A large ray of light about to be shone on the Iraq war?

Tony Blair is under fire, yet again, over the Iraq war. This time, the focus is on the legality of the war. In the course of the Iraq Inquiry headed by Sir John Chilcott, currently taking place, Lord Goldsmith, the former Attorney General, has given evidence that he was uncomfortable about the statements made by Mr. Blair to Parliament in the run up to the invasion of Iraq.

After two previous public Inquiries, we were still some way away from finding out the full facts about the Government’s conduct of the Iraq crisis and the decision to go to war.

In September 2002, the Government published a dossier, which was laid before Parliament. The dossier contained allegations that Iraq held biological and chemical weapons of mass destruction and had reconstituted its nuclear weapons programme. The dossier was based upon the interpretation of intelligence available to the Joint Intelligence Committee. The findings in the dossier were used as a justification for going to war with Iraq. After the war, the allegations contained in dossier were discredited.

The first Inquiry, led by Lord Hutton, was tasked with finding out the reasons for the death of Dr. David Kelly, a former biological weapons expert and employee of the Ministry of Defence. Dr. Kelly was the source used by BBC reporter, Andrew Gilligan, to justify his allegation that the Government had “sexed up” the dossier. Consequently, it was alleged that Tony Blair and the Labour Government had misled Parliament. After being named as Gilligan’s source, Dr. Kelly committed suicide.

The Hutton report was published in January 2004. The report was highly critical of the journalistic standards of the BBC and Mr. Gilligan, in particular. More importantly, Hutton exonerated the Government, having concluded that the Government was unaware of the reservations, relating to the evidence about WMD, within the intelligence community.

In February 2004, the Government initiated a review into the intelligence relating to Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. The review also dealt with wider issues of intelligence relating to countries of concern, other than Iraq. However, the review was not concerned with the political decision-making leading up to the war. That deficit in the remit of the review forms part of the context in which this latest story is developing.

The review was chaired by Lord Butler. Lord Butler’s report was published in July 2004. The report concluded that Intelligence had not checked their sources thoroughly enough. The intelligence was flawed. Furthermore, warnings from the Joint Intelligence Committee on the limitations of intelligence were not made clear. Read the BBC’s summary of the report here.

Many were not satisfied by the report. The exemption of political decision-making from its remit left an important gap in public knowledge which had not been filled by the time of the 2005 General election.

The Chilcott Inquiry into the UK’s role and involvement in the Iraq war was announced by Gordon Brown in June 2009. It has been ongoing since November 2009.

This Friday, Tony Blair will give evidence to the Inquiry. He will presumably provide answers to the criticisms of Lord Goldsmith.  The UK has waited far too long for the full truth to come out about the Iraq war.  Let us hope that we may soon, at last, get a proper insight into what really happened.

Posted in Defence, Iraq War, Labour Party, Tony Blair, UK Politics, Weapons of Mass destruction | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Munster crash out of the Heineken Cup – Ulster go marching on

The weekend’s news sent shockwaves across Ireland. No, it was not Brian Cowan’s meeting with his parliamentary party, although that story is still rather spicy. 

It was the demise of Munster and the rise of Ulster.  For the first time in 13 years, they failed to reach the quarter-final of the Heineken Cup, losing 32 – 16 to Toulon.  At the other end of the Irish Rugby scale, Ulster beat tournament favourites, Biarritz of France.

As a former resident of Limerick (Ireland’s rugby capital), I know how my friends down south are feeling right now. They follow Munster with passionate devotion. For them, this really is a sporting Armageddon.   Such was the blow to them that I even resisted the temptation to slag that it was the English fly-half, Johnny Wilkinson, who did much of the damage.

munster fans

Some will blame the team’s poor showing in this competition on injuries.  Certainly, that has not helped.  It may be, however, that the spine of this present team is ageing and in decline. 

Perhaps Munster needed this defeat. They have come back many times from the brink to grab a quarter final place.   Now, they can accept that they need to re-build their team.  Munster will rise to glory again.

Contrast Munster’s position with Ulster, whose fortunes in this competition are almost a mirror reversal.  Ulster are still in the competition following their famous 9 – 6 win on Saturday against Biarritz.  Ian Humphries did the business. 

