Speech by the Rt Hon David Trimble to the Scottish Conservative Party pre-conference dinner, March 6th, 2006

Life is full of paradox. There were those who hoped or feared that devolution would impel Scotland to independence. The concern seemed logical but the experience of devolution has resulted in disenchantment first with independence and now with the Scottish Executive.

The Dunfermline result too was paradoxical. People registered their dissatisfaction with the Scottish Executive by voting for the junior partner in that Executive. But that was the logic of a protest vote. The paradox is that the voters had no real choice. In their position in the political spectrum, there is little to choose between Labour, Lib Dems or SNP. They are all parties of the left. And we can only speculate if New Labour would make a difference if it were available in Scotland.

I can understand your frustration. Voters want something different. What they need is a centre right alternative to all the rest. You are the only party here that offers that choice. Yet off they go on a protest vote, when voters should be building the real alternative, which is conservatism.

Still, the Cameron leadership is making a difference. It is making the media take a fresh look at the party. We must hope that you can build on that opportunity in policy terms.

In such a situation, obviously a range of matters will be floated. One appeared the other day that bothers me. It is our old friend the West Lothian question. Some folk I think have a sentimental attachment to this. It must be nice to be told there is this important issue named after part of Scotland. Some are sentimental about Tam Dalyell. He is a fine man, virtually a Parliamentary institution. But that does not mean he is right. In fact in his splendid Parliamentary campaigns he is more often wrong than right.

Superficially he appears right when he says that it is wrong that a Scots MP can vote on English matters but an English MP cannot vote on Scots matters. But if we look more closely it is a different matter. It is all a result of the rather curious way government is structured.

We have a government of the United Kingdom. It has Ministers who make policy who are each allocated a subject. It may be work and pensions, it may be trade and industry, it might be health. So far as the government is concerned each of those Ministers has the lead on that subject. But technically most of those subject ministries are so-called English ministries.

And in addition to the subject Ministries there are the three territorial departments, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. While there may be junior ministers within them who appear to be responsible for certain policy matters so far as the government is concerned its policy is made in the subject ministry in Whitehall.

So in Westminster, if a Scots Welsh or Ulster member wanted to get involved in a debate on government policy concerning pensions his only real chance is in debates created by the so-called English department.

Does devolution make a difference to this? Not really. Look at finance. The famous Barnett formula just said that the territorial departments would get additional sums pro rata increases in expenditure in England. The latter are based on the governmentís policies in England. So the increases that come to the devolved region are to enable it to carry out the policies that apply to England. In theory there is the freedom to vary policies, but the financial considerations mean that variations are modest.

So preventing a Scots member from voting on an ìEnglishî matter will mean he cannot have an input in the policy that will apply in Scotland, which the MSP will inevitably accept with minor changes, if any, because the overall policy was decided in London! The result will be undemocratic.

And this leaves out arguments about two classes of MP and reference to the debates on the various Irish home rule Bills where this issue was debated ad nauseam and settled, except for those who have forgotten about them.

So let us have an end to Conservative spokesmen suggesting that our representatives are deprived of their vote. It is wrong in principle. It is not even good politics.

Conservatives do not need to reinforce the impression that they are only an English party, and a party of only part of England at that. They need to show that they are a British party, a party for everyone in this United Kingdom. The new leadership has the opportunity to remodel the party in this direction also!

(March 6th, 2006)


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