Scottish Conservatives embrace 'new Unionism'

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Scottish Conservatives, still wiping the sweat off their brows after surviving the general election with 25 per cent of the Scottish vote and winning two extra seats, are revived and embracing a 'new Unionism', according to Professor Ross Harper, a former president of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Association.

The movement in the Scottish party was outlined by Professor Harper yesterday in a discussion paper published by the Society of Scottish Conservative Lawyers. He claimed the Conservative vote increased in Scotland due to an appreciation by Scots of the 'sensitivity' of the Government and John Major in particular.

Just what is new in the new Unionism is not clear. Professor Harper is highly regarded in Tory circles in Scotland, and although his publication was presented yesterday as a personal view, it gives an indication of the debate among Scottish Tories as they take stock of Scotland's future constitutional position.

'A new mood, a new sense of purpose and a new understanding' was the party's response to what Professor Harper called the 'validity of charges of insensitivity in the past'.

New Unionism recognised the 'strengths of subsidiarity', that power should be devolved, that Scotland has special needs, and that there should be a continuing flow of government ministries from London and relocations throughout the United Kingdom.

The new Unionism, according to Professor Harper, meant that a Scottish assembly with tax-raising powers that 'left too many unanswerable political problems' was not on the agenda. 'Devolution in these terms is now dead,' he said.

Having ruled out independence, devolution and 'meaningless referendums', Professor Harper appeared to leave the door to federalism still slightly open. 'Federalism is seductive but has its dangers . . . It should neither be adopted nor rejected.'

But he appeared to contradict his own analysis. 'Federalism is an option - but not a viable one at the moment,' he said.

Scottish Tories appear to believe that although no real constitutional change is going to happen, nor anything that will upset Unionism as it exists, something has to be given to the Scots which recognises their distinctiveness.

Earlier this year, Lord Fraser, Minister of State at the Scottish Office, said: 'That task is to ensure that Scotland's distinctive voice is heard, that Scotland's distinctive needs are recognised, and that Scotland's distinctive priorities are met.' According to Professor Harper, that was the 'new Unionism in a nutshell'.