I worked with the evil Tories

Not long after the referendum was called it struck me that simply resisting the independence project and insisting on a straight Yes or No was a less than intelligent response from Conservatives who were, about the same time, pondering their own raison d’etre following Murdo Fraser’s new party plea.

I wondered if this really was the best they could do, offering a flat No when we knew then – and know now – that the biggest single group of voters favoured enhanced powers in line with the concept of Devo Max.

Here was my thought process. If you are unpopular – a fair assessment of Tory fortunes, I think – and if there is a popular idea to which no one else (as in political party) has laid claim – Devo Max – and if adopting it would secure your main objective – saving the Union – is it not counter-intuitive not to seize it?

In addition, Scotland was/is a problem the Tories are tired of and would like to go away. So what if you offered Salmond and his Nats pretty much what they wanted in return for dropping the referendum?

Consider: No long campaign, no acrimony, little or no objection from England, the funding issue more or less resolved, the end of the West Lothian Question as there would be little need for more than token Scottish representation in the Commons, Tory chances of governing Britain enhanced, Scottish Tories actually doing something popular and getting the reward, the SNP deliver for Scotland with the best deal on powers ever and – God Save the Queen – the Union is saved and Dave’s a hero.

So convinced was I of the compelling logic of my idea – it doesn’t take me long to think I’m right – that I wrote it down in detail and called it grandly, Ahead of the Curve. In my capacity as a private citizen I contacted a leading Tory of my acquaintance and asked him to read it. He in turn showed it to another key figure of the Right and they promptly rejected it as unworkable. But I think they lacked the imagination to see the possibilities, as did Cameron himself when he became Prime Minister. Politicians think in silos and hardly ever break out into the world of rationality even when there are prizes to be won.

I thought Cameron should have seized his moment as soon as Salmond won his majority and instead of shirking back from a world, which to him is alien, should have suggested that two newly-minted leaders should meet. Privately. On their own. After all, it’s what world leaders do. We now know that the fall of Soviet Russia was helped immeasurably by Gorbachev forming personal relationships with Reagan and Thatcher, or, indeed, the case for illegal war was confirmed man to man between Blair and Bush.  In such an environment they can look into the eyes of the other and see what might be.

Supposing, I suggested, that Cameron starts with the idea of independence and works back. He could decide where to draw his red lines – perhaps on defence or personal taxation – and get Salmond’s response. Even within a red line area there could be concessions…for example on defence. Scotland’s forces could remain under British command unless there was to be a foreign incursion with which the Scots disagreed. The Scottish Parliament could be asked to rubber stamp their involvement, giving the approval of the Scots…or not, if illegal, as in Iraq. And that might have helped change London’s mind too.

The options are infinitely variable but the effect would be to give Salmond such a wide-ranging package of powers that Scots could not say No. It could be time-limited so that after 10 years if the experiment didn’t work, there could be a re-integration and if it did work, the Scots could consider their future based on a decade of running their own affairs, from raising their own revenue to social security.

I am told that George Osborne said, when asked what to do about SNP demands: “Give them what they want.” He didn’t really care either way.

For both the Tories and SNP there would be the added bonus of outflanking Labour who would lose their block of MPs at Westminster. The liaison between Edinburgh and London could be done through a revamped Scottish Grand Committee with MSPs from each party working between the two capitals and making sure there was Scottish representation when issues not devolved – probably monetary policy or most foreign affairs – needed Scottish approval. It’s hardly beyond the wit of Britain’s elite to work out a system agreeable to all, is it?

You would then have effective independence – we could even stop flying the Union flag – while the Unionists get to keep their prize of the Union itself and Britain’s global reputation is not only maintained but enhanced as a place where real democratic arrangements apply. And we would avoid years of a campaign with the acrimony that entails.

What’s not to like?

The English zealots can no longer cry Subsidy and Scots get to make virtually all their decisions themselves…real hard political power. And it would be in the interests of both Salmond and Cameron to make it work as they would have joint ownership, reducing the chances of rhetorical hostilities and wilful disruption.

Ah, you say, but Salmond would never do the deal. His party wouldn’t let him. This is the chance of a lifetime, or several and could not be thrown away.

