Tommy Sheppard | MP for Edinburgh East

Unlike Boris Johnson, the Scottish Conservatives appear to accept democracy should be respected

As regular readers know, I keep a keen watch on what our political opponents are up to. Seeing how the Conservatives present their arguments is critical in determining how best to engage them in the campaign ahead.

I do wonder if maybe they do the same thing. I only ask as last month I argued that it really doesn’t matter who said what in 2014, if the Scottish electorate now elect a new parliament committed to having a referendum, that’s what should happen.

The Tories have been resisting that compelling democratic principle. Until now.  On Tuesday this week I received a glossy A4 leaflet from Douglas Ross and Ruth Davidson. I expect you did too.

It’s a quality item, solid weight of paper, well designed and not too wordy. In fact, I make it 324 words – excluding captions – over two pages. It is what the words say that I found most interesting. The word “Conservative” appears six times. “SNP” appears eleven times. “Referendum” features eight times – mostly in big letters.

To say this was a piece of negative campaigning would be an understatement. It is focused on the question of independence to the exclusion of all else.  Don’t get me wrong. It’s an important question. I firmly believe that whether the people who live here get a fresh choice on how we are governed will be central to the election on May 6th.

But it is not the only thing. What the government has been doing will also be under review. And much as I want Scotland to be a normal independent country, I also think it is incumbent on all parties to say what they would do with the powers they have now as well as fighting for more.

But the most telling phrase of all in this leaflet is this. “But their referendum can be stopped, if the SNP don’t get that majority of seats”. That’s new. All year Boris Johnson has been saying that he will stop a referendum no matter what the Scottish public vote for. Now, it seems, he feels the need to win that argument in a democratic election.

Which begs the question, what happens if the SNP do get a majority of seats? The logic of this Tory leaflet is that the winning party should get their way.  People in other democratic countries will find it bizarre that this should even be a matter of controversy. But here we should rejoice in these democratic shoots appearing in the bowels of the Conservative and Unionist Party.

So, let’s have a fair fight. And let’s all agree to respect the result. I’ll start. I hereby declare that if people elect a majority of members to the Scottish parliament in May who are opposed to a referendum, there should not be one. No ifs, no buts. It will be gone until the people decide otherwise.

There are ten weeks to go and the campaign is gearing up. It’ll be odd, to say the least, to have an election without the door knocking and street campaigning. But we can still have a thorough and respectful debate. After all that has happened, and when there is so much to do, I think most people will want a choice on how our country is governed in the future.

Written for Edinburgh Evening News - 26th February 2021

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