If Ulster win next week against bottom-of-the-pool Aironi of Italy, they are almost certain to obtain a quarter final place.  Biarritz have a harder game against Bath but are still favourites to win that match.  Ulster will win the group if they achieve one more point more than Biarritz next week.  A weekend trip to Viadana now looks tempting.

Posted in Sport | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Opinion polls – ignore them until 2013 if you can

I don’t like talking about opinion polls just after a general election. Unfortunately, the media stuffs them into one’s face. This has been particularly so during the recent Oldham and Saddleworth by-election, which Labour won. I treated that result with bored unconcern.

The Coalition has lost popularity since it came to power. There is no surprise here. Indeed, senior Conservatives and Liberal Democrats had urged their supporters to prepare for unpopularity.

Opinion polls are important at any time in a political cycle. Early in a Government’s administration, they are a useful guide to predicting by-elections and local authority elections.

The Conservative opinion poll rating has hardly changed at all. Their rolling average is 37.03, compared with their general election poll of 36.93%. The big change has been in the Lib Dem share of the vote, down 13% from 23.56%. 10.5% of those lost Lib Dem voters have swung to Labour. The latter now top the opinion poll ratings with 39.95%. If those swings were repeated on a uniform trend in a general election, Labour would be back in power, winning about 336 seats and a comfortable overall majority in the House of Commons.

We are, of course, in a period of austerity where unpopular measures being taken by the Government are beginning to bite hard. At the moment, the Conservative leadership is very unlikely to be unflustered by the drop in popularity. For the following reasons, they are likely to take them with a pinch of salt for the next couple of years, at least.

When the Conservatives came to power in 1979, they won 339 seats, 43.9% of the popular vote and a very comfortable overall commons majority. The legacy of the outgoing Labour administration was very high inflation, over taxation, poor industrial relations and the outlook of a nation whose economic prospects were spiralling downwards. Their most urgent priority was to bring down inflation. The minimum lending rate shot up. The exchange rate went up. Manufacturing production fell violently. Businesses were forced to make savings either through wage cuts or redundancies. If they did not succeed, they went bankrupt. Unemployment rocketed to more than 3 million. The recession of 1979 to 1981 was the worst that the country had suffered since the early 1930s.

The lost production which occurs during a recession always takes longer than the period of the recession to claw back. In that recession, the level of GDP did not return to its pre-recession high until about the time of the May 1983 General Election. There were multiple reasons why the Conservatives won that election by a landslide. Labour’s lurch to the far left was a very big factor. Back then, we were still fighting a cold war and we had just fought a conventional war in the Falkland Islands. The war exposed Michael Foot’s pacifism. However, just as big a reason for the Conservative victory was the return of the economic feel-good factor. Inflation had by then come down to below 4%. Correspondingly, interest rates had come down. Unemployment was falling and the economy was growing.

There are big differences between the fortunes of Mrs. Thatcher’s first administration and the prospects of this present coalition government. The obvious one is that this is a government of two parties. Another one is that this Government took power about 6 months after the end of a recession, meaning that the change of Government took place at different stages of the economic cycle. We have not yet reached the stage of full GDP recovery. That is not expected to occur until about late spring 2012. A general election in May 2015 will be approximately 3 years into full recovery. In terms of the relationship between economic cycles and political fortune, the 2015 election may be more comparable to the 1987 general election. By that time, the UK was 4 years into recovery. There was a new, more realistic, Labour leader. The Conservatives still won the election with a majority of more than 100 seats in the House of Commons.

It might not be as simple as that. It is not so easy for a Government of two parties to maintain discipline. The economic problems of this government are about controlling debt, rather than inflation. That is a longer-term problem requiring longer-lasting economic pain. The effects of the Government’s economic medicine – spending cuts and taxation increases – will still be felt in 2015. The budget deficit is not scheduled to be in balance until 2016 and new (almost certainly unpopular) measures will be needed to tackle the welfare time bomb.

2013 to mid 2014 is likely to be a crucial period. That is when you should see a start to a reversal in trends in the opinion polls. Until then, we can ignore them as national news. Certainly, I will.

