Scotland and the Union should be at the centre of the Conservative Party leadership contest

Scotland and the Union should be at the centre of the Conservative Party leadership contest

by James Bundy
article from Monday 3, June, 2019

IT IS NO SURPRISE that our departure from the European Union has dominated the discussion surrounding who becomes the next leader of the Conservative Party. It is the biggest political issue of our time and led to the downfall of the current Prime Minister (and the one before). Solely focusing on Brexit in this leadership election, however, would be a disaster for the Conservative Party in the long-term. 

The current leadership contest must allow room to discuss issues such as welfare, defence, social care, housing, and so on, if the Conservatives are to elect the correct leader. As the Conservative and Unionist Party, however, all leadership contenders must have a serious plan on how they aim to preserve, strengthen and unite our United Kingdom. 

I voted to leave the European Union. I believe that leaving will create many years of future prosperity for our United Kingdom once we free ourselves from European laws and regulation. Even as a Eurosceptic, however, I do recognise that the devolution settlement of our United Kingdom is based on the law of the European Union. In other words, European law is the common standard for goods and regulations in industries such as agriculture, health and accountancy for our whole United Kingdom.

European Law, therefore, has allowed Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland to have different standards and regulations whilst maintaining the Single Market of our United Kingdom. Strip away European Law – which a proper departure of the European Union would do – and the unity of our Kingdom is under threat. Different countries of our United Kingdom could have different standards.

This has the potential to create many problems. How could our United Kingdom strike a free trade deal if Westminster could not guarantee the standards set by Holyrood, Stormont and the Welsh Assembly? How can Westminster set a common standard for our whole United Kingdom without ignoring the devolution agreements? 

The future structure of our United Kingdom needs a serious discussion. It will have to be a cross-party, cross-government negotiation and the next Prime Minister will have to lead it. Avoiding this reality will play right into the hands of the Scottish Nationalists. Do not address it and the single market of the United Kingdom will not exist. Impose common standards without the consent of the devolved administrations (I advise contenders to read up on the Sewel Convention) and Nicola Sturgeon will cry power grab; fuelling the politics of grievance. 

Fortunately, not all is doom and gloom in Scottish politics. With Nicola Sturgeon continuing her push for a second referendum, independence remains the number one political issue. This suits the Scottish Conservatives as they have benefitted due to our strong pro-union stance. 

The success of the Scottish Conservatives, however, is another reason why the next leader of the Conservative Party must understand Scotland. In the recent EU elections, the Conservatives received a higher vote share in Scotland than in England. When was the last time this happened? Potential leadership candidates might want to take that on board and ask why?

The collapse of Labour in Scotland, who finished 5th in the EU elections, should also grab their attention. Just as in England, the Labour party in Scotland is split on the question of a second EU referendum. Within the context of Scottish politics, however, this is much more significant. If Scottish Labour backs a second EU referendum – which their leader, Richard Leonard, recently hinted at – then how can they effectively argue against a second independence referendum? 

With the next General Election in Scotland most likely dominated by Scottish independence, having a strong voice against a second independence referendum is going to be critical. Only the Scottish Conservatives will have a track record of being opposed to second referenda, resulting in a serious possibility of our making gains. 

The wider UK Conservative Party must ensure that the voice of Scottish membership is heard during this leadership contest. As a party, the Scottish Conservatives have the prospect of gaining seats at a future election if they play their cards right. More importantly, however, the Conservative Party must do all we can to preserve, strengthen and unite our United Kingdom. They must address the difficult strains leaving the European Union is imposing on our constitution. If they do so, our United Kingdom will enjoy many years of prosperity as a united country. If they don’t, we play right into the hands of Nicola Sturgeon and all others who want to dismantle our country. 

This is why Scotland and the union should be at the centre of the current Conservative Party leadership contest. 

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