Wednesday 7 April 2021

Douglas Ross is comprehensively wrong.

For a Labour man, I am not that ill disposed towards the Scottish Tories. They are generally much more towards the centre of their Party than those in the wider UK. They were pretty unanimously Remainers. Unlike their Welsh comrades (if that's a word you can use for Tories) they contain no significant anti-devolutionist element. It can at least be argued that on some issues they are more liberal than the SNP and on no issues less so.

If I wouldn't get expelled from my own Party for saying so, I might suggest you could happily vote for them in any constituency where they are the principal challenger to the SNP.

I say that as a preface because I want to go on to say that I think they have got their tactics in this election comprehensively wrong.

This is an election which is about who runs Scotland, and how it is run, over the next five years. What happens in health policy, in education policy, in transport, justice, local government and the various other devolved competencies. But at this time in particular it is principally about how quickly and how well we recover from the Coronavirus pandemic. It is not a referendum about whether we should have a referendum.

Of course it suits the SNP to argue that these actual functions of the Scottish Parliament are secondary considerations for, in respect of past performance of these responsibilities they have little, some might say nothing, to point to as worthwhile achievements. While, in respect of the way forward they have, it appears, if we don't vote for independence, no clue. And to be honest not much even then.  But I have no idea why this focusing on one matter suits the Tories. Not least because it is their position both at Holyrood but more imporantly at Westminster, where power lies on this matter, that irrespective of the outcome on May 6th, there is not going to be another referendum.

And, despite the claims of the SNP that this is "indefensible", it is in fact perfectly defensible.

We had a referendum in 2014. Over two million people voted to remain in the UK. 

No matter what the outcome on May 6th, if more than one half of that number vote for parties, in whatever combination, wishing a re-run, it will be a close call on that half. It will certainly be nowhere near the 1.7 million votes even the losing side got in 2014. And that is that. Even conceding nationalist parties 51% of the vote on a 55% turnout, just about as good as it can possibly get for the nationalists, that is a mandate for nothing beyond exercising the existing powers of the Scottish Parliament. 

But it does give the Nats something to campaign on. In the hope, to be fair, to date, reasonably successful hope, that this obscures their utter failure in actual government. 

But why are the Tories going along with this? Why are they allowing the election to be framed precisely as the nationalists want?

I get that they think it appeals to ultra unionist voters but surely only to really stupid ones. For the self same Tories are, at one and the same time, promising to stop that referendum at Westminster. So it amounts to: "Vote for us and we will stop a referendum at Holyrood but, if we don't succeed in that then we'll stop it anyway. So vote for us."

The Tory message should be the precise opposite. "We are not talking about another referendum at all for it is not going to happen. So let's talk about what should be happening."

And there they have a pitch to make. Not least on tax. It should surely be Tory policy that personal taxes should be no higher in Scotland than in the rest of the UK? Indeed presumably it is, although, as a close follower of politics, I have no recollection of that being said. 

It is surely also  Tory policy that public service delivery in Scotland is, how shall I put this politely, not always a model of efficiency? Despite the larger sums of money spent per capita and the much larger proportion of of our workforce being in the public sector. Never mind those engaged in the significantly publicly funded third sector. Labour shares the criticism on delivery but has no real solutions, wedded as we are to the public service trade unions. The Tories have no such obligation.

On transport. Scotrail is a disaster but there is no evidence to suggest taking it into direct public ownership (SNP and Labour policy) is likely to do much except turn a private sector monopoly disaster into a public sector monopooly one. The solution might credibly come from suggesting that it is not the ownership bit but the monopoly bit that might provide a solution. That would be a stereotypical Tory approach. Instead, silence.

When I was a wee boy, my dad explained the reason so many people (then) voted Tory was because they believed that while Labour Politicians knew how to spend money, Tory Politicians knew how to make money. He dismissed this without disputing that it was a common perception. It is a perception that the Scottish Tories themselves seem to be wilfully spurning. They are the Party of business. Not just big business but small business as well. They would be well placed to argue that, for that very reason, they are best placed to manage the Pandemiuc recovery. Are they doing so? Not that I've heard.

I could go on but the point is this. It is the interests of all unionist Parties to get this election off the diversionary issue of an independence referendum. My Party gets that. So do the Lib Dems. It is time the Tories did as well.