General election: Don’t fall for Tories’ dirty tricks about the Union – Alex Cole-Hamilton

The Scottish Conservatives have been trash-talking other pro-unionist parties in the hope of cornering the market in the general election, writes Liberal Democrat MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton.

Wednesday, 20th November 2019, 6:00 am
Jacksion Carlaw insists the Conservatives are the only true defenders of the Union. Picture: Andrew Cowan/Scottish Parliament

For 25 years, the acting leader of the Scottish Conservative party, Jackson Carlaw, sold used cars. There’s nothing wrong with that, one of my oldest friends is a used-car salesmen and I’ve always been, on a personal basis, quite fond of Jackson. But it was possible to see some of his old forecourt patter ­slipping into his Twitter output over the weekend.

“Unlike Labour and the Lib Dems, we will never give Nicola Sturgeon #Indyref2,” he tweeted, trying once again to erroneously cast the ­Conservative Party as the only guardians of the Union in Scottish politics.

Not only is this assertion clapped out, but its mileometer has been clocked all the way back to 2016.

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Alex Cole-Hamilton is the LIb Dem MSP for Edinburgh Western

During the Holyrood elections of that year, Ruth Davidson tried to paint her party as the only team you could rely on to stand up for Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom.

It was as false then as it is now. In the months after that election, Ruth would use her party’s time in the chamber to try and trap other pro-UK parties, daring them to vote against motions containing sentences along the lines of “the United Kingdom is wonderful (and so is the UK Government)”.

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On one occasion, I remember having to hold my nose along with Lib Dem colleagues and vote for a Tory motion that endorsed the positive case for our place in the United Kingdom but made vague sycophantic references to the UK Government. Following the vote, a Tory Party grandee leaned over to me and said: “So, you managed to avoid our little noose...”

The key to the Tory revival in Scotland has always been its perceived ‘Unionist-Ultra’ credentials. Antipathy towards separatism and the SNP has seen droves of voters flock to it in recent elections on that basis alone.

Lib Dems steadfast for the Union

Ruth before him, and now Jackson himself, have sought to corner that market by trash-talking the other ­pro-UK parties. But the Tories are now losing support over Brexit so his tweet this weekend was part of a ­desperate attempt to recast the ­election on to familiar ground.

To be fair, when it comes to the Labour Party, he does have something of a point. It is now quite clear that Jeremy Corbyn would sell the Union down the river for the keys to No 10 if they can only be delivered to him with the backing of Nationalist MPs. It’s why he won’t rule out granting permission for another independence referendum at some point in the first term of a Labour government.

But on the Lib Dems, however, Carlaw is dead wrong. Willie Rennie and Jo Swinson have insisted time and time again that should a request to hold indyref2 come before the House of Commons, then it would be steadfastly opposed by Lib Dem MPs.

Our MSPs stood for election to the Scottish Parliament on a manifesto commitment to resist a second independence referendum, no matter what. We meant it. The Lib Dems care passionately about Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom and we always will do. Carlaw needs to change the record and recognise the Tories aren’t going to save the UK on their own.

In all this, there is a blistering irony to Carlaw’s Twitter game. The Union is only in peril right now because of the Tory Brexit psychodrama.

His party’s devil-may-care approach to our economy, our world standing and our NHS have driven this country to the brink of separation once again and that reality should give you a glimpse into the party’s political soul. A survey in the summer showed that 63 per cent of Conservative members would be willing to see Scotland leave the UK if it meant delivering Brexit. In short, the preservation of the United Kingdom is no longer first priority or even a red line for the Conservative Party.

So when Jackson Carlaw tries to tell you that the Conservative Party does more miles to the gallon for the Union than anything else in its price range, be sure to check under the bonnet.

Alex Cole-Hamilton is the Lib Dem MSP for Edinburgh Western.