Posted in Conservative Party, Economy, General Election, Labour Party, Margaret Thatcher, Political History, UK Politics | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ian Parsley on the resignation of the two Harries as the UUP reels from more defections

Ian Parsley has written two posts in relation to the recent defections from the UUP. The latest was about Harry Hamilton. Both are worth a read. However, the first one, following the resignation of Harry Dunlop to the UUP slices like a knife through butter. Parsley compares the UUP to a business looking for a market, rather than putting itself in a position to promote its politics.

“It has been stated before on this blog that the UUP seems close to unique in the way that it seeks out a market, rather than positions itself to sell its case. I believe it is not coincidental that so many people in the current Leadership are businessmen (including farmers), for whom “seeking out a market” is the natural way of things. It is in business, but it is not in politics. This is the reason for the sheer mystification that while the UUP Leadership fiddles while seeking out its market, its operations staff are disappearing to its competitors who already have one.”

Read the whole article here

Posted in Ian Parsley, Unionism, UUP | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Sein Fein parades itself

In the Newsletter and in my local papers, it was reported that a parade, which took place in Fermanagh on New Years Day, was illegal. The parade was said to be illegal because no request had been made to the Parades Commission to hold it.

Last year, as the Policing and Justice devolution wrangle was at its height, Sinn Fein vigorously opposed any proposed scrapping of the Parades commission. Both Martin McGuiness and Gerry Adams stated that DUP proposals to scrap the commission as a pre-condition of the transfer of Police and Justice was totally unacceptable. What is “sauce for the Goose is sauce for the Gander,” as they say. Sinn Fein will not be able to find a political excuse for breaking the law, if that is what has happened.

This particular parade is an annual event. Normally, it would not be in the news. Sinn Fein attracted criticism about it because, in furtherance of their politics, they published a report about the parade on their website.

I have been to numerous 12th July parades and St. Patrick’s Day parades. This was the first time that I had witnessed a purely republican parade. I had been invited to it by a friend of mine, himself a republican. I decided to go, with a view to learning from the experience.

The location of the procession was in a remote area of the Fermanagh countryside, known as Moane’s cross, near Roslea. It is highly unlikely that there would have been any bystanders.

The story of the failed attack by the IRA on an RUC barracks more than 54 years ago is legendary within the republican movement. It formed part of the IRA border campaign of 1956-1962. Two of the attackers, Sean South and Fergal O’Hanlon, were killed in the incident. There is a well known song about the incident called “Sean South from Garryowen.”

South was from Limerick. When I was in my teens, I lived with my family in Limerick. I have sung the song many times. It was not until I came to live in Fermanagh that, years later, I became aware that the song referred to an incident within living memory.

At the site where South and O’Hanlon were killed, located by the side of a road, is a monument. The procession began from a distance of about 150 yards and ended at the monument. When the procession ended, the commemoration continued in front of the memorial. The ceremony included the playing of Amhrán na bhFiann (the Irish national anthem) by a solo flautist, a speech by Sinn Fein Councillor, Sean Lynch and another speaker saying the Rosary. The use of the Rosary on such an occasion would have offended many who are of the Catholic faith. It also provided a stark illustration of how Sinn Fein uses sectarianism to promote its politics.

The concluding speech by Sean Lynch began with a mention of previous IRA campaigns. The results of those campaigns were presented as a triumph. There were no surprises there. Then the “Elephant” (the dissident IRA) swam into my mind. As you would expect, the dissidents were not mentioned in any of the speeches. However, they must have been in the thoughts of some of those present. Even the most tongue-artful republican would find it very difficult to distinguish the current dissident IRA campaign from previous IRA campaigns.

The last part of Lynch’s speech was about Sinn Fein’s future political prospects.  Lynch discussed the general election on the horizon in the Republic of Ireland and the Assembly Elections in Northern Ireland, emphasising his party’s credentials as the only “All-Ireland” political party. He finished with a plea to young and intelligent people to come forward to join Sinn Fein.

After the ceremony, we went to the local hall where tea and food were waiting. In the hall were exhibited three old weapons of the sort used at the time of the 1957 attack. These included a Bren light machine Gun and a Thompson Sub-machine gun

It was an enjoyable and insightful afternoon.

