Tory MSPs Put Self-Interest before Party

Article excerpt

Byline: TIM LUCKHURST

THE Scottish Conservative Party emerged from the General Election with nothing to celebrate. It aimed low in the hope of avoiding disappointment and missed even that pathetic target.

Electing a solitary MP to the House of Commons is not good enough for a party that hopes, one day, to govern again. That is plain to all except the extremely stupid.

Among the talented group of Conservatives who once governed Scotland it is considered obvious. That is why, last week, they began to set out the foundations of the only policy on which their party can hope to achieve success. It is a simple idea that would save Scotland millions of pounds and restore competent government while restoring Scottish influence at Westminster.

First to explain it was James Gray, the Glasgow-born MP for Wiltshire North, who proposed that MSPs should be abolished. Mr Gray, who was immediately sacked as Shadow Scottish Secretary, did not, as his detractors pretend, suggest getting rid of the Scottish parliament. His plan was that Scottish MPs should sit at Holyrood for part of the week and at Westminster for the remainder.

Scottish Tory MSPs were horrified by the threat to their jobs.

Their leader, David McLetchie, frothed with self-righteous fury and insisted that Mr Gray was dangerously out of order.

But the first hint that McLetchie's anger was selfinterested emerged immediately. Lord Forsyth, who as Michael Forsyth served as Secretary of State for Scotland, broke cover to explain why James Gray was right.

It is not hard. Scotland would get a better deal if the swollen layers of bureaucracy created by devolution were trimmed back.

Hundreds of millions of pounds squandered each year would come under the control of serious politicians instead of the failed apparatchiks and overpromoted councillors who fill Holyrood. The sorry excuses for debate that have humiliated Scotland since 1999 would be replaced by a higher standard of parliamentary oratory.

But if the national interest would be served, the Conservative interest would benefit too.

Since Labour took power in 1997, the corpse of the Scottish Conservative Party has barely twitched. Devolution has turned defeat into disaster for the party that was once proud to be Scotland's natural party of government.

David McLetchie and the dreadful coterie of nonentities who sit as Scottish Conservatives at Holyrood are wilfully blind to the truth. Their pretence that devolution is a tremendous idea is not just a denial of reality and of everything they ever believed. It is an unforgivable betrayal of Conservative voters who listened to their party when it warned them that home rule would be wasteful and incompetent.

Mr McLetchie can parade synthetic fury but the reason that 125,000 Scots who voted Conservative in 1997 declined to do so again on May 5 is that they have been grievously let down. The party they perceived as a stalwart defender of the United Kingdom now masquerades as a fawning lapdog of the devolved consensus.

David McLetchie knows that he and his fellow MSPs do not speak for Scottish Conservatism. He stood at Michael Howard's side at a meeting in Edinburgh last year when party members gave a standing ovation to a colleague who demanded an end to devolution as we know it.

Not one voice among a crowd of hundreds cheered Mr Mc Letchie ' s defence of devolved politics. They were nauseated by his willingness to defend the indefensible. That is why, in the thinking echelons of the Conservative Party, there is growing recognition that the MSPs are not the Scottish Conservative Party and that Tory policy must be to change devolution utterly. …