Conservatives – the U-turns on devolution

It says all you need to know about the modern Conservatives that they are prepared to gamble the future of the United Kingdom based on electoral arithmetic.

It says all you need to know about the Conservatives that they are prepared to gamble the future of the United Kingdom based on electoral arithmetic

“To those waiting with bated breath for that favourite media catchphrase, the U-turn”, declared Margaret Thatcher to the Conservative Party conference in 1980, “I have only one thing to say: You turn if you want to. The lady’s not for turning.”

It was stirring stuff that brought the house down for those of a tory disposition.

However when it comes to the modern day Conservative Party, the U-turn memo has yet to have reached its members in Scotland and Wales with a series of speeches to the 2014 conference which have shown that when it comes to devolution, it’s less about principle and all about politics.

Take the Leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Ruth Davidson; someone generally thought to have had a good referendum campaign north of the border and whose personal stock is rising.

Speaking to the conference faithful yesterday, she said of the future of Scotland:

“The Status Quo is smashed, there’s no going back, and the old rules do not apply.”

“We will reshape our nation” she said, “we will re-craft our Union, we will make it fit for the next 300 years.”

This from the person who during her campaign to lead the Scottish Conservatives in 2011 made quite clear:

“The Scotland Bill currently going through Westminster is the line in the sand.

“The time for arguing about the powers the people want is over. It’s time now to use the powers that we have.”

Then there’s Stephen Crabb, appointed in the recent reshuffle of the ministerial team as the secretary of state for Wales. Yesterday, he was clear that the Welsh Assembly must gain greater powers over the money that it raises. He told the party faithful in no uncertain terms:

“This next generation of devolution, led by Welsh Conservatives – will see the Welsh Assembly gain new tax powers…

“… powers that will create an incentive for Welsh government to grow the economy of Wales, tools to help make our nation more dynamic.

“I have always believed that those powers should be far-reaching and flexible, and I am committed to removing obstacles to them being used effectively.”

Yet as Left Foot Forward reported following Crabb’s appointment in July, in 2007 the now Welsh secretary made quite clear that at his core he was a “devo-sceptic”. As he wrote for ConservativeHome at the time:

“Over the last ten years my opposition to devolution in Scotland and Wales has been driven by a belief that, far from satisfying the nationalist tendencies in these countries, devolution would foster and feed an increasingly separatist and socialist discourse in which sensible Conservative policies that could promote national cohesion, economic liberalism and smaller government would find little oxygen for survival.

“Although other colleagues in the party have reversed their previous opposition to devolution, I maintain that the devolution experience so far has proved rather than disproved my original concerns. By giving institutional expression to the forces of separatism, devolution has given these a new lease of life.”

He continued:

“Together with uncontrolled immigration and relentless European integration, devolution has the potential to cause huge and permanent damage to our country. The United Kingdom is being slowly dismembered and hollowed-out in full view, and with the tacit consent, of the political classes.”

Faced with such contradictions, one wonders what the Conservatives really think about devolution. Just as David Cameron’s insistence on linking English votes for English Laws with further powers for Scotland amounted to a political agenda that put his party before the country, so too yesterday’s speeches will confuse many in Scotland and Wales.

It probably says all you need to know about the modern Conservatives that they are prepared to gamble the future of the United Kingdom based on cold electrical arithmetic rather than what is genuinely best for the country.

So much for the patriotic party.

Ed Jacobs is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward

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