All right-thinking Eurosceptics need to get behind David Cameron’s EU negotiations

James Reekie 9.00am

The European Union’s unresolved constitutional status, and the sticking plaster approach of the Lisbon Treaty means that we need some new thinking in order to resolve our qualms over Europe. The Prime Minister can provide this.

Like most people on the centre-right, I am sceptical of increasing European powers. I don’t believe the UK should be outside of the EU, but I do think that Europe needs to change. That is why I welcomed David Cameron’s pledge to renegotiate our place in Europe and put the results of those negotiations to the British people in a referendum. Mr Cameron is providing important leadership in Europe by examining as part of this exercise those parts of the EU that are fundamentally incompatible with not only British values but also those of other Member States. It means that the European political classes will at least begin the debate by asking ‘What powers and competences need to be returned?’ rather than ’ How much state sovereignty can we take from Member States?’. The former question being the one which the British public have been rightfully asking for years.

The slow creep of European power cannot be simply blamed on the ‘bureaucrats in Brussels’ or on the European institutions, for on every European Treaty we find the tacit endorsement of Prime Ministers, Presidents and Foreign Secretaries in what has become a shameless acquiescence in the diminution of parliamentary sovereignty - if not in a theoretical sense then at least in a practical one.

David Cameron has demonstrated that he is no friend of this approach and finally at last, we have a leader in Europe who is actually willing to provide a robust alternative to the ‘integration will solve it’ mantra of the federalists.

However, simply moaning and groaning about Europe won’t solve the problem for us eurosceptics. We must call for a constitutional settlement that reigns in and defines in clear terms the powers and limitations of the European Union and its institutions. There does exist a reasonable approach to the European Union which satisfies our ambitions for free trade and co-operation that does not rely on full blown integration or withdrawal.

Eurosceptics need to take a much more coherent and holistic approach to the EU constitutional debate.

Firstly, by recognising that from its early conception until now the European Union has in fact developed along a distinctly British constitutional tradition. This type of constitutional evolution has made Britain’s constitution distinctive in its flexibility and contributed to our many successes within a state context but it is no remedy for a supranational entity such as the European Union. Of course in a legal and political order such as the European Union this was always going to lead to a constitutional crisis, especially considering there is the sovereignty of member states constitutional traditions to consider.

Secondly, by recognising that our alternative is the one sought by the vast majority of people. The former treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe contained articles on a European flag, anthem and various other nonsensical provisions in order to attempt to garner some sense of constitutional patriotism from citizens of member states, which was completely out of step with the vast majority of the European public. There is little clamour for a federal Europe. So let’s argue for an abandonment of pie in the sky symbolism and advocate a focus on solid constitutional reform.

We hear far too much nowadays of European human rights legislation or the next nanny-state measure to come through Brussels. This leads us to forget the fundamental reason why the European Union exists.

The common market in principle is good for business and good for trade within Europe and internationally. In fact, it is the principles of this common market that may just save us from the absurdity of minimum pricing for alcohol. The common market is not without its faults but the law makers and political leaders of Europe must appreciate that the fundamental premise of the European Union is a Common Market. It is time we got back to something that looks like one.

Thirdly, we need to recognise the European Union for what it is. It isn’t a state and we don’t want it to become a state. I often hear those across the political spectrum talk of the European democratic deficit. Of course the democratic deficit is still far too large but we must also appreciate that if we do not want Europe to become a state we must stop holding it to standards we expect from nation states. We must see it as a unique order which we are responsible for shaping and not leave the left to determine the future of the European Union.

Therefore, governments must also take some responsibility for constitutional collisions when they arise. Often constitutional compatibility issues can be resolved well beforehand but they often lack the political will or courage by both the EU and national parliaments to be tackled head on.

So what next for our relationship with Europe? Depending on the process followed in determining any future treaty, Mr Cameron must ultimately ensure that he plays his full part in leading and maintaining a coalition of centre-right reformists, but most of all he must also ensure that prominent eurosceptics from across Europe are playing their full part in the debate. There has been some interesting thinking about what the process could look like in order to ensure democratic legitimacy for a European constitution which has been decidedly lacking in any.

So far, David Cameron has led the way admirably. Firstly for promising a referendum and secondly for promising a renegotiated settlement to be put forward in that referendum. It’s time for all right-thinking eurosceptics to get on board and shape a European Union settlement that is democratically and constitutionally legitimate.

James Reekie is the Vice-Chairman of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist party

At last, the Scottish Tories seem to be moving in the right devolutionary direction

Nik Darlington 3.02pm

At long last, the Scottish Conservatives are moving in the right direction on devolution.

Nearly one year ago, when commenting on the launch of the unionist Devo Plus group, I wrote that the Tories have to embrace greater devolution if they are to make any meaningful inroads in Scottish politics. Ruth Davidson assumed the leadership with a supposed "line in the sand" and little more than lukewarm acknowledgement of the Scotland Bill (which received Royal Assent last May). That line in the sand had to shift.