Posted in Catholic Church, Identity, IRA, Ireland, Irish History, Nationalism, Northern Ireland politics, Parades, Political History, Religion, Republicanism, Sinn Fein | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Conservatives entitled to be proud of the Anglo-Irish Agreement

A little over two months ago marked the passing of the 25th Anniversary of the Anglo-Irish Agreement. The anniversary resulted in posts by Brian Walker of Slugger O’Toole and by and other articles by Newspaper journalists across Ireland.

One of the curiosities of the Agreement is that the leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, James Molineaux was not consulted as the negotiations progressed. This is most odd. That the negotiations were taking place was not a state secret. From time to time, the fact of these discussions was made public. The SDLP was certainly consulted. In about September 1984, the Conservative Party, in edition No. 31 of their contact programme (“CPC 31”), published a detailed brief on the state of the negotiations at that time. It was available for sale in the Conservative Party bookshop for anybody who wanted to buy a copy. A link to this document can be located on the Conservative Party Archive website.

It is not as though the Ulster Unionists were sitting there doing nothing about the political problems either. In May 1984, they published their own document “the Way forward” (also for sale in the CPC bookshop). 

Perhaps when the Government archives are published in 3-4 years time, we will have a more precise picture on unionist consultation.

CPC 31 mentions the three proposals put forward by the Irish Government which were rejected by Mrs. Thatcher.  These were: a unitary state; a federal or confederal state; or joint authority. Dr. Fitzgerald, writing in the Irish times, recalled Mrs. Thatcher’s public reaction to those proposals in November 1984, some time after they were rejected.

On Open Unionism, in a post entitled “Reflections on the Anglo-Irish Agreement,” Turgon articulates the mainstream unionist view of the agreement. He recalls the sense of betrayal felt by unionists following the agreement. The Government would have known how Unionists would have reacted to the proposals, regardless of whether or not they had been consulted.  Why, then, did they risk alienating the great mass of the unionist population?

Better security was often cited as the main reason for it. Certainly, Mrs. Thatcher put a strong emphasis on the importance of better security but if that all there was to it, the agreement would not have taken place.

The 1981 hunger strikes proved to be a watershed in Northern Ireland’s political history. It launched the political career of Gerry Adams and later Sinn Fein representatives. This development worried the ROI Government, particularly.

The Catholic population in Northern Ireland was a large minority but barely represented in Parliament. In the 1983 General Election, the number of seats in Northern Ireland had been increased from 12 to 17. Still, the representation of the Catholic Population at Parliament was very small. Of those 17 seats, Gerry Adams of Sinn Fein had been elected as MP for West Belfast in place of Gerry Fitt. The only other non-unionist MP to be elected was John Hume in the constituency of Foyle.

The Government, rightly, perceived that there was a link between support for terrorism in the Catholic community and the lack of political representation. Looking for a solution to this problem remained a Government policy, despite the collapse of Sunningdale.

James Prior, Northern Ireland Secretary of State (1981-1984) summarised five principles which had to be observed, if there was political advance. These are set out in set out in contact programme document No. 31 at page 5: They were:

(i) The Constitutional position of Northern Ireland of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom can only be changed freely given consent of its people. This is not a matter of law. Any other approach would be immoral, undemocratic and unworkable.

(ii) Not all of the political aspirations of the two communities can be completely or equally satisfied. There are two identities to be accommodated, in an environment where alienation exists on both sides.

(iii) The government and administration of the Province must ultimately remain a matter for Parliament. This means that there cannot be any Unionist or nationalist veto over the framework which Parliament prescribes.

(iv) The distinctive needs of Northern Ireland are best met through a devolved administration commanding support from both sides of the community. In the absence of agreement the Government will continue to administer the Province in the way it judges to be in the best interests of all the people and of the United Kingdom as a whole. The determination of the majority to maintain the Union must be upheld but this must be balanced by showing due regard for the minority’s interests in any internal arrangements.

(v) Geography, history and economic interest together with the identification many in Northern Ireland feel with Dublin call for a closer relationship between the United Kingdom and the Republic.

There was nothing wrong with the Government’s principles or motives for signing the Agreement.  As it turned out, the Agreement yielded very little in terms of security gains. However, the political gains are still underrated. The agreement, fully supported by the SDLP helped many Northern Irish nationalists to see the UK Government in a new light. The agreement also secured formal recognition, by a Republic of Ireland Government, that Northern Ireland was a part of the United Kingdom.

