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Henry Hill is a British Conservative and Unionist
activist, and author of the blog 
Dilettante. Follow Henry on Twitter. He is also
editor of the non-party website 
Open Unionism,
which can be followed on Twitter 
here.

The Welsh Assembly remembers the lady; the Scottish Parliament debates her legacy

The
Welsh Assembly opened its first post-Easter session with tributes to Lady Thatcher, which played out much as you
might expect.

First
Minister and Labour leader Carwyn Jones focused on her role in allowing Welsh
coalmining to decline, as well as her (quite unintended) role in beckoning in
devolution. He also accused her of alienating both sides of the Northern Irish
issue, which is probably inevitable if you both fight the IRA and seek an accommodation
with peaceful nationalism. He praised her role in liberating the Falklands and,
in a rather barbed compliment, noted that her 1983 total of 14 Welsh Conservative
MPs – including three from Cardiff – has never been repeated.

Welsh
Conservative leader Andrew RT Davies was naturally laudatory, praising Thatcher
as “a force for good” who turned Britain around. Yet as in Westminster, there
were those who chose to stay away, from both the Labour and nationalist
parties. Plaid leader Leanne Woods distinguished herself by rebuking the “no
such thing as society” line by stating that Wales believes in “community”. To
my mind, the full quotation is in fact all about the distinction between
community – a tangible, local and personal phenomenon – and an abstract and
remote ‘society’ that can only be represented by the state.


Meanwhile,
the Scottish Parliament moved a contentious parliamentary debate on the legacy of Thatcherism to Thursday,
after a sustained Conservative campaign against holding it on the same day as
her funeral. The debate was moved by a collection of separatist MPs, comprised
of the Scottish Greens and Independent Nationalists. The debate is now
scheduled for Thursday. Salmond aide Joan McAlpine, in a manner consistent with
many asked to show a little consideration for the passing of Lady Thatcher,
accused the Conservatives of trying to “silence” the Scottish Parliament.

The long shadow of the Troubles, Lady Thatcher… and Oliver Cromwell

Sinn
Fein had their annual conference (Ard Fheis) this week. For all the image given
at the top of SF becoming a normal, post-conflict political party, it isn’t
every conference that sports badges bearing the silhouette of an armed man with
the message “sniper at work” – although I’m sure the TUC might have whipped
some up for Lady Thatcher had they thought of it.

Yet
beneath the cosmetics, interviews with regular party members also demonstrated
continuing and worrisome tendency to endorse extremist positions and tactics. Only a third believes it their
civic duty to report armed dissidents to the police, whilst most shockingly of
all a quarter of respondents declared their belief in the legitimacy of an
armed struggle for so long as the British remain in Ulster. Clearly Sinn Fein’s
route to true political normalcy will be a long one.

Yet
if the Republicans retain an element of ruthlessness (to put it nicely) when it
comes to their willingness to countenance bringing about a united Ireland
through force, the Iron Lady in her heyday was quite prepared to be ruthless
back. The Belfast Telegraph disinterred revelations from 2001 about Margaret
Thatcher’s somewhat surreal plan for the repartition of Ireland when the Anglo-Irish Agreement was in trouble.

This
frankly surreal proposal came in two parts: first, the redrawing of the border
of Northern Ireland into a straight line to make it more defensible – as if any
attempt to update that border is ever going to end up as anything other than a
long meander around local population clusters that want to be on one side or
the other. A beachhead down the rabbit hole thus established, the plan could
move onto its next phase and set about moving those northern Catholics who
wanted to live in a separate Irish state to the pre-existing one.

Suffice
to say, there must have been times when the Troubles looked completely
insoluble.

North-eastern opportunities for the Scottish Conservatives

Let’s
not get over-excited – the prospects of an immediate Conservative revival north
of the border are always long. But if you can resist the urge to get over-optimistic,
trying to spot avenues of advancement for our party in Scotland can be quite a fun,
fatalistic little psephological parlour game.

I
mention this because of a recent poll of north and north-eastern Scotland, summarised here in
the Press and Journal. Clicking through will show positive findings for the
Union across the board, but the two results of most immediate interest to party
strategists, I think, will be Aberdeenshire and Moray.

There
are grounds to think that each of the yellow parties might be vulnerable in
Scotland in 2015. The Liberal Democrats, suffering from their first experience
of office and especially being in partnership with us, are likely to see a dip in
support. The SNP, meanwhile, may well be in a pretty poor state after losing
the 2014 referendum (if they win, of course, all this is entirely moot). Defeat
will likely have a serious impact on party morale, not to mention funds and
energy, and the general election will follow a mere seven months after the
event. Furthermore, a party which has gained much by downplaying its cause célèbre and positioning itself as
an alternative home for centre-right anti-Labour voters will have to spend the
next year and a half dyeing independence into the very fabric of its public
image.

All
of which is good news – potentially – for the Conservatives. A lot of SNP
voters are former Tory voters. When Alex Salmond stood down from Banff and
Buchan before the 2010 general election, that election saw the Conservative
vote double and the SNP majority was dashed from 11,800 to a hair over 4,000.
The swing of 10.6% was the largest in Scotland. Meanwhile, the Tories are the
only credible challenger Aberdeenshire West and Kincardine, where the Liberal
Democrats have a majority of 3,700 and the SNP are in third. If both of those
parties take a hit in 2015, it’s not impossible to envision the Tory candidate
pushing through.

Of
course, all of these are long shots and any number of local or national issues
might intervene to keep the party stuck in second place. But then essentially
every Scottish shot is a long shot at this point. I can’t find the full list of
the party’s forty target seats, but Scottish seats will be on it. It will be interesting to see if
the north-east gets a look in.

The not-so-'+ive' case… "England would bomb our airports"!

In
the build-up to the Scottish referendum next year, the Better Together campaign
is currently built around something called the ‘+ive’ case. In essence, the idea is to avoid giving
Salmond opportunities to accuse unionists of “talking Scotland down”, and
instead focusing on building the positive case for why Scotland should remain
inside the UK.

There’s
obviously some tension in this approach – it would be very easy to focus
strictly on the hard, economic and strategic case, which would risk turning
what is fundamentally a country with a common (if multi-faceted and layered)
identity into a rather mercenary arrangement, a point with BT sort-of address
with their ‘Interdependence’ point. Yet for all that it’s a good place to
start.

What
is not helpful to building a positive
case for the Union is anything that generates the headline “English ‘would
bomb our airports’”
.

Now
I don’t know, because the above article didn’t see fit to include, the exact
setting of Lord Fraser of Carmyllie’s remarks (although it does take care to
mention that he’s a Conservative). It might be that it was simply a small-part
of a well-reasoned and speculative discussion about the security implications
of independence in the long term. Certainly the circumstances described – an enemy
seeking to land forces in Scotland to threaten ‘England’, and England/rUK
having to thus bomb Scottish airports – seem rather improbable.

Of
all the downsides of Scottish independence, I don’t think that a revivification
of the “Auld Alliance” between Scotland and whomever England happened to be
fighting is very likely beyond the world of sport. Nonetheless, perhaps a
little more care over the opportunities presented for mischievous headlines
would be welcome.

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