The Tories' constitutional malice

The Conservative party used to be one of rectitude and respect for the constitution.  No longer, if its tactics in this election are anything to go by.  Take its approach to Scotland and the issue of parliamentary legitimacy.

Dave's SNP Card

David Cameron's attempt to corral votes by raising the spectre of SNP power at Westminster is a pretty negative tactic, and of course will do nothing to endear Scottish voters to the Tory party in Scotland one suspects, but it may be paying dividends.  Albeit on the margins.  A poll in the Independent reports that the prospect of a Labour-SNP deal is indeed off-putting to a number of voters - one in four is the number cited. This has not yet, of course, translated into actual votes, or even definite determinations to vote Tory.  The main polls still suggest the Tories are struggling to keep much of a lead, although yesterday's Ashcroft poll showed a 6-point lead for them, the largest yet.

The problem with Cameron's SNP tactic is that it threatens the very Union he believes in, by suggesting it is wrong for Scottish voters to have an impact on Westminster decision making.  It also seeks to exploit English nationalism, a dangerous approach which will be difficult, or impossible, to reverse.

It might have been more effective to try and undermine the SNP on the basis of their policies and their own rule in Scotland.  When Eddie Mair interviewed SNP MP Angus Robertson on PM last week, he had him blustering when challenging him on the failure of the SNP government to reduce A and E waiting times.

There is also a peculiarity in the steamroller impact that the SNP is having in Scotland.  This avowedly independence oriented party is winning all before it in a nation which voted against independence by a margin of 10%.  It is surprising, to say the least, that unionism has not yet managed to find a ready challenge, perhaps via tactical voting.  This is a graphic sign of the failure of the major parties in Scotland, especially the once dominant Labour party.  If the election result forces all of them to review their strategy in Scotland it will be one worthwhile result.


The issue of whether it would be legitimate for Ed Miliband to take office as PM even if he comes second in vote share or seats is still haunting the election.  Theresa May - unworthily - raised it, and a Newsnight ComRes poll suggested that it was something that voters increasingly feel is a post-election issue.  It isn't, and the poll exhibits a general non-understanding of the British constitution amongst voters, but when senior politicians are willing to play around with such nonsense it is hardly surprising that it might gain traction.

The Tories are not, in sum, doing themselves much justice when it comes to constitutional issues.  David Cameron uses scare tactics to gain English support at the expense of the Scottish support his party has recently found it so difficult to pursue.  His Home Secretary produces wilfully wrong-headed and malicious interpretations of basic constitutional assumptions.  If they do return to government, it will be as a severely reduced party in terms of its constitutional integrity, and that serves no-one well.


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