Today, the scars of the Anglo Irish Agreement are still felt by unionists. At the Ulster Unionist Party conference in December 2008, David Cameron felt compelled (albeit in an oblique manner) to make an apology for the signing of the Agreement.  Looking back on that speech, David Cameron’s apology had more to do with appeasing Ulster Unionists than taking responsibility for a political wrongdoing.  He should not have made that apology, unreservedly. 

The unfortunate thing is that many Northern Irish Unionists still do not seem to recognise their community’s failure to be fair to Catholics in the past was a major cause of the Anglo-Irish agreement coming into effect. In CPC 31, the Conservatives said this about a UUC proposal to turn the regional Assembly into a super council:

“The local Government was the sphere where most of the discrimination has tended to take place; matters such as housing and education are thus extremely sensitive.”

Back in 1985, power sharing seemed a long way off and Northern Ireland unionists were angry. They can not deny that the Agreement was a stepping stone to the Belfast Agreement.

In years to come, they will not be able to deny that the Belfast Agreement (and therefore the Anglo Irish Agreement) paved the way for peace, prosperity, a stronger union and a shared future for Northern Irish people.

Conservatives, meanwhile, should not be ashamed of the Anglo-Irish agreement. They have every reason to be proud of their government’s achievement at the time.

Posted in Conservative Party, Conservativism, David Cameron, Identity, Irish History, Margaret Thatcher, Political History, St. Andrews Agreement, Stormont, Unionism, UUP | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The future is bright but it certainly isn’t Orange

The Orange Order is back in the news again, following the announcement that it has a new Grand Master, Mr. Edward Stevenson. A typical Nationalist reaction to such news was “there goes the new head-honcho bigot”

We all need to be careful about our choice of words. All of us are imprinted with varying degrees of bigotry as we grow up. If your place of birth is Northern Ireland, the chances are that you have more religious bigotry to deal with than in most regions of Europe. Conquering one’s own bigotry, in relation to all forms of prejudice and intolerance, is just as much about developing an open mind as it is of being tolerant of the bigotry of others.

I do not have a problem with religious bigotry which is confined to doctrine or dogma. It follows that I don’t mind being told that I will “not be saved” or that I am following a “hellish path” if I abide by the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. It is all the sort of stuff which Protestants generally believe about Catholicism, whether or not they are members of the Orange Order. Where bigotry hurts is when it leads to inhumane behaviour such as avoidance, shunning, unkindness, intolerance, discrimination and, at the worst extreme, religious hatred.

On paper, at least, the Orange Order tells its people to show kindness and neighbourliness to Roman Catholics. Some Orangemen do just that and I am privileged to know some of them as my friends.

Unfortunately, these people do not represent the majority in that organisation. The majority of Orangemen are law-abiding citizens. They are also generally polite to Catholics and happy to do business with them. However, in their minds, Catholics are still “themuns.” In their hearts they still can not go as far as completely trusting them.  They also find it very difficult to think non-communally. Real neighbourliness, which falls short of public duty, is hard to come by. This kind of thinking leads to discrimination and isolationism. It is not conducive to a shared future.

So far as Northern Irish politics is concerned, the Orange Order continues to dabble in politics, refuses to endorse political or religious pluralism and refuses to take responsibility for its role in past oppression of Catholics. At present, most UUP MLAs and most of its membership are still either members of the Orange order or very supportive of Orangism. The combined effects of these circumstances represent huge obstacles to progress for those Ulster Unionists who wish to move their party towards a more liberal position.

Tom Elliot has gone on record as saying that he wants the Orange Order to stay out of politics. Perhaps this is a recognition that an increasing number of Protestants are being turned off by the Orange Order and what it represents. Nonetheless, the appointment of a new Orange leader did not stop him from making a political gesture of ingratiation.

Meanwhile, the new leader of the Orange Order, Mr. Stevenson, did not disappoint his brethren when it came to stirring the pot. Outside Ballykelly hall, Mr. Stevenson announced that he would not be talking to Sinn Fein or the Parades Commission or attending GAA matches. There was nothing new in that. This was a leader of an intolerant organisation practising what it preaches.

