...

I would certainly like to see a greater consensus across the UK, but I also think that the drive is for both the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly to increase their powers.
What England does is a matter for them, but the growing demands for a new constitutional arrangement for England can not be ignored for ever.

Anonymous said...

Interesting post. I've taken it in another direction here.

Cicero said...

Thanks Bernie- enjoyed your post.

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maswey said...

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