Scottish independence: Conservatives once again show they are not champions of the Union but a threat to it – Alex Cole-Hamilton
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Just a matter of hours after the conclusion of the 2014 independence referendum, with Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom reaffirmed, David Cameron rushed out the new policy of English votes for English laws. With no apparent thought for how the disempowerment of Scottish MPs might be received by the very voters he’d spent weeks trying to convince, he immediately handed a stick to yes campaigners with which to beat him.
It gave light to the reality that far from being any kind of champion of the Union, the Conservatives are actually a serious threat to it. Now, at a time when the break-up of the UK seems vanishingly unlikely, with the SNP on the mat and mired in controversies of their own making, the Tories are at it again.
Conservative peer Lord Frost put pen to paper last week to make a rambling and jingoistic case for dismantling devolution and folding up the Scottish Parliament. It was roundly condemned by all sides, including his own and acted like a shot in the arm for a Scottish National Party effectively on life support.
Frost is an outlier and an ill-informed one at that. However, the last thing Scots need is a dose of heavy-handedness from a tone-deaf Conservative party. We need to fix our broken politics and restore integrity.
Scottish Liberal Democrats fundamentally believe that Scotland’s future lies in a reformed and federal Britain. At its heart, that vision is built around the belief that power works better when it is devolved closer to the people it serves. It means rolling back the SNP power grabs from councils that have seen communities asset-stripped. It means having foolproof systems that see the Scottish and UK governments working together and resolving disputes maturely, instead of always hunting for friction and sowing grievance. Reform would also include a proportional voting system and an end to the unelected House of Lords chamber.
Scottish devolution should have been the poster child for that vision, instead, the last 16 years have been characterised by rancorous division. This has not been a deficiency of devolution, but a symptom of the fact that the party of government has stoked that rancour for its own narrow and miserable separatist ends.
Of course, there are aspects of Holyrood in need of reform. The SNP majority of 2011-2016 broke the system and demonstrated that, with an overall majority for one party in parliament, the committee system ceases to function as a revising chamber to the work of the wider parliament.
In contrast, the first eight years of Holyrood’s existence were characterised by compromise and consensus. They were years of coalition between my party and Scottish Labour and they led to a great many progressive reforms including free personal care for the elderly, the creation of the bus pass, the smoking ban, and the McCrone deal which transformed teachers’ pay and conditions.
I make no prediction as to what our involvement will look like but the Liberal Democrats will be part of what’s next. With the SNP in apparent free fall, an opportunity presents itself to reimagine the devolution project again.
Alex Cole-Hamilton is Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP for Edinburgh Western