The Conservative Party, if it has any ambition left in Northern Ireland politics, should avoid any association with Orangism. Unfortunately, the present link up with the UUP puts in jeopardy the Conservative Party’s non-sectarian credentials (more about that in a future post).

Meanwhile, the Orange Order’s declining membership roll can only be a good thing for Northern Ireland politics. The future is bright but it certainly is not Orange.

Posted in Conservative Party, Conservativism, Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Centre-Right, Northern Ireland politics, Orange Order, Pluralism, Tom Elliott, Unionism, UUP | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

CCHQ continue to leave Northern Ireland Conservatives out in the cold

Firstly, I would like to wish everybody who follows this blog a warm and happy new year.

I have noticed that political bloggers, from time to time, write posts about sport without there being any political context. I am a lover of cricket so I’m going to have a one-off crow. I have been hooked on the Ashes cricket series down under between England and Australia. To see Australia being so comprehensively beaten, in a sport which they have dominated since the late 1980s, is a joy to behold. The enjoyment of it has kept me warm during this appalling period of freezing weather, burst pipes and water shortages.

For the Conservatives in Northern Ireland, there is still a freeze in their relationship with CCHQ. From what I have been told by Conservatives, much of the blame for the situation rests with Jonathan Caine, a former advisor to the Conservative Party on Northern Ireland and now a special advisor to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.

Mr. Caine has a reputation, within the Conservative Party, as a person with very considerable experience of Northern Ireland political affairs. He is well read on the politics and history of Northern Ireland, as you would expect. I respect his reputation as a learned man.

Mr. Caine has also been portrayed as somebody who has lost his sense of independent judgment because of his close sympathy towards the UUP. I am told that he still does not understand Northern Ireland because he does not live here.

I don’t know, exactly, to what extent, Mr. Caine was pivotal in the decision to prevent Northern Ireland Conservatives from fielding candidates at Assembly Elections. For the moment, I make two observations.

Firstly, the recent decision by CCHQ to continue their support for the UUP, at the expense of Northern Ireland Conservatives is misconceived in its entirety. The UUP have nothing to offer the Conservative Party, in the short or medium-term future, in terms of winning Northern Ireland Parliamentary seats.

Secondly, I agree with the contention that you can not know Northern Ireland unless you have lived here. I have lived in Northern Ireland for 12 years. Before that, I had lived in England and the Republic of Ireland. For all the Newspapers, political and history books that I have studied and read about Ireland, nothing was as educational as living amongst Northern Irish people.

A sense betrayal has festered amongst Northern Ireland Conservatives for the last month. CCHQ, if it is making a decision that NI Conservatives do not like, should be going out of their way to keep their membership on board. Instead, they have been completely insensitive and left them isolated. That is no way to run a political party. To borrow an old English metaphor, ‘it just isn’t cricket’.

Posted in Conservative Party, Conservativism, Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Centre-Right, Northern Ireland politics, Stormont, UUP | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Northern Ireland can save Companies from leaving the UK with low Corporation Tax

All over Britain, there are stories of Companies becoming impatient with the UK tax regime and looking to relocate elsewhere. The Treasury is well aware of this and overtures of better times ahead have been made to the business community. True to his word, Mr. Osborne announced, at the end of November, that a new 10p rate for corporation tax would be introduced on profits generated from new products generated and developed in Britain.  In the Telegraph today, it was announced that Corporation tax would fall from 28% to 25% in next year’s budget.

However, the Treasury needs time (perhaps at least 5 years) before they are able to lower the tax overall down to 12.5% as currently charged in the Republic of Ireland.

The Treasury’s promise may not be enough for some Companies. That is why Northern Ireland is in an ideal position to do Britain a great favour. If a company is absolutely determined to “up sticks” then Northern Ireland will be able to welcome these relocating businesses with open arms.   This coincides with doubts that Ireland will be able to hold on to its low tax rate for much longer.

As reported in the Belfast Telegraph, Northern Ireland politicians have been handed a Government paper on devolving Corporation Tax.

The only question is, what will the Northern Ireland politicians do?  Will they take this extraordinary opportunity?

Northern Irish politicians will have to find savings of about £450m in order to take an equivalent cut from the block grant to avoid illegality in the European Courts.

