This is an interesting time for Scotland’s Conservatives. For the first time in a decade they are enjoying limited power as they work with the minority SNP administration in Edinburgh to secure the passage of individual pieces of legislation. Last week also saw the party commit more solidly to devolution than at any previous time; when Annabel Goldie, Scottish Tory leader, joined with Labour and LibDems to support a Constitutional Commission on ‘Stage Two’ of devolution. None of this is producing an upsurge in fortunes for the Scottish party, however. A poll last week showed the Scottish Tories languishing at just 12% or 13%. Plans for a distinct Scottish Party have been shelved for the time-being. A number of senior Scottish-born Tories – both at Holyrood and Westminster – raised strong objections to the idea.
David Cameron heads to Edinburgh today to speak to Scottish Conservatives and Edinburgh businesspeople. In advance of his visit he has given an interview to The Telegraph in which he promises to be a Unionist first before ‘pandering’ to the possibilities of winning English votes. He urges voters to get the Barnett formula and the transfer of money from the English to Scottish taxpayer "in perspective". He says that the Tory manifesto will address the West Lothian Question but the solution will not necessarily be the one recommended by Sir Malcolm Rifkind.
One Scottish Tory MSP speaking to ConservativeHome feels that the mood of the London Conservatives has changed in recent weeks:
"We were worried that Cameron might have risked the Union when the party’s opinion poll rating was so weak. There was a strong temptation to go for the English vote and play the Scottish card against Brown. That temptation has faded as the Tory opinion poll rating has risen. We now believe that Cameron’s Unionism is coming back to the fore and that is a huge relief."
A YouGov poll for The Telegraph shows that 62% of English voters do not think that Scots MPs should have the right to vote on English/ Welsh legislation. 63% do not believe that Scotland’s higher public expenditure is justified. 27% of English voters think that the Conservatives are more likely to stand up for England’s interests compared to just 10% trusting Labour. 57%, however, think it will make no difference.
Highlights of David Cameron’s interview with The Telegraph:
His own make-up: "My father’s side of the family by being Camerons are predominantly Scottish. On my mother’s side of the family, her mother was a Llewellyn, so Welsh. I’m a real mixture of Scottish Welsh and English. Her grandmother’s side were Scottish Empire builders – conquered all sorts of parts of India, I think."
There’ll be ‘no pandering to English nationalism’: "I don’t care whether pandering to English Nationalism is a vote winner. The very fact that in my two years as leader I haven’t ripped open the Barnett Formula and wandered round England waving a banner shows you that I am a very convinced Unionist and I’m not going to play those games."
Every constitutional policy must pass the Union test: "Point one, an imperfect Union is better than anything that threatens it. The Union always comes first. Point two, I always say to my party yes of course there are things that can upset you – like different spending levels, but remember, the Union comes first and don’t blame the Union, blame the government. Third, I want to be Prime Minister of the United Kingdom not England."
The Barnett formula: "Increasingly it looks unfair and increasingly people are questioning it. But I always say to English audiences of course the time will come when we have to look at it, but do not believe that there’s some pot of gold here. Its not those perfidious Scots taking all our money. If you replace Barnett with a needs based formula then Scotland will still get a large amount of money. Don’t treat it as a big grievance. Its not the biggest thing since the Wars of the Roses. Get it in perspective."
The West Lothian Question: "It is not one of my top five issues. But this is something I would like to sort out. It would help add to constitutional stability and it needs to be done in a careful way. We haven’t decided what path to go down, but the Rifkind plan does not create two classes of MP. It is no good saying that the answer to the West Lothian Question is to stop asking it. We will at the next election be putting forward a plan for dealing with this issue."
Things that make us British: ""That includes the BBC, the NHS, but also the House of Commons… Think of 1940, Britain standing alone to defeat Hitler. If you think of the proportion of the Armed Forces that were made up of Scots, Welsh and Irish… In Henry V, on the eve of battle, he goes back and talks to all the soldiers and talks to a Welshman, Scotsman as well as English troops. I would also add in place, which is very important. The countryside and coast. It’s about place as well as values and institutions."
On the SNP: "I know that if I’m fortune enough to win the next election I’m unlikely to have a majority of Scottish seats. I will want to work in a way that enhances the United Kingdom. I know that Alex Salmond is sitting there thinking ‘Oh yippee if the Tories win it will help me break up the UK’. Well, my message is forget it. My Unionism goes very deep."