Leaked Tory document exposes façade of change

Document encourages officials to "trick" activists into selecting more gay and ethnic-minority candi

I'm amazed that the leaked Conservative document advising local officials on how to "trick" grass-roots activists into selecting more female, gay and ethnic-minority candidates hasn't received more attention. So far the Daily Mail is the only national newspaper to pick up the story.

The document, Action Plan for Candidate Selection in Safe Seats, encourages party officials to use "stealth" and to keep "quiet" over plans to diversify candidate selection. "Like a conjuror, we'll get more applause if the audience cannot see exactly how the trick is performed," it says.

It adds:

Most Tories loathe political correctness and positive discrimination. If one tries to be "in your face" about the fact that positive discrimination is taking place activists are much more likely to rebel; a version of "don't ask, don't tell" is called for.

A point which rather undermines the recent claim by Michael Gove, the author of the document, that opposition to David Cameron's modernising agenda is limited to "one or two backwoodsmen".

Unlike Tony Blair, who relished open confrontation with his own party, Cameron prefers to avoid direct challenges to the Tory grass roots. But as the Joanne Cash affair most recently demonstrated, he is only storing up problems for the future.

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Stop pretending an independent Scotland couldn't join the EU

The SNP has a different set of questions to answer. 

"But Spain", is the common response to a discussion of whether, by voting for independence, Scotland could effectively reverse Brexit. "Disaster for Sturgeon as Spain BACKS May over plans to block Scottish independence vote," declared the Brexiteer's favourite, The Express, this month. Spain, according to this narrative, would unilaterally puncture the SNP's bubble by vetoing readmission to the EU. An independent Scotland would be cast adrift into the North Sea.

I just don't buy it. I have put this question to everyone from former EU member state ambassadors to the former World Trade Organisation head and the answer has been the same: "It can be managed." 

There is also a crucial difference between Spain vetoing Scotland entering the EU, and considering its application on its own merit. Spain is indeed nervous about encouraging Catalonian separatists. But read between the lines. Spain's position on Scotland has so far been to say it would have to exit the EU, become independent and reapply. 

Last time I checked, that's not a veto. And from an EU perspective, this isn't as arduous as it might sound. Scotland's regulations would be in line with EU regulations. It would not upset the balance of power, nor fuel an identity crisis, in the way that Turkey's application did. Spain could justify acquiesence on the basis that the circumstances were extraordinary. And for a club struggling to hold together, an eager defector from the renegade Brexit Britain would be a PR coup. 

Where it is far more arduous is for the Scottish National Party, and the independence movement. As I've written before, roughly a third of SNP voters also voted Leave. Apart from the second-glass-of-wine question of whether quitting one union to join another really counts as independence, Scotland's fishing industry has concrete concerns about the EU. SNP MP Joanna Cherry has observed that it is "no secret" that many Leave voters worked in fishing. 

Then there are the questions all but the most diehard Remain voters will want answered. Would Scotland take the Euro? Would a land border with England be an acceptable sacrifice? Would an independent Scotland in the EU push for reforms at Brussels, or slavishly follow bureacracy's lead? The terms of EU membership for an independent Scotland may look quite different from those enjoyed by the UK.

Rather than continuing to shoot down the idea that an independent Scotland could join the EU - a club happy to accept other small countries like Ireland, Austria and Malta - opponents of the Scottish independence movement should be instead asking these questions. They are far harder to answer. 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.