Only one thing is certain.  As a winning policy for Northern Ireland, it is a complete “no brainer.”

Posted in Conservative Party, Corporation tax, Economy, Euro, George Osborne, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Centre-Right, Northern Ireland economy, Northern Ireland politics, Owen Paterson, Republic of Ireland, Stormont, UK Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The powerful thoughts of a Scottish Tory may shed some light on the Northern Ireland problem

No Conservative needs to be reminded that the Conservative Party has a problem with Scotland.

Since before the General Election, I have followed what bloggers and politicians have been saying about the causes of the problem and what to do about it but always bearing in mind that the problems of Scotland and Northern Ireland are not the same. Picking out the features of the Scottish problem and applying those parts of it, which are relevant to the Northern Ireland problem is not a straightforward exercise. The exercise is an important one, nevertheless. Back in June, I wrote my first post on this subject.

A few weeks ago, the Sanderson report was completed. Since I published a post in reaction to media commentary, I have had an opportunity to read the full report. Despite the report’s very hard-hitting observations on party organisation and structure, I could not help feeling that the report fell short of proper analysis on the prospects for an Independent Scottish Party.

I am now glad to say that another Conservative with far more knowledge of this subject than me has written a post, which cuts very deep and makes a case to answer for an independent party. He is Blair Murray and his post has been published on Conservative Home.

Murray makes some important observations about where ‘would be’ tories have parked their vote:

“The fact is that there are many centre-Right voters in Scotland who do not vote Tory. In rural areas, particularly in the Highlands, they vote Lib Dem. In the North-East and in urban areas many vote SNP. Indeed, canvassing in previous elections it became clear to me that many SNP supporters would prefer lower taxes, incentives for business and less government regulation. Some of these voters were even ambivalent towards the SNP’s central goal of independence. It is these voters, to the right of Scottish Labour on economic arguments, that we must win in the future.”

Murray also makes very important points relating to the history of the Scottish Unionist Party leading up to the merger with the Conservatives in 1965. An important Scottish political identity had effectively been killed. Murray makes this very important observation about the branding and identity of political parties in Scotland before the merger:

“What all of these have in common is the deliberate avoidance of the term ‘Conservative’, which had always been associated with the English party. The effect of the 1965 merger should be clear for all to see.”

Murray also defends the proposal to give Holyrood greater fiscal autonomy and argues against those who say that it is more likely to lead to Scottish independence.

I totally agree. A look at history might help to understand the Scottish psyche a little better. The Scots were not conquered by England. The first Unionist was a Scot. Somewhere buried deeply in the Scottish psyche is a desire to be seen as having parity with the English.

Murray concludes:

“All the evidence shows that Scots feel more Scottish than British. Incidentally, the evidence also shows that the English feel increasingly English rather than British. This does not for a moment mean that those who feel more Scottish or more English want the UK to split. Most of us are comfortable with overlapping identities. I, like most Conservatives, am a passionate supporter of the Union. And many of those voters in Scotland who feel more Scottish than British would vote for a party of the centre-Right. They would vote for a party supportive of enterprise and social stability, emphasising tradition and responsibilities as well as rights. At the moment they don’t. Only by becoming like those voters – proudly Scottish but supportive of the UK – will the Scottish Conservatives become a success.”

Identity is a key problem in Northern Ireland too. I make no bones about the fact that it is not easy to persuade a voter who is a unionist to make a journey which leaves behind the comfort zone of a party with a unionist identity. Just reading the exchanges that I have had on this blog with Conservative officials bears that out.  It will also be just as difficult to persuade Nationalists to leave the comfort zone of a party with a nationalist identity.

There are three powerful arguments in response to that which lend weight to the theory that the Northern Ireland Centre Right campaign is the right one to break down this paradox. Firstly, a party which is neutral on the constitutional position shortens that journey by half. Secondly, the overwhelming majority of Northern Irish people want an end to sectarianism. Thirdly, a Conservative Regional party which makes that journey from its present position would send a very inspiring powerful signal of leadership to the Northern Irish people.

Posted in Conservative Party, Conservativism, Identity, Nationalism, New Party, Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Centre-Right, Northern Ireland politics, Scotland, Scottish Conservative Party, Toxicity, UK Politics, Unionism | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment