Forsyth: Unionist parties a “shambles” and are being “played” by the SNP

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By a Newsnet reporter

Arch-unionist Michael Forsyth has expressed his belief that we are now close to the point where independence is in both Scotland and England’s interests and has denounced the unionist parties for being in a “shambles”.  Mr Forsyth added that the anti-independence parties were being “played” by the Scottish Government over the Scotland Bill.

The Conservative peer has tabled a series of last ditch amendments to the Scotland Bill, which is currently in the final stages of passing through the Westminster Parliament.  Mr Forsyth’s latest amendments would require a referendum to be held in Scotland before the Scottish Parliament could make use of the income tax varying power.  

The amendments also demand that 2/3 of the Scottish Parliament must back the measure before the tax varying power could be put before the Scottish electorate in a referendum.  Mr Forsyth also wants any use of the tax varying power to be approved by the UK Parliament, but only after an “impact study” has been carried out.   The effect of Mr Forsyth’s amendments would be to make the tax varying powers unusable.

However it now appears that even Mr Forsyth, described as an “arch-Unionist” by fellow Conservatives, believes that the Union is close to ending.  He angrily described the Unionist parties as being in a “complete shambles” and said they were unable to organise an effective campaign against Scottish independence.

Speaking to Conservative commentator Fraser Nelson on the Week in Westminster programme on BBC Radio 4 on Saturday, Mr Forsyth said that the recent agreement on the Scotland Bill was “absolutely bizarre” and he accused the Coalition Government of being “played” and out-manoeuvred by the Scottish Government.

Mr Forsyth said:

“The whole thing is absolutely bizarre  Alex Salmond and the Scottish Parliament have not given legislative consent to the Scotland Bill because they think it doesn’t go far enough, and yet we’re at the final stages of the Scotland Bill.  We don’t know whether the [Westminster] Government will take the view that the Bill shouldn’t go ahead if they don’t get legislative consent.  My guess is that Alex Salmond has been playing the Government like a salmon, if I can make a pun, and that he will say ‘well it doesn’t go far enough but we’ll accept it for what it is’.”

He admitted:  “The truth was that the Scotland Bill was cobbled together by the unionist parties to try and prevent the Nationalists gaining the majority which they got in the subsequent election in Scotland, and it hasn’t worked.  And it’s now largely irrelevant because the real debate is whether or not we’re going to have an independent Scotland.”

Fraser Nelson asked Mr Forsyth if it was not the case that, one way or another, Alex Salmond is getting his way, adding that he may not win the referendum but the difference between the status quo and independence is getting smaller and smaller because of what Westminster is doing.

In reply, Mr Forsyth quoted Enoch Powell, who warned in the 1970s that devolution would lead to the point where Scottish independence would be in the interests of both Scotland and England, and added:  “I think we’re getting pretty close to that point.”

Asked whether the Coalition’s difficulties were due to the fact that most Government ministers understand the south of France better than they understand Scotland and the Scottish Parliament, Mr Forsyth said:  “I think that’s probably true.  What alarms me is that when I got into the House of Commons in 1983 almost every Tory supported the Union and was committed to it.  Now I find Conservative MPs saying in increasing numbers ‘Why do we need Scotland?’ and abandoning the unionist position.”

Mr Forsyth added that Devo Max meant recognising that “We can’t have 49 Labour MPs coming down to England any more.  And that’s another thing about the Scotland Bill, it doesn’t address the West Lothian issue of Scottish MPs voting on English issues and nor does it address the funding question. Both these things are sources of resentment.  My worry is that the Union will be broken on both sides of the Border by resentful English Conservative MPs and people north of the Border who felt they got a bad deal.”  

He continued:  “The unionist parties are a shambles, they can’t even get their campaign together and meanwhile Alex Salmond has got £2 million pounds in the bank and will have a very successful local elections, and he will be off.  All this appeasement has been hugely damaging.”

Addressing himself to Lib Dem and Labour supporters of devolution, Mr Forsyth said:

“You guys said, if we have devolution it will kill nationalism stone dead, you designed the Scottish Parliament so that no party could ever get a majority and you laughed at people like me who said it would lead to the Nationalists getting control of the Parliament and it will lead to resentment and the break up of the Union and this is where we are now.  I admit, I didn’t think it would happen quite so quickly.”