Tory independence dividend

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson

The party conference season is in full swing and the Conservative  party took centre stage this week. The early part of the week was dominated by the Scottish Conservatives and leader Ruth Davidson’s provocative claim that Scotland is a nation of benefit ‘junkies’. A statement that even Michael Forsyth questioned.

Beyond this one of the main features of the conference was the extensive use of the union flag and a lot of better together rhetoric from the platform and across social media. Pretty much as you would expect from the party most strongly identified with unionism.

Unlike the Scottish Labour party who are now self-identified as a unionist party the Conservatives campaigned against devolution and even their official title in Scotland contains the word unionist. Yet, ironically, it was the very establishment of the Scottish parliament that they campaigned against, along with proportional representation, which made them a political factor in Scotland.

If Holyrood did not exist the Conservative representation on the national stage would comprise of a solitary Westminster MP. Without proportional representation, another innovation the party has railed against, their quota of MSPs would also be substantially reduced.

Now looking forward to what a post-independence Scotland could look like politically it is the very party that is most strenuously opposed to the concept that could be the biggest winners. The toxic Tories label still hangs around the neck of the party in Scotland preventing substantial electoral gains. Yet scratch below the surface and many Scots are conservative with a small c in their views and could quite easily support a centre-right party minus the Thatcher baggage.

Murdo Fraser recognised this in his 2011 leadership campaign and wanted to re-brand the party. It was too much of a leap of faith for the rank and file and the younger but more traditional Ruth Davidson triumphed. Any cutting, or even loosening, of ties with the UK party was unthinkable for many in the party but it is difficult not to come to the conclusion that it would be beneficial.

Some Conservatives in Scotland may have thought, indeed may still think, that they can ‘wait it out’ until the residual Thatcher inspired hatred subsides in Scotland. The problem is that it shows no signs of abating any time soon. How many people in Scotland agree with Conservative policies but claim they could never vote Tory because their dad/mum/grandparents would disown them? A whole generation of voters exist who were not even born when Thatcher was Prime Minister yet they have had it drummed into them by their parents that they can never forgive the Conservative party.

Similarly politicians such as Davidson and Gavin Brown are tarred with the toxic Tory brush despite being at school through the Thatcher years and regardless of their personal qualities and performance.

So if devolution made the Conservative party a political factor in Scotland it could be their nightmare scenario, an independent Scotland, that makes them a political force again.

Imagine a renamed and reinvigorated centre-right party in Scotland free from the shadow of Thatcherism and free from the image, real or imagined, of millionaire home county Tories imposing legislation on Scotland. Such a party could be a serious force in an independent Scotland. Or the party could get what it wants, the status quo with the Conservatives as hated as ever north of the border and gaining little more than a token elected presence.

Original article here

Sketch – The re-awakening of Baron Forsyth

21/03/2011

Scottish Conservative leader, Annabel Goldie, has the appearance of a primary school headteacher. Capable of striking fear into any wayward pupil she still manages to appear somewhat benevolent underneath. She certainly trades on an image of being a tough old mare and a tough old mare who knows what is best for you. At last week’s conference in Perth she highlighted this in her speech saying: “There is an old nag in the field who’s been round the course and who’s got form when it comes to taking on the boys.

“Someone who decides what they can and cannot do, somebody who holds the balance of power in this parliament and who will act without fear or favour.

“That old nag is me.”

So there you have it, anyone steps out of line and it will be six of the best from Ms Goldie. However, if Goldie does have some benevolence about her then another Tory making his presence felt last week certainly does not. Somewhere in darkest Stirlingshire a creaking coffin door was heard to open as the prince of darkness Baron Forsyth of Drumlean rose. Of course in his previous life he was Thatcher’s tartan bogeyman Michael Forsyth and he was back on form in Perth.

Speaking at a fringe meeting he attacked the party for backing the Scotland Bill and its increased fiscal powers for Holyrood. As a mortified Murdo Fraser looked on the feared Baron broke rank from party policy and launched a staunch defence of the union. A parliamentary candidate from another party opined, in private, recently that party’s don’t like having debates on controversial subjects as part of the main conference due to them being reported on as ‘splits’. At Perth you could see the reason why, Fraser and his cohorts are doing their best to detoxify the Tory brand in Scotland. It will certainly not be helped by the spectre of 1980’s Thatcherism, unionism and being told what is best for you. Goldie may get away with a bit of lecturing but Forsyth almost certainly will not.

Greens back tartan tax

By Andy Mackie

The Scottish Green party is the first in Scotland to propose using  Holyrood’s tax raising powers.

A motion was passed at the party’s annual conference, held in Edinburgh at the weekend, to oppose cuts to services and to look at taxation as a tool to achieve this. Explaining this stance in the run up to next years Holyrood elections Patrick Harvie MSP said:  “We don’t want the electorate to be faced with five political parties proposing five different flavours of cuts. In doing this we have to acknowledge that, unfortunately, other ways of raising revenue have to be explored.”

Harvie acknowledged that the tax varying powers available are limited. He said: “You can only change the basic rate, I would love it if we could raise the higher rate making it a more progressive system.” Harvie added that the party would also be looking into ways of implementing local taxation. He said: “We will be looking at a broader range of local taxes that can be more progressive and ensure that those with the broadest shoulders do pay more.”

The other parties in Scotland, however, do not share the Greens enthusiasm for tax increases. Liberal Democrat Finance spokesperson Jeremy Purvis MSP said: “The Green Party has no credibility at all. They have called for more and more expenditure but have not done as we did and identified the waste and bureaucracy that needs to be tackled. This should be the priority; not putting up taxes for low or medium earners to a grotesque amount as the Green Party are advocating.”

The SNP pointed out that any tax increase would impact on all families their spokesperson said: “The SNP has no plans to implement the 3p tartan tax at present. We believe that it would have a negative effect on household budgets.”

The Scottish Labour party stopped short of ruling out the policy, a spokesperson said: “Labour will look carefully at all the evidence but there are practical difficulties with the Green’s proposals which would be hard to overcome.”

The Scottish Conservatives were unavailable for comment.