By a Newsnet reporter
A senior Tory peer has praised Alex Salmond’s attempts to argue in favour of a social union with England, and has said that Scottish independence is an “inevitability.”
Peter Fraser, who holds the title Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, was Conservative MP for Angus South for eight years and served as Solicitor General and Lord Advocate. Mr Fraser is due to take part in a debate organised by the Conservative supporting Spectator magazine, where he will argue in favour of a motion that it is time to “let Scotland go”.
He said on Monday: “For the first time in my lifetime I am detecting a sense in England that basically says ‘we thought it was a good marriage, but if you do not feel that way do not lie there uncomfortable’.”
Mr Fraser added: “He [Alex Salmond] said something about England ‘losing a surly partner and gaining a good neighbour’. It is a good line that, and it has carried a lot of weight.”
The Tory peer also claimed the continual decline of the Conservative Party in Scotland meant ”siren voices” within the Tories are now questioning the usefulness of the UK.
The comments will come as an embarrassment to Tory leader Ruth Davidson, who has sought to portray her party as leading the anti-independence campaign in Scotland. North and south of the Border, the Tories are struggling to keep a lid on apathy or even outright opposition towards their staunch anti-independence stance.
This is the second time within the past few months that Mr Fraser’s remarks have caused deep embarrassment to Ms Davidson. In March this year the peer provoked outrage and derision in equal measure when he claimed that after independence Scottish airports would be undefended and could be captured by an unspecified foreign power or terrorist group. Mr Fraser went on to claim that England could find itself forced to mount bombing raids on Scottish airports as a result.
Mr Fraser’s apparent change of heart on the inevitablity of independence highlights a slow shift in opinion amongst senior Conservatives. In a recent radio interview, Michael Forsyth, the last Conservative Scottish Secretary, admitted that Scotland and England were now close to the point where independence would be in the interests of both, and revealed his unease that many of his English Tory colleagues were no longer Unionists.
Meanwhile, Peter Cruddas, the former Tory Party co-Treasurer, was secretly filmed by the Sunday Times in March saying that the Tories should “be seen” to be fighting for the Union, even if they don’t agree with it.
Amongst Scottish Conservatives, attitudes to independence also show some signs of shifting and breaking with the line taken by Ruth Davidson and her political allies.
Long-serving Scottish Tory fundraiser and Midlothian council candidate Peter de Vink clashed with the party over his views on independence after he came out in favour, he went on to be elected on 3rd May after standing as an independent. Mr de Vink and a Green councillor have now entered an agreement with the SNP group on the council, wresting it from Labour control.
Writing in the Scotsman about Mr de Vink’s resignation from the party, Conservative commentator Brian Monteith admitted that many Tories had come round to the position that the current Union is not viable, saying:
“In the absence of any coherent and positive advocacy of maintaining the existing Union, de Vink and many other Tories I know have gradually become convinced that the only viable Union has to be a new arrangement, a New Union, a far looser Union than what we currently have.”
Commenting on the latest signs of splits within Tory ranks, Angus South MSP Graeme Dey commented:
“Lord Fraser’s thoughtful comments stand in stark contrast to those of Ruth Davidson, who is trying to position the Scottish Tories as the leading anti-independence party in Scotland. If she can’t persuade one of their leading lights of the benefits of the union, how on earth can she expect to persuade the voters?
“Lord Fraser seems to be the latest in a long line of prominent Tories who are less than enthusiastic about the union. Ironically, long-serving Tory fundraiser Peter de Vink was probably only elected to Midlothian Council because he ditched the toxic Tory brand and stood as an independent, after the party refused to consider anything other than outright opposition to independence.
“As Lord Fraser says, the argument that England would gain ‘a good neighbour’ through Scottish independence is one which carries a lot of weight.
“The best relationship between Scotland and the rest of the UK is a partnership of equals – independent countries maintaining our close bonds and history through a social union.
“Many people who consider themselves unionists, once presented with this argument, quickly realise that independence will actually strengthen our relationship with the rest of the UK – not weaken it.”
Lord Fraser’s comments coincide with claims by UK PM David Cameron that he was “not fussed” about the timing of the independence referendum.
A Scottish Conservative spokesman insisted that the Union benefited Scotland.
“This is the biggest decision the country has faced in 300 years and there is all to play for,” he said.
“Scottish Conservatives know Scotland is better off in Britain.”