Monday, 4 October 2010

Scottish Tories look for a braveheart

At the Scottish Conservative reception this evening David Cameron sounded more like an insurgent than a Prime Minister. "I will stand with you, I will stand for you," he told a packed, if undersized, hotel suite. For a moment he was a veritable Mel Gibson/William Wallace for the Scottish Tories.

The talk was, as usual, about the conundrum of the Scottish Tories - how do they get elected? The man they're all looking to for the answers, Lord Sanderson of Bowden, who is conducting an internal review of the party, was in the room. But he maintains a solemn silence until he pronounces later this month.

Annabel Goldie, the Scottish leader, is the target of internal discontent but, believe me, she won't be moved easily unless there is a disastrous performance next May.

And why should she go? Goldie made quite thoughtful speech today about Scotland and the Big Society - the Phillip Blond concept of civic society taking the place of state provision which Cameron has grasped.

It's strange how ideas that the Tories can pick up and the national press will run with in London just don't get any traction in Scotland because they come from the Tories.

Goldie, who is facing a fight to stay on as Scottish leader unless the Tories improve their Scottish showing, acknowledged her ideas would be treated with hostility but she pledged to lead the debate on reforming public services.

She suggested that voluntary organisations and third sector organisations should have a "right to bid" for a proportion of all social services and that councils be given financial incentives to contract out.

She said: "Scotland needs to drag itself into the modern world when delivering public services. No longer can we be stuck in the obsolete socialism of the seventies."

Most of Scotland will disagree with the idea that the state and local councils should play a smaller part in helping the vulnerable in society. But, considering that government budgets are going to be squeezed hard over the next few years, then there has to be some kind of innovative thinking going on about delivering local authority services

Raising the council tax - which seems to be as "inevitable" for Scottish Labour as the cuts are for the Con-Lib Dem coalition - shouldn't be the only solution on the table.

There are parts of what Goldie said that would fit into an Ed Miliband speech, but not an Iain Gray speech, which is a shame because Gray himself has lots of experience in what the third sector can deliver at a national and international level.

There's a whole other argument about the Big Society, a basically communitarian concept the Conservatives have mistaken as a right-wing idea. It's so not.

The so-called Big Society is writ large across Scotland where people have taken over local shops, post offices, petrol stations and whole landed estates. Here it's called the local community and it's what the Left should naturally support and organise around. It would be neglectful of Labour, particularly Scottish Labour, to cede that territory to the Tories.

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