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

Scots Tories setting out a positive vision for post-referendum Scotland

Andrew Morrison

On these pages in November 2012, I predicted that the Scottish party leader Ruth Davidson would eventually reverse her ‘line in the sand’ position on devolution of further powers to the Scottish Parliament, namely powers over the levying and collection of taxation.

The concept of our party supporting the transfer of additional powers was first espoused by Murdo Fraser. Alex Fergusson - who endorsed Murdo Fraser’s leadership bid – has also set out his support for this move on Egremont and sits on the board of the DevoPlus campaign group to further that objective.

I had predicted that this breakthrough would come during Ruth Davidson’s leadership – and I use the term breakthrough very deliberately – but not until the ‘Yes’ camp were defeated at the Scottish Independence referendum, now fixed for 18 September 2014.

Put simply, the Scottish electorate needs a more compelling vision of exactly what Scotland they can expect to see after voting ‘No’ at the referendum, and they need that vision set out for them now, before the referendum.

Ms Davidson has stepped up to the plate and furnished a centre-right vision for Scotland’s constitutional settlement within the UK post-2014. No longer would the ‘tax and spend’ members of the Scottish Parliament be allowed to practice fiscal irresponsibility unchecked. No longer pursuing blanket policies of free NHS prescriptions and free concessionary bus travel for all - including fellow MSPs and millionaires - without suffering from the discipline of having to raise the necessary tax revenue to pay for those policies.

Whether the Scottish electorate decide policies such as universal free benefits during times of fiscal constraint, or not, is up to them to decide. Our role is merely to argue our case. We should not deny a legislature the democratic rights which a growing number of electors would like to see it gain because we fear the governing party would use those powers to the contrary of what we would do (i.e. they raise the burden of taxation whereas we would reduce it). We lost that basis of argument in 1997 on the referendum on Scottish devolution, and are still suffering from it. It is time to get ahead of the curve for once and all on this particular issue.

With greater fiscal autonomy, the Scottish budget would directly benefit from policies which help promote economic growth and simplify the tax system, thereby increasing tax compliance and collection rates. The Scottish Conservatives hand is strengthened because it is our message of sensible tax rates, a pro-enterprise economy, and cracking down on tax evasion which chimes perfectly with this type of devolution settlement.

Ruth may well have alienated figures such as Lord Forsyth, whose backing was instrumental to winning the leadership of the Scottish Conservatives in the autumn of 2011, but this is silly. We are all Conservatives first and foremost - our core values are the same. The reformist wing of the party should believe in reforming political institutions to further our beliefs of fairness, democracy and progress. Allowing a Parliament to determine its own taxation levels to pursue its own political priorities naturally follow from that belief.

The job of the TRG throughout the Scottish Conservatives’ review on greater devolution for Scotland must be to represent our grassroots members’ views and to ensure the process is not hijacked by figures such as Lord Forsyth, and some of the others who previously backed Ruth Davidson’s leadership bid, all of whom could potentially put the brakes on what has been a breakthrough announcement today.

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Andrew Morrison is a member of TRG Scotland, serves as the current Vice-Chairman of the Scottish Conservative & Unionist Party West of Scotland Regional Council, and stood for election recently at the Local Authority elections in May 2012. Andrew previously stood for the Holyrood constituency of Glasgow Pollok, being ranked number three on the Glasgow regional list.

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

No obstacle to Tories’ supporting more devolution after Scottish independence referendum is won

Andrew Morrison 10.48am

There are many things to be encouraged by in Ruth Davidson’s leadership so far. It is fair to say that Ruth is seen as a moderate, especially due to her pragmatic positions on social issues such as same-sex marriage and minimum unit pricing for alcohol.

The first stance is a recognition of a majority view and the fact Conservatives should not waste political capital on taking unpopular stands on social issues that are of no consequence to the truly pressing issues in our society, such as slowing social mobility, growing inequality between the best and worst performing state schools, and an increasingly inefficient Scottish NHS while life expectancy in some pockets of Glasgow is as bad as third-world nations.

The second stance is necessary in order to try and curtail Scotland’s disproportionately high alcohol consumption. A dogmatic approach against all forms of state intervention is not actually helpful if we are to achieve Conservative objectives such as reducing the number of problem households and cutting anti-social crime.

As for the pledged ‘line in the sand’ on devolution, this was offered during the leadership election and was designed to counteract fellow contender Murdo Fraser’s pledge to form a new pro-devolution centre-right party.

The Unionist camp will win the independence referendum, and win it by a clear enough margin to kill the issue dead for a generation. The campaign headed by the cross party Better Together group and the Scottish Tories’ Friends of the Union are designed to attract non-party political folk to our cause and are focusing the minds of all activists and elected politicians.

