Friday 31 October 2003

Devolve the Conservative Party?

Tory MSP Brian Monteith laments the departure of Iain Duncan Smith:
In his 777 days as leader Iain Duncan Smith put to rest the Tory war over Europe and gave it a policy platform that has focused on public services and restored its credibility on these issues. A sincere and decent man, his removal was unnecessary.
I'm in two minds about this. I agree that Duncan Smith was a "sincere and decent man" but I am not convinced that he had the star qualities that modern politics demands in a television age. On the other hand maybe I'm not the only one who has to be restrained from throwing a brick at the television whenever Mr Blair appears. Perhaps the public would have turned away from loud spin towards the quiet man. Too late now though: the deed is done.

I am intrigued by Mr Monteith's thoughts on the future of the Conservative Party here in Scotland:

Watching all of this gore like a cheesy Hammer horror convinces me that the future of the Scottish Conservatives must lie as a party that stands on its own two feet, separate from all of this self-indulgence at Westminster.

We need to show ourselves as putting Scotland’s interests first - and in David McLetchie we have a decent bloke at the helm who grows in stature almost daily. He has overtaken John Swinney by sheer force of intellect and manages to make Jim Wallace look smug and weak at the same time.

Jack McConnell is a tougher nut to crack, but at times he can be rattled and cannot shake off the shifty, insincere aura that inevitably comes from being such a Machiavellian political operator. Of course Scottish Tories are in many ways entirely independent already. The political policies for all the devolved areas are already made in Scotland. It would not be a difficult leap for us to formulate our own views on UK issues such as defence, taxation and welfare and promote them in Scotland’s interests within the wider Tory family.

Scottish Tories would be expected, indeed required, to take the Conservative whip at Westminster and we would establish reciprocal rights within the English party, attending its conferences, committees and voting in leadership elections.

The real test would be the struggle to achieve financial viability but I rather suspect there are many individuals and businesses that would warm to a genuinely separate Scottish Tory Party that fiercely defended Scotland’s interests in Edinburgh and London.

Claims that it would be another step towards independence are alarmist nonsense - who doubts the commitment of the Ulster Unionists to the United Kingdom? Indeed, bringing them back into the Tory fold at Westminster, with a Shadow Cabinet seat for David Trimble, would be a natural way to show how such a relationship could work and a feather in Howard’s cap.

Iain Duncan Smith is going with dignity and in time he will be thanked for laying the foundations of a future Tory victory. But in Scotland we should be thinking of how we achieve power ourselves, rather than waiting for a new leader to deliver.

I think that a devolved Conservative Party is essential for a devolved Scotland. The Scottish Parliament is not going to go away and I believe that the "Monteith Plan" would be an excellent way for the Tories to steal a march on Labour.