Ruth Davidson must stand up to extremists like Boris Johnson

Much has changed following the referenda of 2014 and 2016. Simply put, the "status quo" that many No voters, myself included, thought they were voting for in the Scottish independence referendum in 2014 does not exist anymore, and the Brexit deal the people were promised in the EU referendum in 2016 is undeliverable.

With 151 days remaining until the day the UK withdraws from the EU, it is time to have a serious debate about the governance structures that can best protect our values and interests here in Scotland.

The failings of the Conservative Government on Brexit, welfare and communities have been laid bare. I feel that the Tories are moving further to the right and becoming less progressive and modern with every new policy.

Conservative policies, in particular those relating to the Department of Work and Pensions and welfare, are having a devastating impact on local people and communities.

Brexit will have a detrimental impact on citizens from all EU 27 countries resident in Scotland, and their families.

It will also have a significant impact on all Scottish citizens (and current EU passport holders) who have European partners, family working in the EU or who may wish to work, study or travel in the EU in the future. Brexit – in any form – will mean we will be deprived of rights that many of us have enjoyed our whole lives. It is also of course against the democratic will of the Scottish people, who voted to remain in the EU as evidently demonstrated by the recent EU election.

Meanwhile, the Conservative Party prepares for a forthcoming leadership election, following Theresa May’s announcement last week.

The leadership candidates have embarked on an arms race over who can take the most extreme position on Brexit as they compete for the support of the 160,000 members who will select the next Prime Minister.

There is therefore an immense concern as to the impact of Theresa May’s departure to the future part of the Brexit process concerning trade and the longer term relationship with the EU.

A recent poll for the Conservative Home website, involving 1128 people, suggested Boris Johnson was now the clear favourite, polling almost a third of party members at 32.4%; up by 10 points on a similar poll two months ago. Boris Johnson’s nearest rival is Brexiteer Dominic Raab, the former Brexit Secretary, who polled 14.7%.

The reality is, if Boris Johnson becomes the next Prime Minister, it would be a disaster for Scotland and the Scottish Conservatives, who know this will would do serious damage to their party’s prospects.

I also think quite a few Scottish Conservative voters would balk at Boris Johnson becoming Prime Minister due to his antics and gaffe-prone reputation.

Having a Brexiteer as Prime Minister would shift the UK to the right in such a great way that Scotland would be even more politically isolated and that in turn would make independence more likely because the voters would have had enough.

The Scottish Tories need to come to terms with the fact that the UK Union is no longer what it was and that the ‘pre-2014 Britain’ no longer exists. Scotland needs political independence as we need to break up the old Union, which does not work with devolution, to have the freedom to be the kind of country we want to be without having unwanted policies imposed on us by Westminster.

There will always be Tories in Scotland, even in an independent Scotland. The Scottish Conservatives could adapt and reposition themselves away from the UK party and become an autonomous sister organisation. The Scottish party should be a distinctive entity and have a relationship to the UK party, perhaps like the structure the Scottish Green and Green Party currently have.

The Tories could work together as a new union of independent sister party organisations across the four nations as equals cooperating on an equal footing, while the Scottish Conservatives control their own destiny.

The alternative is that Westminster’s behaviour and policies will continue to cost the party in Scotland further votes. It would also mean Ruth Davidson will continue to flip flop as she attempts to balance Scotland’s interests with the rest of the UK’s despite their increasingly divergent paths. It is a question of which is worth conserving.

The Scottish Conservatives claim to belong to a modern, centrist party. I challenge the Scottish Tories to stand up to the right-wing extremists – including the ERG – who have hijacked the party and are actively seeking to asset strip the UK and profit from other people’s misery. Will they act? Or, will they, like Theresa May, simply continue to appease the disaster capitalists of the right? For all her professed moderation, Ruth Davidson has offered no opposition to this radicalisation and it is time that she did.

Regardless of which political party we affiliated to (or none), it is clear we face an urgent and immediate choice. Do we want to live in an isolated society under a selfish Government that looks for any excuse to not support disabled or vulnerable people and favours the rich? Or an inclusive and supportive society where together, we can work for the removal of barriers to people’s economic, social, and civic inclusion, and to promote our rights, choices and voices, as full and equal citizens?

Here in Scotland we are fortunate to have an alternative to the insular and exclusionary state proposed by the Conservatives. We can take action to protect Scotland’s traditional liberal values of freedom, tolerance, equality, and individual rights. It is my firm belief that Scotland is better out of the UK and in the EU because of the values Scotland shares with Europe: welcoming, progressive and outward looking. The increasingly safe and sensible choice, indeed, the only choice, is for Scotland to remain at the heart of Europe, independent and in control of our own destiny.

Published in the National | 2nd June 2019