Davidson urged to clarify Tory “confusion” over devolution

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By a Newsnet reporter

The SNP have called on Scots Tory leader Ruth Davidson to make clear where she stands on more powers being devolved to Scotland, after one of her senior and most respected MSPs called on the Party to support Devo Plus.

Writing on the Conservative Home website, former Presiding Officer Alex Fergusson urges his party colleagues “to accept, fundamentally, that unionism is not a fixed point on the political and constitutional spectrum.  It is very much a variable,” and that it is “beyond bonkers” to suggest that financial accountability could not work in Scotland.

Mr Fergusson warns Tory members that they risk making the same mistakes in the past by not showing some leadership on the constitution.

He says: “We have not led the Scottish people, and all too often we have stood back while others took the lead in the debate. We have allowed ourselves to be seen as disinterested bi-standers, usually entering the debate at too late a stage to make any difference whilst giving the distinct impression that we have no vision of our constitutional future.”

Since Ruth Davidson declared that the Scotland Bill was “the line in the sand” in terms of greater devolution, a number of Tory colleagues have expressed a different view.  Recently Mr Fergusson was one of the senior Conservatives who gave his backing to the so-called ‘Devo Plus’ proposal, which was also supported by Peter Duncan, former chairman of the Scottish Conservative party.

In a more serious challenge to Ms Davidson’s “line in the sand”,  Prime Minister David Cameron stated in his speech to the Scottish Conservative conference in Troon that he was “open minded” about transferring additional powers to Holyrood beyond those detailed in the Scotland Bill.  This was a repetition of the same vague promise he had made during his visit to Edinburgh last month when he said that the Scotland Bill “doesn’t have to be the end of the road” and added:

“When the referendum on independence is over, I am open to looking at how the devolved settlement can be improved further.”

The different statements from Conservative politicians have created uncertainty about the Scottish Conservatives’ policy on the constitutional issue.  Urging Ruth Davidson to make clear to Scottish voters what exactly the Tory position is, Cumbernauld & Kilsyth MSP Jamie Hepburn said:

“Mr Fergusson is one of the Tories’ most respected elected representatives, and clearly his views will resonate with a significant number of rank-and-file members.

“Since Ruth Davidson famously drew ‘a line the sand’ after the Scotland Bill, Senior Tory figures have been queuing up to essentially kick the sand back in her face and demand a significantly enhanced form of devolution.

“Clearly a large part of the Tory membership recognises what a missed opportunity the Scotland Bill is.

“It is high time that Ms Davidson showed some leadership on this issue and tell us exactly what the Tories are offering Scotland. Otherwise – as Mr Fergusson rightly points out – the Tories will see their vote in Scotland continue to fall.”