Henry Hill is a British
Conservative and Unionist activist, and author of the blog Dilettante. Follow him on Twitter here. He is also editor of the non-party website Open Unionism, which can be followed on Twitter here.
He will be
editing this new “Red, White and Blue” column, focusing on politics across the
United Kingdom, every Thursday.
not a fan of codified constitutions. I developed my deep distaste for them in
my years studying, and subsequently following, American politics. The effect on
the way politics worked just seemed so meritless. On fundamental issues, policy
debate by elected representatives is suborned to rather arcane and entirely
self-serving debate between competing lawyers on what precisely a collection of
long-dead people had meant to say when they wrote the constitution.
fundamental assumption behind such debates is that the will (or what can
possibly inferred to be the will, according to the predilections of an
unelected judge) of the Founding Fathers is more important than the will the
modern American citizenry – for example, the idea that if the Fathers only intended
guns to be owned within a militia, this outweighs the fact that the great
majority of US adults support private firearms ownership. Really, the purpose
of a written constitution is to bind future political debate within the
preferred parameters of its drafters.
that note, the SNP are proposing to introduce a codified constitution for the
Kingdom of Scotland should they triumph in 2014. Not only that, but they are
about using it to make SNP policies, such as free education and a nuclear
weapons ban, constitutionally binding.
course, Salmond says in the above-linked article that a codified constitution
would be formed with “widest possible involvement of popular opinion.” And
there’s no guarantee that the first general election of an independent Scotland
would deliver an SNP government – presuming that the drafting of a constitution
would wait until after such a poll. But even setting aside my distaste for
them, I think that the SNP line over a codified constitution is a tactical
error – and one the Scottish Conservatives might be able to exploit.
reason for the move seems fairly clear. All the stuff about how all “modern” countries
have codified constitutions creates not just a dividing line between the SNP
and the majority (but not all) of the unionists, but casts the United Kingdom as
somehow archaic or backward. It also demands a defence of the uncodified
constitution, which whilst perfectly possible is harder to mount than “but
everybody else has one”. It also allows the SNP to reach out to Labour voters
by dangling the prospect of a Scotland where state generosity is preserved in
constitutional aspic, safe at last from the depredations of… well, us.
despite Salmond’s caveats about “wide consultation” – and the SNP don’t have a
good track record on consultations since their majority – this sort of talk
still ties the prospect of an independent Scotland closer to the SNP’s vision
for it. Which, given the narrowness of their coalition, is a problem.
‘Yes’ campaign is technically an independent body whose cause is backed not
only by the SNP but the Scottish Greens, the Scottish Socialists and others.
But in practise, it’s the SNP’s show and almost everyone knows it. The
Nationalists haven’t really managed yet to disentangle in the minds of the
electorate the general idea of post-separation Scotland from the partisan
visions of the nationalist party, and this talk about putting SNP policies into
Scotland’s constitution will do nothing to reverse that.
is part of an interesting wider trend in the campaign. Pro-union Labour blogger
Ian Smart once mused on the fact that the
SNP could have responded to all of the problematic policy-based attacks being
thrown at them by the No camp by responding, quite fairly, that those were
issues to be decided by the Scottish people in an independent Scotland. The
problem is that this does very little to reach out to people beyond ‘existentialist’
nationalists, who are a small minority of voters.
to build a voting majority big enough to deliver independence, the SNP have had
to get drawn into policy-based fire-fights and wed the prospect of an
independent Scotland to their particular vision for it. And to have any chance
of winning over Labour voters, that vision has to be fairly left-wing.
of which leaves an opening for the Scottish Tories. More than any other party,
the SNP have profited from our party’s woes north of the border by hoovering up
a lot of the anti-Labour vote. In places like the north-east of Scotland, they
hold a number of Westminster seats in what used to be our Scottish heartland (back
in the halcyon days when we had such a thing).
a ‘No’ win in 2014, the 2015 general election, and the 2016 Scottish elections
are being viewed by some in the party as a chance to pry back some of that lost
support. First, the prominence of the union issue can help pro-union
centre-right voters who currently vote SNP realise that even when the SNP don’t
mention breaking up the UK much in their manifesto – and in 2011 they didn’t –
it is and always will be their raison d'être. Second, the need to pitch to
Labour voters will allow the Conservatives to point out to those same voters
that the SNP aren’t really centre-right either.
isn’t just the assessment of this columnist: taking SNP votes was the basis of
the Tory strategy outlined to me at the party conference by, amongst others,
Grant Shapps. This is good, because winning in Scotland is very important and
should be something our party pays proper attention to.
just because of the big electoral advantage it gives Labour, but because as I
told the panel at ConHome’s ‘A Plan to Win the Next Election’ conference event,
it should be deeply troubling to the Conservative and Unionist Party that
separatists can mount a credible campaign to break up the country on the basis
that we will sometimes be in power. Our weakness in Scotland is bad for the UK,
not just for us.
is obviously hard, facing an election that looks as close as the next one, to
spare time and resources for Scotland, as it does not have much by way of
low-hanging fruit. But for the reasons outlined 2015 is an opportunity for us,
and we should try to make the most of it. To that end, I hope some room for the
Scots is found at ConHome’s upcoming ‘Victory
2015’ Conference. A Scottish revival isn’t going to happen by magic, after