Now it seems to be doing so. Ms Davidson is already undertaking an internal review of devolution, though that in itself is only encouraging in part. More so is the recent intervention by Scotland Office minister David Mundell, the sole Tory MP north of the border.

The Scotsman reports today on research compiled by the Centre for Public Policy for the Regions, calling for MSPs to take control of £22 billion worth of extra tax-raising powers. And indeed they should. I’ve long maintained that a Tory revival in Scotland is largely dependent on Holyrood becoming as responsible for raising money as it is for spending it. What’s more, greater tax flexibility could be the making of Scotland.

Mr Mundell appears to have embraced this position and claimed that the pro-union parties will have put a proper devolution offer on the table long before the SNP gets round to spelling out its own case for independence (the amateurish efforts over the past year frankly do not count - or at least Nat supporters should hope so).

Scots will vote to remain in the Union, of that I have little doubt. Yet without a compellingly pro-devolution case put in advance, many shall do so begrudgingly. That is why this is a crucial moment for the Scottish Conservatives. Remember, however Scottish he himself is, David Mundell is merely an ‘English minister’ in the government of an ‘English Prime Minister’. To resonate truly, the party in Scotland must follow his lead.

Follow Nik on Twitter @NikDarlington

Brian Monteith’s ‘speech that Ruth won’t make’ is worth a wry read for Scottish Tories

Nik Darlington 9.53am

Ruth Davidson has been leader of the Scottish Conservative & Unionist party for twelve months, and she is marking it today with a speech.

We have aired differing views about Ms Davidson on these pages. Prior to the leadership election, Craig Barrett wrote a compelling case for her candidacy. Yet I have harboured doubts for some time about her effectiveness in post. A refusal to countenance greater devolution in Scotland weakens her position in the great independence / separation debate; she is also missing an opportunity to craft an appealingly distinctive Tory message.

Moreover, even the early arguments in her favour tended to focus on who she wasn’t (Murdo Fraser) and who was supporting her.

The Scotsman's Brian Monteith has a playful piece in the paper this morning, about “the speech that Ruth won’t make”. The nub of it is devolution, and more of it. Worth reading in full, but here’s an extract:

…until we are honest with ourselves and identify what we are doing wrong, we shall never be able to move forward and be taken in trust by the Scottish public.

So tonight I wish to say a few home truths, not just to you here but to the Scottish people outside.

…we have allowed ourselves to be defined as anti-Scottish. Not because we are, but because it suits them to cast us as outside of society, to de-normalise voting Conservative.

Since becoming leader, I have challenged David Cameron on issues, like supporting a Heathrow third runway, when it has been in Scotland’s interests to do so.  But that is not enough, for we - the oldest political party in Scotland - are still defined as an English party. For us to advance, that must end… We must change and we should recognise in the spirit of Disraeli that to make devolution work requires us to recast Great Britain.

We must, therefore, recognise that the devolution settlement needs a new federal Britain where Scotland stands proudly within the British family. We can reduce the number of politicians, we can reduce the amount of government - call it Devo Simple or Devo Federal - but we must become the advocate of positive change rather than the beleaguered rearguard against inevitable defeat.

Only then, for us, can things get better.

Follow Nik on Twitter @NikDarlington

Scotland’s unionists have to spell out what a ‘No’ vote means for devolution

Nik Darlington 11.25am

Today in Edinburgh, David Cameron, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, meets Alex Salmond, First Minister of Scotland, to sign off the terms of an independence referendum to be held in autumn 2014.

Some are calling it historic. Not quite. The referendum itself shall be historic. Nonetheless, the occasion demands more gravity than it is being given. Britain’s summer of all summers has neutered the separatist cause; the polls consistently suggest a comfortable victory for the unionists. But with two years until the vote, the dangers remain.

Alistair Darling is right to favour next year. It is just one of the regrettable oversights of the Prime Minister’s negotiations. Though on balance, despite my criticisms of Mr Cameron on the radio yesterday (approx 1hr33’ in), presentationally speaking today has been well-handled. He has largely got what he wanted to achieve, and done so in a way that does not look like an overbearing Englishman - indeed, he has even permitted the appearance of his kowtowing to Mr Salmond.

Yet we are where we are. There shall be a vote, it shall be a straight ‘yes-no’ gunfight, and it shall take place approximately seven hundred years after the Battle of Bannockburn.

Over at the Spectator, Alex Massie worries about the absence of a second question - that outlet for the majority caucus of Scots who desire more devolution within the Union. This was put to me on the radio yesterday and I have to say that I agree. I’m not necessarily in favour of a second question because that could result in a close and indeterminate outcome, and subsequent re-match. However, like Alex, I worry about a unionist campaign that offers a bit more devolution if Scots vote to stay, but doesn’t spell out what it looks like.

Mr Cameron is guilty of making such a fudged offer; his Scottish party leader, Ruth Davidson, is guilty of making little such offer at all, as I have said on these pages before. Refusing to countenance further devolution within the Union is not so much drawing lines in the sand, as putting one’s head in it.

