Friday 22 October 2021

About a telephone call

 In the course of today I had cause to speak to Brian Monteith on the phone. Terrible Tory Bastard that he is, he is also a good pal. Actually he is no longer a terrible Tory Bastard for he has defected to UKIP. Not sure that's an improvement. 

Anyway, he initially phoned me for my thoughts on a piece regarding the internal workings of the legal establishment which had been submitted for the Think Scotland website, which Brian runs, and I was happy to share my opinion on its strong and not so strong points.

But as you do in such occasions our conversation thereafter went on to wider issues and to the parallels between the early eighties, when we first became acquainted, and today.

Throughout my lifetime, the Scottish Tories have always been more on the liberal wing of their Party. As I moved on from student to "real" politics their dominant figures: George Younger; Malcolm Rifkind: Ian Lang and indeed my old boss Ross Harper were happy to metaphorically shake their heads at the wider excesses of Thatcherism without openly breaking ranks. Brian however was, actually still is, a true devotee of the Iron Lady and his Secretary of State of choice undoubtedly Michael Forsyth.

But on one matter the whole of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party from 1979 to 1997 were united upon. That there was not to be a Scottish Assembly, let alone a Scottish Parliament. 

Brian was one of the strongesr proponents of that view. 

But I was on the exact opposite side of the argument. Furious at the failure in 1979 and even more furious of the Tory strategy in that'year's referendum; that people should vote No in the hope of something better, only then to announce, in government, that something better was actually nothing at all. 

I was thus "determined" that there had to be a parliament. So, personally and with others, I did many of the things that the Nats are doing today. I advocated cross Party and non-Party working, I supported the formation of the Campaign for a Scottish Assembly (later the Campaign for a Scottish Parliament), I was instrumental in the formation of Scottish Labour Action after the 1987 General Election and in the campaign thereafter for Labour to enter the Constitutional Convention. I nodded enthusiastically when (as it later turned out loose) Canon Kenyon Wright declaimed that even if the UK Government said "We are the Establishment and we say No" , we would respond "We are the people and we say Yes". I argued that Scottish Labour should disrupt, possibly selectively boycott, Westminster to force home our point. I even went on a number of marches. The Labour leadership:: big Donald, wee George and briefly inbetween Tom Clarke, made tub thumping speeches to the Scottish Labour Party Conference about "democratic outrages" and I cheered them to the echo. 

Now all of this did have its achievements. At the 1987 General Election, the Tories lost half their, previously significant number of, seats in Scotland, The Consitutional Convention did agree on a much more attractive devolution scheme than that on offer in 1979 but most of all it succeeded in making a Scottish Parliament the "settled will" of the Scottish people. It had not just a marginal majority across Scottish public life but the support of almost all civil society, excepting perhaps big business. Every significant church, every Trade Union, almost all local authorities, every major third sector organisation, every Political Party* except the Tories, and even then, within their ranks, the support of more than a few dissidents. Most importantly of all it had the consistent support of an overwhelming majority of Scottish public opinion as demonstrated by the 74% Yes vote in the eventual referendum.

But did any of this actually achieve a Scottish Parliament? The answer is no, A Scottish Parliament was only eventually established as a result of the election of UK Government who, subject to an affirmative referendum, promised to establish one.

Now this is exactly the position the Nats are in today. You will have a distinct sense of deja vu about their suggested ways "forward", even up to the proposal for a new Constitutional Convention. But they also  do not have two things we then had. They do not have that consensus. The occasional marginal 51/49 poll is nothing like 74%,  never mind that 51/49 only ever being occasional in to the bargain.  And they do not have the deus ex machina that was the New Labour landslide. Or ever will have. The Tories will always say no. And the Tories will always be in Government unless Scotland returns to voting Labour. And if Scotland returns to voting Labour there is not going to be an Independence Referendum either. Because QED the electorate wouldn't have voted for one. 

I've been saying for ages that this was effectively over on 19th September 2014, reiterated in spades on 12th December 2019. Indeed, I've said before that I stopped blogging for fear that the thought it was worth blogging about at all helped fuel the fiction that the issue was not resolved. 

I say to my Nat readers however this: Organise; discuss; conference; disrupt; march; cheer.  Do what you like. I don't mind.  It won't make any difference. I've been there, I've got the T-Shirt. 

Meanwhile Brian and I will be having a pint in Edinburgh next month. He will not succeed in persuading me of the merits of Brexit and I will not succeed in persuading him that devolution remains a project worth persevering with, But we will part on good terms, both getting on with our lives thereafter. Time others got on with theirs. 

* A pedant will no doubt observe that pre 97 the SNP were nominally opposed to a "mere" devolved institution but that was a ludicrous position not understood by most of those voting for them and abandoned virtually overnight after the 1997 General Election.