[box] Oliver Milne [/box]
When you mention Annabel Goldie to people in Scotland the reaction you get its astounding in its positive message and uniformity. In many ways she is seen as the friendly, competent and trustworthy Tory in a region which can hardly be described as a bastion of Conservative values. As the Conservatives battle to elect a new leader I met with her to discuss the last election, her legacy and the future of Scotland
The conservatives in Scotland didn’t fare all that badly at the last election. They lost two MSPs and 2% of the share of the vote but compared to their coalition partners in Westminister, who lost 9 MSPs and saw their vote share collapse by 11%, it can hardly be considered a disaster. But does Goldie agree:
“I felt the result was dissapointing for the Conservatives. We had a very positive vision for the Scottish people based positive political delivery for four years.
However, we were in the jaws of a vicious squeeze. A coallition government in Westminister making cuts which I think are necessary but are not universally popular. I hoped that we would be given recognition for the positive work we had done. I guess that in the context, the Scottish people were looking for someone to stand up for them and not seeing that in Labour and protesting against the coallition parties. It was perhaps predictable that Alex Salmond would do well. That he did as well as he did was perhaps less obvious.”
Following the election Goldie was quick to announce her decision to stand down as leader of the Scottish Conservatives. Surrounding this there were many rumours that the party were forcing her out because of a perceived failure during the election. Goldie however is quick to refute this idea:
“I’m quite a hard judge of myself but I am satisfied the Conservatives fought a credible election came out fighting and produced a credible result. My decision to stand down as leader came as a result of an internal review which would change the role of the leader in Scotland. It seemed a perfect opportuinity to find a new leader with energy and passion to take the conservatives into the future.”
She wouldn’t comment on any of the individuals who were seeking to replace her as leader but we did discuss the idea put forward by the Scottish Conservatives current Deputy Leader, Murdo Fraser, that the Conservatives were a tainted brand and that a new centre-right political party was needed:
“I’m not commenting on the individual campaign, I have however robustly in the past defended the idea of one single Conservative party. I think Murdo is pursuing a very radical and brave proposal. He needs he needs to outline to the membership if that is he wants to do and the justifications for it very carefully.”
Since May the paradigm of Holyrood has changed radically, with the SNP now holding an essentially unquestionable and potentially unaccountable majority, Goldie expressed some very serious concerns:
“Alex Salmond is translating his mandate in the broadest possible sense and extrapolating it as a mandate for independence. I say he has the reponsiblity to get on with governing in light of his devolved responsibility not in light of a vision for independence which is by no means accepted by the Scottish people”
Goldie is a very passionate defender of the Union, when asked about what, in her opinion, was the biggest issue facing Scotland her response was obvious but well reasoned:
“The constitutional question is the overshadowing issue. I think the broad trend of opinion strongly suggests their isn’t an appetite for independence.
This issue is dominating Scottish life, it is dominating the Scottish Business community. I think it is effecting people decision on investment and business practise. And as a result I think we need to get an clear answer to the constitutional question before we can begin to get stability into the economy.
I think it becomes a problem when you ask if people want a beefed up Scottish Parliament within the United Kingdom. I think it will be difficult for people to make a judgement upon. I think it is easy to be attracted to a compromise position without understanding its consequences and it may end up not putting the issue to bed.”
When we discuss the issue of selling the Union she becomes animated and combative, seeking to dispel the myths as unionism as simply the boring status quo:
“Alex Salmond turns around when you question independence and says you are doing down Scotland, I don’t buy that.
I think you can be positive in saying I’m proud of Scotland’s workforce, culture and history but I’m also proud being part of the United Kingdom. I was born in Scotland, educated in Scotland and have been privileged to serve in the Scottish Parliament. I will take every opportuinty to put forward a positive 21st century argument for Scotland and its place in the Union.”
This criticism of Salmond and his SNP Government doesn’t stop at the proposed independence referendum, in fact Goldie argues that the SNP in their relentless pursuit of more powers and greater autonomy could be damaging Scotland’s economy. In particular she felt the SNP’s “obsession” with Corporation Tax was distracting from the issue at hand:
“If you persist in talking about powers you don’t have the overall effect is zilch. I mean we know that if Corporation tax is devolved that it may over 20 years create 23,000 jobs. However in 4 years alterations to Business Rates would create 40,000 jobs at half the cost.
Alex Salmond says he believes in lowering the tax burden on business, something which I wouldn’t disasociate myself from politically, then why doesn’t he cut Business Rates? ”
With the future of the the Conservatives and the United Kingdom at a crucial turning point in the next few years it is difficult to see how Goldie and the new Conservative leader can shape the Scotland of tomorrow in their image. However, they’ll put up a valid fight and regardless of its outcome you can be sure their efforts will be solid Goldie.