Principally here we’re talking about taxation. Holyrood currently spends money that it hasn’t raised. Until Scottish politicians have to raise taxes as well as spend them, there will be no fiscal impetus for a Tory revival. That much is simple. The Devo Plus campaign ought to be considered.

But putting party concerns aside, now that we have the terms of the referendum campaign, the unionists have to make a case for a better Union settlement once Scots have voted to stay.

Also putting party concerns aside, I do believe that there needs to be a more prominent role for Gordon Brown. Alistair Darling is an excellent choice to front the unionist campaign. Yet if the former Prime Minister desires a central role (and I understand that he does), one should be found. Fraser Nelson dismisses the notion entirely, though for reasons that seem to me discontinuous. Whatever his image down south, Gordon Brown retains a certain following and respect in Scotland.

Follow Nik on Twitter @NikDarlington

Craig Barrett’s open letter to Ruth Davidson

Craig Barrett 6.00am

Dear Ruth,
First, congratulations on an excellent campaign and a notable victory.

As you may know, I publicly backed you during the leadership campaign and my reasons for this are set out here.

Yet it is clear that to some extent my support was more based on the opinions of your other supporters, rather than what I knew about you.
That could be your biggest advantage. However, as you now set out to define yourself and our party, I have some thoughts that I hope you will consider:
1. MSPs - Murdo Fraser managed to win the support of more than half of the Holyrood Party. That, combined with being a relative newcomer to Holyrood, means that your first task must be to ensure your MSPs are all on side. The secret weapon of the Conservative party is unity and we are all looking to you to take the fight to Mr Salmond and not to leave any unresolved issues within the grouping. I’m also sorry to say that some of our MSPs appear tired and complacent, relying on the list system to keep them in employment without any apparent desire for electoral success.
2. Councillors - I always view councillors as being front-line soldiers. Not only do they have the most contact with the electorate (thus being a much better barometer than parliamentarians), they are the ones who have the most to win or lose in terms of electoral fortunes without the ability to control national perceptions. It is no coincidence that poor parliamentary electoral performances for parties tend to come shortly after disasters at the local level. Next year’s council campaign is central to regenerating the party at both Holyrood and Westminster.
3. Party faithful - as the first leader elected by the whole membership, your decision to visit every constituency was a sensible and shrewd one.  If you have the energy, keep doing it.  We have a loyal but dwindling band of activists but they will be galvanised if they feel loved.
4. Party organisation - I genuinely believe that the party machine in Edinburgh is tired, lacks drive and lacks experience. You must appeal directly to CCHQ in London for much-needed funds but also for much-needed talent. Aspiring politicos should be offered the chance to be seconded to Edinburgh to earn their spurs in our campaigns. Whereas in London we are only fighting Labour, you have to fight Labour, the SNP and the LibDems - that is a wholly different type of campaign but my suggestion will ensure that campaigners are “blooded” must faster and harder than they would be south of the border. More campaign experience benefits the whole party so it’s not entirely one-sided. David Cameron is not, as you rightly protest, your “boss”, but don’t be afraid of asking London for help or for seeming to be dependant - we are all in this together, to coin a phrase, and sensibly remaining a united party means that we can share skills and support.  
5. Westminster - use the fact that we are in Government to your advantage. Highlight success. Insist that Ministers visit Scotland to ensure that the Scottish people are reminded that not everything flows from Mr Salmond. I don’t just mean those ministers who happen to be Scottish - it should be all of them, to emphasise the Union. It will also cut Mr Salmond down to size as, for too long, politicians appear to have been afraid of coming to Scotland. This has allowed him to stress divisions. If I were you, my first invitation would be to Eric Pickles, to talk campaign tactics, and my second would be to the Prime Minister, to make him agree to regular visits. He is the Prime Minister of Scotland too, after all.
6. Party Chairman - this is a key appointment because it needs to combine the skills of a Chief Executive with the verbal dexterity of a TV interviewer. The Chairman needs to be able to electrify Scottish HQ as well as to sell our position to the media. Nominate a unifying, heavyweight figure that the public can identify with. Do so, and create a formidable pairing.
It is trite (and arrogant) to suggest that Scotland is full of areas which should really have voted Tory; but it’s very clear that Scotland is full of people who are instinctively ‘conservative’.  That being said, you must re-affirm the idea that there are no untouchable areas for us in Scotland.  As a Glasgow MSP, you have a unique platform in this regard.
It is depressing to think that without Scotland there would have been a Conservative party majority at Westminster.  Much of Scotland simply doesn’t seem to understand the advantages that Conservative government can bring.  Partly this is a result of Gordon Brown’s epic expansion of welfare spending in Scotland; partly it is a result of a perception that we as a party don’t care about Scotland. That perhaps the Tories are merely a party for the English.
The irony that ours is the only party proud enough of its Unionist credentials to include the word in its name ought not to be lost on you.  Perhaps it is time to start reminding Scotland that patriotism doesn’t mean that you have to vote for the SNP.
I wish you every success in the months and years to come and I will be watching with interest, as well as trying to do my best to assist.
Yours sincerely,

Craig Barrett

Twitter @MrSteedUK