Well, I don’t agree. What most people forget about Alex Salmond is his most enduring quality, and it’s not cockiness or love of a gamble…it’s pragmatism. Almost alone among his generation of Nationalists, his vision has been tempered not by emotion but by a logic that says Never get too far ahead of the people. He reads them better than any other politician and it helps explain his enduring success. It isn’t caution as such, but rather it’s a gift from the gods in the world of politics.

He would simply have told the party that this time of austerity is not the right moment for a referendum and since he had secured virtually everything short of independence, it was right to settle and focus on improving life for the Scots. To the doubters he would simply have pointed at the opinion polls and told them he was serving the majority. It is his duty to serve all Scots after all.

Only this week I had what amounted to gilt-edged confirmation that Salmond would have talked the talk on such a deal from someone who really does know.

Alex Salmond does want Scotland to be independent but his way has always been to climb one grip, one foothold at a time and more than anything he wants what is best for the Scots, even if that does fall short of the ultimate aim.

Now I want independence and believe in it deeply but the bedrock of my politics is that I am a democrat. I actually don’t want independence if the majority don’t agree because it is such a big project that we will need every Scot behind it with no room for spectators. I think there is a real possibility that there will be a Yes vote built not on true belief in independence but swelled by those who only want more powers, denied them by a rigged one-question referendum.

And just imagine if that happens, what a fool Cameron will look when all the time the gift of success and retention of the Union lay in his grasp.

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28 thoughts on “I worked with the evil Tories

  1. A great article but, given that your ideas are so sensible, they could never have worked. Those in power are, sadly, not interested in sensible. In other countries, things can be worked out through discussion and the making of concessions, all for the good of the citizens. In the UK, it’s just not like that: we’d rather hold a position and do everything not to have to change that position, no matter what. We live in a system that is adversarial and serves only those that maintain it. The SNP does have a more pragmatic appraoch that the other parties, or so it can seem, but it’s difficult to reach out to others and to find compromises when the others are blinded by vitriolic hatred of all that the SNP does, regardless of actual merit. As for our Primeminister, I don’t think he will care either way. If it’s No, then he wins and has saved the Union. If it’s a Yes, then the Conservatives are assured of a majority at the next General Election and outright government. Win, again. Oh, and the “pesky” Scots will be gone: double win!

  2. What about the fear for the Tories that other parts of England may have upped the demands on Westminster for a more federal UK if Scotland were offered devo max ?

    The North East of England could make demands for a regional assembly, especially after years of being shafted by Westminster.
    The Cornish, who have a pretty healthy independence movement would certainly have jumped on this bandwagon.
    The Welsh, no doubt would quite rightly have demanded similar devolution.

    All in all, I think the offer of devo-max to Scotland could have had the potential to rip the UK apart and seen the demise of Westminster dominance, and the Tories would never do that. London and the Home Counties are everything to them.

    We also have to consider what potential effect federalism would have on the House of Lords, with more regional assemblies and local decision making, the HoL would struggle to defend it’s £4m a week price tag.

    No, I think the Tories would rather take their chances on a ‘Yes/No’ vote to quell any possibility of England being broken up by federalism.

    • The Northeast already had a referendum in 2004 with a 77% No vote, with not a single local council voting Yes – not to mention a significant number of NE councils voted Conservatives. I don’t know if Scottish devomax would have quite the effect of increased federalist UK government, though it’s always nice to hope.

  3. well-considered piece, Derek. I agree that Cameron has been out-manouvered by Osbourne (who would succeed him) and will hand Scotland to Independence. London, the CITY (and pretend Government), don’t need us now that peak oil is over. They will again ‘dash the route of gas’. Labour know that they will be finished, despite a great result in Govan on a 20% turnout. It is all to play for and look to despicable tactics from BT. Interestingly, I think the Tories (once reformed post Davidson) will exist and survive in post indy Scotland.

  4. Excellent article if only Cameron had listened!

    • I imagine Cameron regarded the proposition as, in effect, delivering virtually everything Salmond wanted, on a plate, without even forcing him to win a referendum for it.

      Bateman smarter than Cameron. Who’d have thought it?

      • Roibert a Briuis

        YOU CANT BE SERIOUS!!!!! Call me dave is just a slicker (richer) toff’er version of the Lamentable Lamont Both will quickly be forgotten when their replacement appears

  5. When does Devo-max stop, and independence start? At some point on that scale, the Treaty of Union would become void.
    The only way to sort this is a vote on independence.
    Who knows, a future Scottish government may wish to sign a defence treaty with the rUK parliament?

