Murdo Fraser MSP: Embracing devolution and moving it on is the way to faster progress and greater success for the Scottish Conservatives
Wednesday's announcement from David Cameron that the Conservative Party supports increased taxation and borrowing powers for the Scottish Parliament, and that a Conservative Government will legislate in this area, represents a significant boost for the Scottish Tories.
The Party in Scotland has been making progress in recent years, and on the basis of the European Election results we would win 6 Westminster seats, including that of the Scottish Secretary Jim Murphy in East Renfrewshire. But we are hungry for faster progress and greater successes.
There is no doubt that in the past our electoral prospects were harmed by the accusation from our political opponents that we were 'anti-Scottish', arising from our opposition to devolution in the 1980s and 1990s. Since then, we have worked hard to play a constructive role in the Scottish Parliament that we opposed, and under the leadership of first David McLetchie and now Annabel Goldie have steadily rebuilt respect. Nevertheless, there was always a suspicion amongst some that our support for devolution was a grudging one. Yesterday's announcement shows that we have not just accepted devolution but that we are now determined to move it on.
Whatever the justification for our stance against the formation of the Scottish Parliament, it put us in opposition to mainstream Scottish public opinion on the constitution, and as a Party we are still paying the electoral price for that. Our new position that we will support increased taxation powers demonstrates that we have learned from that mistake and that we will not again set our faces against the legitimate aspirations of the Scottish people. What a contrast this is to the SNP who continue to dogmatically pursue their aim of independence despite public support levels for that policy now consistently below 30%.
There are of course still those in our Party, like Lord Forsyth, stuck in a 1990s mindset and urging opposition to these proposals. These nay-sayers have clearly not learned the lessons of the past. Fortunately the prevailing view within the Scottish Party is that we have to modernise and demonstrate our commitment to devolution and that we are a Party listening to Scottish public opinion.
It always seemed to me a nonsense that the Scottish Parliament as it was set up had less financial accountability than most local Councils. We are pledged to put this right, and improve the Government of Scotland by making Ministers more accountable for their actions. These moves could not be more timely given the cuts in public spending that are heading our way, and the tough decisions that will require to be taken.
We will also improve the broken relationship that currently exists between the Scottish Government and Whitehall, developing a 'mutual respect' agenda. A Conservative Prime Minister will build strong relations with the Scottish First Minister, and come to the Scottish Parliament to answer questions, something that Gordon Brown thus far has failed to do.
All these measures will strengthen the Union, improving working relationships and reducing opportunities for tension between a new Conservative Government and a Nationalist administration in Edinburgh. They will be of major assistance to the Scottish Tories in our drive to put beyond doubt our commitment to the Scottish interest. In promising yesterday to legislate in these areas, David Cameron demonstrated again his ambition to be Prime Minister of the whole United Kingdom. Scottish Conservatives are grateful for his commitment and support.