Ruth’s big challenge shall be the reversal of the ‘line in the sand’ position, to recognise that post-referendum a significant number of Scots shall sympathise with that point of view, especially as the mechanisms for administrating the tax-generating powers bestowed by the last Scotland Act are implemented and the public are made fully aware of the changes taking place.

For nearly everyone in the Union, the elephant in the room is the funding arrangement. The Barnett Formula. As a Conservative, I believe an organisation charged with the responsibility of representing the people also has the responsibility to show it is spending the people’s money sensibly.

My biggest criticism of the Scottish Parliament – one shared by others in the United Kingdom – is that the policies implemented by the Scottish Government have no impact on the tax revenue received by them because it is supported by the UK Treasury.

There is no incentive to rejuvenate Scotland’s under-performing economy because it will not translate into a direct boost in tax revenue. The Economist once compared MSPs to ‘teenagers living on an allowance’ – and like teenagers, that usually leads to discussion on whether they earn their keep sufficiently or not.

Tory reformists believe in reforming public services, welfare and the tax system in order to achieve a fairer, safer, more prosperous and coherent society. This reforming instinct extends to reform of the constitutional settlement that exists between Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England. It naturally follows that moderate Conservatives would not blindly rule out any further devolution of powers.

I believe Ruth Davidson is a moderate, reforming Tory and will accordingly construct a compromise on greater fiscal autonomy and further devolution but only after the independence campaign is soundly defeated.

After doing so, the centre-right in Scotland can realise it’s full potential by talking about how one raises the taxes which are spent on public services, and consequently get Scottish political discourse on to discussing what we get out of public services such as housing, education and health rather than merely what we put into them.

Andrew Morrison is a member of TRG Scotland, serves as the current Vice-Chairman of the Scottish Conservative & Unionist Party West of Scotland Regional Council, and stood for election recently at the Local Authority elections in May 2012. Andrew previously stood for the Holyrood constituency of Glasgow Pollok, being ranked number three on the Glasgow regional list.

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

Ruth Davidson’s biggest challenge is tackling Tory irrelevance

Nik Darlington 6.00am

The comedian Billy Connolly said there are two seasons in Scotland, “June and Winter”.

If that’s the case, it’s been a bloody long June. Temperatures in the high teens have made Edinburgh feel veritably toasty this weekend. Gloves and scarves remain unpacked.

And in Holyrood the heat is on for new Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson (I’m awfully sorry, typing on a phone renders you impatient and bereft of anything but the most miserable clichés).

Ms Davidson had to face the embarrassment of not being able to name a full frontbench team in time for last week’s First Minister’s Questions. Her deputy leader is decided as the defeated leadership candidate Jackson Carlaw but only after Murdo Fraser turned the job down and quit the frontbench.

Allegedly Alex Fergusson, who publicly backed Mr Fraser, also declined to serve, though the former Presiding Officer has denied the claims.

The majority of Tory MSPs supported Murdo Fraser, along with senior figures such as Sir Malcolm Rifkind, which puts young Ms Davidson in a bit of a bind. At least this is the line taken by Scotland on Sunday’s Duncan Hamilton:

"A win is a win, but let’s be clear: 47 per cent of the Tory party was prepared to sign up to effectively packing up and starting again. That is remarkable. Add into that mix the fact that most MSPs backed Fraser, that some donors are openly questioning their continued commitment and that the new leader struggled for several days to put together a frontbench team because her colleagues refused to take the positions offered, and a picture emerges of an unsustainable political entity."

Mr Hamilton is wrong on that score. Ms Davidson’s leadership is not unsustainable. Colleagues will come into line, not least because a strong perception exists that a number of MSPs actually regret playing their hand too early and supporting Mr Fraser.

But where Mr Hamilton has a valid point is in praising Murdo Fraser’s “candour and honesty”, which set alight a political leadership campaign that most Scots wouldn’t naturally give the time of day.

For a couple of months, the Tories were the talk of the Scottish media. No one had the slightest idea who the Labour party candidates were, even Edward Miliband.

Now that the contest is over, to many people it’s just the same “bloody Tories”. Even the fact that the winner is a young lesbian kickboxer couldn’t excite people for long. The talk is still about Murdo Fraser.

Duncan Hamilton says he can “sit tight” because “many don’t believe that the new leader will be there for long”. Or he can “leave the Tories now and start a new party” with the “bulk of MSPs and some serious donors”.

Except there is not a shred of credible evidence to support either of those claims. The only thing of note offered by an otherwise insight-free article in the newspaper’s ‘Insight’ section is this: after a summer in the spotlight, Ruth Davidson’s biggest challenge is to prove that the Scottish Tories are not irrelevant. That means taking on the SNP in the area they are strongest - standing up for Scotland. And in policy terms that means redrawing that line in the sand that Ms Davidson calls the Scotland Bill.