  6. I think you understand Salmond very well.

    In the early to mid 1990s, at a small local SNP meeting, I asked him whether devolution might indeed be the trap some politicians declared it to be – that the Scottish people would become quite settled and content with that, and independence become impossible to advocate. This was at the time when we were all being told that the Catalan people were happy little devolved picaninnies who weren’t at all interested in independence.

    He looked me straight in the eye and told me with apparent absolute sincerity that if the people of Scotland were content with a devolutionary settlement and weren’t interested in independence then we had absolutely no right to try to push them into it against their will. That even more so, we had no right to oppose a settlement which might gain lasting popular support for fear it would weaken a contented people’s desire for independence. That such attitudes were profoundly undemocratic.

    I felt a bit chastened, actually. I also felt he really, really meant it. I don’t think he meant that he’d stop campaigning for independence, or pointing out what benefits it would bring, but he was absolutely implacably opposed to the very idea of trying to push people into independence by denying them a half-way house which they might be happy with.

    I believe that was a large part of what was behind the open offer of the third-option question. Genuine democracy. If Salmond’s opponents don’t understand this about him, they will always misread his intentions.

    • I believe that Salmond knew that his opponents would reject the offer of a second question in the referendum because he proposed it. He may well have been sincere in his beliefs that forcing independence on a contented electorate would be anti democratic. However, I think he knew that his political opponents would reject it. Then he could go over the heads of the Unionist parties, and say to the electorate that he tried to build a consensus over more powers, but this was rejected outright by the Unionists. The failure to even implement the Calman Commission proposals in full really showed that the professed desire of the Unionists for more powers is an empty one. Salmond will attempt to make the independence proposals in the White Paper as close as possible to Devo Max. Then he can appeal to supporters of the latter to back independence, and team up with those who already support independence.

      • Oh yes. That too. That’s why I said “a large part”. Another large part is that it offered an unmissable chance to stitch up the unionist parties and stitch them up good.

        Don’t you just love it when a plan comes together?

    • I was always of the opinion that, far from allowing people to “settle” for devolution, the possibilities and benefits further powers bring would provide even greater incentive to independence – after all, if we thrive and succeed the more powers we’re given, then independence seems more, not less, attainable. But that’s just me.

      • I agree, but in the early 1990s there was a push from Labour to spin the line that “devolution would kill nationalism stone dead”. To me, this was counterintuitive, but these people were pointing to Catalonia as an example that showed that people would be happy with devolution and not press for more.

        Because there was such a well co-ordinated message coming over, I asked Alex what he thought about it. His answer wasn’t even on the same terms as my question. I’d been thinking, what’s the best tactics to achieve a push for independence. Alex was working on what would be best for Scotland.

  7. Dearie me Morag, you obviously know nothing about The Eck. He is a dictator. Power is everything, and the ordinary folk of Scotland are but dirt on his shoes!

    Actually, as you have said, he is a rare breed. A politician that cares for the folk he represents. That is why his opponents fear him so much.

  8. Good analysis Derek, and an interesting insight into Salmond’s principles and pragmatism, borne out by Morag. To be honest, I was aware of this, I believe Morag shared something similar on Wings a wee while ago, but it is always good to flag this up to people, especially in the face of the campaign of vilification that the First Minister is subject to daily.

    Elephant in the room – from my point of view – would be Trident. Any negotiation on Devo-max would founder on an insistence on the removal of their missile system.

  9. Full independence is the only way to really benefit the people of Scotland.

    The full independence to make the decisions that benefit us – to keep sterling or not, to be part of the EU or not – WE decide.

    Thank goodness that we did not get a “miserable little compromise”.

    If the Scots don’t vote for independence, they will thoroughly deserve everything that follows.

  10. One major problem with this – it wasn’t the Tories or any other political party who put the kibosh on a multi-question referendum: it was the Scottish people in their responses to the SNP’s consultation process.

    On another note I believe my chums in the press pack who tell me that SNP HQ were completely taken aback when Mr Cameron put no obstacles in their path to a referendum. They were fully expecting years of grinding trench warfare over the details of the vote and were utterly stunned when those discussions were completed so quickly.

    It is fun watching them now try to pretend that it was all part of their cunning plan…

  11. Devo Max really should be a Unionist position. The fact that it isn’t, I believe, is borne out of those parties not wanting to give Alex Salmond a ‘win’ on anything. I think he was genuinely thinking democratically of the people of Scotland when he offered it up as an option on the referendum ballot. He wasn’t doing it because he cynically knew it would be rejected. The important thing was it was for ‘others’ to work out what Devo Max actually means – if the SNP/Yes side had taken it on it would have been a quagmire from which they might never have escaped. If he was playing a tactical hand at the time, it was to offer up the straw man of a Devo Max question on the ballot (which they would have to define), hoping the Unionist side would fixate on that point (they did) and not see his real concern, which was securing a legally watertight referendum from which the other side could not renege. As for the Scottish Tories, I believe independence would actually be good for them (it could hardly be worse). But the only way we’ll hear about Devo Max again is if the polling numbers begin to move significantly in favour of independence. Then you can expect David Cameron to change his mind on a leader-to-leader TV debate, and use that opportunity to announce exactly what type of jam tomorrow the Scottish people might expect if they were to vote no.

  12. The big clue in the whole debate is the position of the Lib Dems. The first sniff of power and places in government at Westminster and they ditched all their long held, cherished beliefs. From this evidence it is clear to me that UK politics is absolutely corrupted to the core. Not one of the big three parties is in the slightest concerned with managing the UK for the benefit of the actual citizens. I know it’s a tired old cliche for some who may be reading this, but the path to Westminster is purely motivated by only two things; the personal gain of the politician (Lib, Lab and Tory) and the dictates of the South East. That’s how shallow UK politics has become. It really is a niche organisation, only concerned with a small subset of the geographical UK. It is from this viewpoint that all decisions, or lack of them, from Cameron, and even his supporters in the Scottish version of the Labour Party should be understood. And I didn’t make an error in that last sentence. The Scottish Labour politicians are 100% behind Cameron. They share his vision and ideology. That logic is truely inescapable.
    Labour are currently working with the Evil Tories, hand in glove, joined at the hip, without the slightest trace of regret. When you see Ms Lamont at First Minister’s Questions, you are witnessing the mouthpiece of David Cameron and his Tory agenda. And that’s the point; the whole “agenda” of politics in the UK is set by London and it’s surrounding area. The tail truely wags the dog. So any proposals made for occupying the middle ground were never going to come to fruition. The only option for change, for all the current UK, is Scottish Independence. It will reset the agenda for the future. In the event of a Yes vote, I predict a better future for Scots and the citizens of the rUK.

  13. Derek, devo-max as a political strategy offering Scotland a lot more power than it has now as an alternative to independence on the ballot paper is a winner. However when you come down to the detail the whole idea simply falls apart for various reasons.

    Scotland got devolved powers because of the threat of independence but it won’t get any more because of the threat of independence. Each time Westminster hands more power to Scotland they lower the fence which Scotland has to jump to leave. It’s a paradox in a way. Scotland only got devolution because of nationalism and a Scottish sense of identity but that means that it can’t be given anymore power in case it smooths the path to independence. If Scotland was full of happy Britons and effectively just another English region then it could be given lots of regional power with no fear of it leaving but it would never have got devolution in the first place because there was no threat of independence.

    Then there’s the principle of fiscal equality in the UK. I’ve read all the various devolution schemes being touted at the moment, Ming Campbell’s Lib-Dem scheme, the devo-More report, the devo-plus report and the first draft of Labour’s Scottish region scheme and fiscal equality is the basis of them all. Scotland will get no more money for public services than any other part of the UK nor any access to independently generate more money for public services than any other part of the UK unless it’s in the form of an increase in direct personal taxation. So any devolution scheme which hands Scotland revenue from oil extraction or wind or power generation for example is a no-no from the start. Under the principle of fiscal equality any differentiation in funding of public services such as under the Barnett scheme is decided and controlled from Westminster. Now these schemes are for a Scotland which has rejected independence but fiscal equality is the show stopper even when independence threatens as now.

    David Cameron could have sat down with Alex Salmond and thrashed a scheme out but then he would have had to go back and sell it to both the Lib-Dems and his own back benchers and their first statement to him would be along the lines of, “If Scotland wants to stay in the Union then we’re all in it together and everyone gets the same funding for public services”. They already think the Barnett formula is far too generous to Scotland. In all “devo-max” schemes the first question that will be asked is who gets the oil revenues and if the answer is Scotland then that scheme is out the window.

