Darling of the Tory conference

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   By a Newsnet reporter

The dwindling band of Scottish Tories gave a standing ovation on Saturday to their friend and ally, Labour MP Alistair Darling, as he vowed to fight with the Conservatives to prevent Scotland governing itself.

Meanwhile the Scottish National Party has highlighted attacks by the Darling of the Tory conference on Tory economic policy, and Tory attacks on Mr Darling’s policy to illustrate that Scotland would be better off deciding our own policy in the Scottish Parliament.

Welcoming Mr Darling, former Conservative leader Annabel Gouldie said, “Alistair is my darling,” and added:

“I understand Alistair attending the Conservative conference is a bit like me leading the Bolshoi ballet: unexpected.

“The SNP are trying to make political capital out of his attendance – Labour in cahoots with the Tories – but the SNP has underlined how important the UK is and how powerful an advocate Better Together has become.”

However Mr Darling’s Labour party and the Conservatives do not always enjoy such a cosy relationship. 

Mr Darling has called Tory Westminster economic policies as “utterly mad” and a “huge gamble”, and said George Osborne has no credibility – while Mr Osborne has accused Mr Darling as Chancellor of “not being honest”, and referred to him as “politically a dead man walking”.

The two parties also remain at loggerheads over Scotland’s future position within the UK.

Mr Darling’s party has set up a commission to propose extending devolution, but so far the party has made only a few vague proposals to tinker with income tax powers.  The timid position put forward by Scottish leader Johann Lamont was harshly criticised by leading Scottish Labour MPs who fear a reduction in their influence at Westminster.

The Conservatives have traditionally been opposed to any form of Home Rule for Scotland, but now have made reluctant promises to “look at” further devolution, without coming up with any concrete proposals.  Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson has set up the party’s own commission to study the devolution settlement, chaired by Tory peer Thomas Galbraith, who sits in the Lords as Lord Strathclyde.  Mr Galbraith is known to be opposed to any extension of devolution.

The Scottish Conservative leadership has refused to allow any discussion of devolution at their Scottish conference, a stance which has been fiercely criticised by grassroots members.

Alastair Orr, who once stood as a Westminster candidate for the party said that the party was trying to kick the issue of devolution into the long grass, and claimed that the lack of debate was unhealthy and made Ms Davidson look weak. 

Speaking to the Herald newspaper, Mr Orr said:

“It’s a classic default position of the Scottish Tories that when they get into difficulty we ship in, usually a lord, who takes a review or a commission away into the long grass and hopes the fuss will die down and the activists will just be quiet. Well, I’ve got news. They’re not going to.”

The inability of both Labour and Conservatives to adopt stances on devolution that enjoys the support of their own parties makes it vanishingly unlikely that the No campaign will be able to present a concrete proposal to the Scottish electorate before the referendum. 

Mr Darling was greeted by around 400 anti-“bedroom tax” and independence protesters outside the conference.  The demonstrators were unhappy about Labour’s adoption of Conservative policies such as the bedroom tax and their abandonment of Labour’s traditional commitment to universality.  

SNP Westminster Leader and Campaigns Director Angus Robertson MP said:

“Alistair Darling being feted at the Tory conference exposes the fundamental flaw at the heart of the No campaign – Labour and the Tories are joined at the hip in trying to stop independence, but the record of successive UK governments shows that Westminster isn’t working for Scotland.

“Mr Darling says that Tory Westminster policy is a ‘huge gamble’ that is doing ‘immeasurable damage’ – while the Tory Chancellor George Osborne said that Mr Darling was a ‘dead man walking’ as Chancellor who wasn’t being honest, and David Cameron thought that Alistair Darling had no credibility and should be sacked!

“To argue that Westminster knows best is a farcical position given this record – the Tories and Labour are welcome to each other in the No campaign.

“In speaking to his new Tory friends, Alistair Darling cannot claim with any credibility that Scotland’s economic future is best served by Westminster taking decisions on jobs, taxation, spending and investment, rather than our own Scottish Parliament.

“In attending the Tory conference, Mr Darling is proving that the No campaign prefers bad Tory government from Westminster to good government with independence.

“Scotland has huge economic strengths, and we already more than pay our own way, as the official figures prove. But we could and would do so much better as an independent country, with the full economic powers other nations take for granted.

“And only by voting Yes can the people of Scotland get the government we vote for every time.”