The Scottish independence debate continues. Not a day goes by without claim and counter-claim about the merits or perils of dissolving the Union. The Sunday Times’ recent undercover recordings of former Tory co-treasurer Peter Cruddas add a controversial assertion to the discussion: namely, that the Conservatives may not actually oppose independence.
Cruddas told reporters that the Tories ‘have to be seen to be fighting to keep the Union together… even if we don’t agree with it’ so they can negotiate from a position of strength following a hypothetical referendum result supporting independence. The SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon described the remarks as ‘a bombshell’ demonstrating that ‘senior Tories in London are cynically faking their opposition to independence’.
Allegations of Tory insincerity are interesting. Among the Unionists there ought to be no stauncher defender of the UK. Officially the Conservative and Unionist Party, Unionism is cemented not simply in its name, but in its history. Always patriotic advocates of empire and Britishness, the party opposed devolution in Scotland and Wales as recently as 1997, arguing it would weaken Britain. Their past aside, however, it’s true that the Tories could benefit from Scottish independence.
Scottish Conservative votes declining for many years, are unlikely to recover soon; in numbers alone, Scotland would be little loss to them, while depriving Labour of key support. Additionally, some Tories and sections of England’s population see free Scottish services (such as university tuition and care for the elderly) as subsidised by England, with Tory MP David Mowat describing UK public spending as ‘fritter[ing] away billions of pounds to appease vested [Scottish] interests’. Independence would solve that problem too.
The Conservatives’ response to the recordings was to state ‘one of our fundamental beliefs… is that the United Kingdom is better off together.’ The party cites many reasons for its view, including complications in defence policy and the diminution of British standing in the world. Furthermore, the recordings show that David Cameron told Cruddas ‘He wants to fight to keep the Union’. With no evidence to suggest senior Tories believe otherwise, the Conservatives’ public opposition is probably sincere, despite speculation.