Category Archives: constitution

The Tories’ constitutional malice

The Conservative party used to be one of rectitude and respect for the constitution.  No longer, if its tactics in this election are anything to go by.  Take its approach to Scotland and the issue of parliamentary legitimacy.

Dave's SNP Card

David Cameron's attempt to corral votes by raising the spectre of SNP power at Westminster is a pretty negative tactic, and of course will do nothing to endear Scottish voters to the Tory party in Scotland one suspects, but it may be paying dividends.  Albeit on the margins.  A poll in the Independent reports that the prospect of a Labour-SNP deal is indeed off-putting to a number of voters - one in four is the number cited. This has not yet, of course, translated into actual votes, or even definite determinations to vote Tory.  The main polls still suggest the Tories are struggling to keep much of a lead, although yesterday's Ashcroft poll showed a 6-point lead for them, the largest yet.

The problem with Cameron's SNP tactic is that it threatens the very Union he believes in, by suggesting it is wrong for Scottish voters to have an impact on Westminster decision making.  It also seeks to exploit English nationalism, a dangerous approach which will be difficult, or impossible, to reverse.

It might have been more effective to try and undermine the SNP on the basis of their policies and their own rule in Scotland.  When Eddie Mair interviewed SNP MP Angus Robertson on PM last week, he had him blustering when challenging him on the failure of the SNP government to reduce A and E waiting times.

There is also a peculiarity in the steamroller impact that the SNP is having in Scotland.  This avowedly independence oriented party is winning all before it in a nation which voted against independence by a margin of 10%.  It is surprising, to say the least, that unionism has not yet managed to find a ready challenge, perhaps via tactical voting.  This is a graphic sign of the failure of the major parties in Scotland, especially the once dominant Labour party.  If the election result forces all of them to review their strategy in Scotland it will be one worthwhile result.


The issue of whether it would be legitimate for Ed Miliband to take office as PM even if he comes second in vote share or seats is still haunting the election.  Theresa May - unworthily - raised it, and a Newsnight ComRes poll suggested that it was something that voters increasingly feel is a post-election issue.  It isn't, and the poll exhibits a general non-understanding of the British constitution amongst voters, but when senior politicians are willing to play around with such nonsense it is hardly surprising that it might gain traction.

The Tories are not, in sum, doing themselves much justice when it comes to constitutional issues.  David Cameron uses scare tactics to gain English support at the expense of the Scottish support his party has recently found it so difficult to pursue.  His Home Secretary produces wilfully wrong-headed and malicious interpretations of basic constitutional assumptions.  If they do return to government, it will be as a severely reduced party in terms of its constitutional integrity, and that serves no-one well.

After ‘No’, What?

First detailed reaction to the No vote in Scotland comes from the Spectator's team of Fraser Nelson and James Forsyth.  Their article here is a thorough examination of the campaign, and the problems it now poses.  "This morning, the United Kingdom wakes up to one of the biggest constitutional messes in its history" they begin, and who could argue with that?

Key points:

- The referendum has failed to settle the issue of devolution, as it was supposed to, because David Cameron changed the terms of engagement at the last minute
- The Egnlish Question is now writ large on the political agenda, with most Tory MPs determined to pursue it (and, incidentally, furious with Cameron for his ill considered 'Vow')
- Ed Balls is angry at Miliband's commitment to this 'Vow' too as it hamstrings Labour's ability to pass a budget for England
- Today's mess is the consequence of the original, and disastrous, New Labour devolution settlement
- All the main Westminster parties are frankly in a mess in Scotland; in Labour's case they have a B-list of politicians active at Holyrood, easily outmanouevred by Salmond and Sturgeon
- Salmond remains in charge in Scotland - he will use any failure to pass the pledges of the 'Vow' as an excuse to reignite the independence question
- The referendum question was poorly worded as far as the Unionist side were concerned; nstead of asking whether to vote for an independent Scotland, it should have asked whether Scotland wanted to remain part of the UK, giving the Union campaign the advantage of a positive 'Yes'.
- The leadership of the Better Together campaign was fraught, with Darling unequal to the street-fighting nature of the Yes campaign
- The rejection of a currency union was done in a way that made it look like a Westminster diktat - grist to the nationalist mill
- "A mixture of Labour squeamishness and Tory uselessness ensured that the battle for Britain was never properly fought. The case for the Union was reduced to a series of dire and sometimes implausible warnings."

Nelson and Forsyth conclude:

The unionist campaign was designed to achieve a victory clear enough to end the independence question for a generation. Instead, it found itself taking support for separation to levels never seen, or anticipated. Scotland is now a divided country, after a debate that has split families and damaged friendships. The healing process will begin, but no one can claim the country is stronger for all of this. It would have been bad enough for the combination of Cameron, Miliband and Clegg to have had no impact in saving the Union — but in many ways they managed to make things worse. This weekend, all three party leaders have a lot to answer for.

Yes. One hundred per cent spot on. Sadly.