Margo MacDonald : Murdo points the way ahead

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If I were a Tory (which, thank the Lord, I’m not), I’d give three cheers for Murdo Fraser. The deputy leader of the Conservative MSPs in Holyrood, has put principle and personal conviction before ambition and self-interest. He has told his fellow party members they’ll have to change the party’s name as a signal that their outlook and policies are changing also.

He’s offered leadership, and demonstrated the “vision thing”, that less imaginative politicians dismiss as a floppy wish list. But the List MSP for Mid-Scotland and Fife knew he wasn’t making life easier for himself by bluntly reminding Tories they’ve been steadily losing votes in Scotland for 30 years. North of the Border, the legacy of Mrs Thatcher’s political and social revolution is an allergic reaction to “Torybastards”. It’s illogical and unfair, but it’s political life as we now know it, in Scotland.

Scots politics are based at Holyrood. All parties have to analyse and then deal with the policies best suited to Scotland’s needs. As this is largely decided inside the parameters of the Scotland Act, a Scottish perspective pervades the approach of all the parties.

Labour, Tory and Lib Dem MSPs may not all be “nationalist- roaders”, but they focus their efforts on the devolved responsibilities, and the different priorities demanded by different social indicators, or economic growth statistics, for example.

Over time, having experienced the limitations of devolution to fundamentally change these facts of life in Scotland, it’s an entirely natural development that MSPs of all shades of opinion should conclude they could improve on the societal and economic results achieved by successive Westminster governments. Most MSPs know the limitations of having a kilt wrapped round policies designed for the different market in England.

Changing the name of the party that often dares not speak its name on candidates’ campaign leaflets simply makes the point that some of today’s centre-right politicians and their ideas are light years away from the point at which Scots took against Prime Minister Thatcher. It may have been the sermon on The Mound, or the report that “we had become a grandmother” (an over-excited and tongue-tied “misspeak if ever I heard one), or the mistaken belief she had forced the poll tax first on Scotland. But whatever proved the final straw, it broke the back of Conservative Unionism in Scotland.

The same syndrome can be observed in the Labour Party. Party members know the ground has shifted but some are loathe to admit Tam Dalyell might have been correct to identify devolution as a one-way motorway to independence. Either that, or Labour’s difficulty in re-defining its status and autonomy was the result of the Scottish Parliament creating two centres of intellectual and political importance that would require a more mutually respectful and equal relationship than had been the case between Labour’s Scottish HQ in Glasgow and the London HQ before Holyrood became reality.

Both of these erstwhile thoroughly unionist parties haven’t yet established the nature of their relationship with like-minded political allies in London, whose priorities are now being shaped by the very different economic and social requirements of people living south of the border. So much of the “unionist” parties’ identities in Scotland are built on their antipathy to the SNP that they neglect to define their Scottish policy priorities, particularly when they differ from London’s.

The Scottish Parliament dumped tuition fees, continued with free personal care for the elderly etc, and the SNP’s opponents puzzled as to how these policies could be promoted and defended from attack from the south, without appearing too Scottish, and too independent.

Murdo Fraser unapologetically argues in favour of MSPs deciding fishing policy and negotiating tactics direct with the EU, instead of the Scottish Government having to defer to a Westminster minister. Labour pussyfoot about on this one . . . let’s hope, for the sake of the Scottish ishing industry, that whoever becomes Labour’s leader in Scotland will follow Murdo, and fish for Scotland.

He couldn’t have had previous knowledge of the other big stories on the front pages when he planned his launch for his campaign to be elected, but they made his point for him. Our health and length of life, and economic growth statistics point to the need for a fundamental appraisal and redirection from Holyrood. If he continues to make this case, circumstances, including the need for a more finely balanced management of Scotland’s economy through the next decade’s economic upheavals, may lead more people in Scotland to support the greatest possible autonomy, or independence, or sovereignty for Scotland.

If he repositions and renames the Tories, with their consent , remember, he’ll have put his party in step with the Scots . . . without donations with strings from arrogant, out-of-date bullies.