    Then there’s Labour. Andy Burnham has already started talking about ironing out the differences between the Scottish NHS and the English NHS under their “One Nation” policy so unless David Cameron could persuade his backbenchers to give Scotland all its natural resources and get his Union saving devolution scheme through parliament in this session then there’s no guarantee that Labour would keep his promises if they got into power in the next parliament.

    So here’s the nub of it all. There’s a tidy little definition of devo-max. It’s the maximum amount of power that Westminster is willing to give Scotland. The initial tranche of devolution was easy. Law was already separate, education was already separate and the NHS was already separate so all they did was hand over the powers of the Scottish Office to the Scottish Parliament and fund it all with a block grant linked directly to English spending. Once you go beyond that then the question of fiscal equality rears its ugly head and in cases like Social Security you have to start breaking up British wide departments in Government which was something that did not have to be done with the intial devolution settlement. Things get difficult and both financially and administratively complicated. In other words we are already at devo-max and as a thought exercise extra devolved powers for Scotland would have threatened devolution but in practical terms they will always remain a pipe-dream.

    • Sorry, typo. Last line should read:
      “…and as a thought exercise extra devolved powers for Scotland would have threatened independence but in practical terms they will always remain a pipe-dream.”

  14. You are correct, Derek, Devo-Max would have been the logical and democratic settlement, and could have led to a form of Federalism.

    HOWEVER, that would have required a Westminster system that was interested in letting go of power, and that isn’t what Westminster does – it protects power and the powerful, and any democratic development has to be dragged screaming out of them. All parties are the same – by the time they get to power, they are completely seduced by it.

    I remember seeing Dennis Skinner talking at an Edinburgh May Day rally in the 90s: “Don’t take all these powers away from Westminster. We need those powers to do good when we get in.” They can’t see past it!

  15. The reason that this would never come to pass is exactly the same as the one which explains that the Devo-max which folk talk and talked about was never going to happen and it’s exactly the reason why so many of those who oppose independence do so. It’s about power, it’s about never admitting that anyone or any body who you have always looked on as being subservient to you, can be your equal,
    and it exists not just in the Tory party.

    To do as you suggest Derek, would have been for those who have been in control for so long, to admit that they were wrong, that they will never do!

    • Logic says Devo Max will never happen. The English based media have hammered away for years telling their readers that the Scottish are subsidy junkies. They emphasise that we get all the perks they don’t get elsewhere in the UK. This can be backed up by the thousands of bitter comments on national newspaper sites.

      So picture the scene prior to the next general election; the three main parties present a manifesto stating they will give much much more to Scotland. Remember that Middle England voters are key to winning for all parties. Without their support they lose.

      So what will these middle England, Daily Mail reading voters think of ‘more for Scotland’ in times of austerity. Hell no! They will lodge a protest vote with UKIP whose policy is to scrap devolution not extend it.

      Devo max will never, ever happen. If we want to continue with the same damaging policies of support the wealthiest and hammer the poorest, we only have to vote No.

  16. Derek : All probably true and justified – Independence still the only true final settlement on this matter though.

    As for Grahamski nonsense: I hope you realise no one believes the insider info garbage (thats never delivered the goods). But the constant attempts, give us all a laugh and we’ll still need such ‘British Humour’ of ‘Team NO Scotland’ after 2014, particulalry to scare the weans around Halloween.

  17. I have to agree that devo whatever short of independence is out of the question as far as the unionist parties are concerned. Giving any further powers to Scotland has the potential to cause significant unrest in parts of England and with UKIP on the rampage any grievances that further destabilise England will not be wanted. So our choice is stark. Independence or nothing — quite likely even devo minus.

    A no vote in the referendum may please the unionists but it could be something of a Phyrric victory for them. Because a large number of people in Scotland will still want greater powers and will continue at every opportunity to push for these. Scotland will remain a prickly thistle in England’s flesh, and unrest and opposition to, for example, privatisation of our NHS, could erupt in Scotland and spread down south. If Westminster wants peace to remake the state in England, then the obvious answer is to facilitate our leaving.

    I agree with what Morag said about AS. He came up and spoke to us after an event at the book festival a couple of years ago. He was very charming but said very little in the fifteen to twenty minutes we talked to him. He wanted to hear our thoughts. Not the behaviour of a dictator, but of a man who cares deeply for ordinary people living in Scotland.

  18. Another good un Derek. Keep em coming.

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