More evidence of increased cooperation is already emerging. Tom Elliot MLA has rowed in behind a Conservative spokesman on the environment, endorsing Peter Ainsworth’s view that Labour is not providing enough support for British formers and that more emphasis must be placed on promoting local produce as an alternative to expensive and environmentally unfriendly imports. Meanwhile Sir Reg Empey has stressed a convergence of values between Ulster Unionists and Scottish Conservatives, as the Scottish Parliament’s Tory leader, Annabel Goldie, met him at Stormont today.
The UUP leader used the occasion to reflect on the benefits which Scotland’s devolved government accrues from the lack of an enforced coalition. Of course Empey is right in this respect. Voluntary coalition, albeit with cross community safeguards, offers much more effective government. What is more immediately significant about both statements, however, is that the Ulster Unionist message is being married to the larger, UK wide message of the Tories. “The economic downturn, repairing our broken society, energy independence, environmental challenges”, are issues which are common throughout the Kingdom, and these are the areas on which David Cameron is focussing his rhetoric.
Empey’s conclusion offers a nice synopsis of the thinking behind the proposed realignment,
“With Annabel Goldie I am gravely concerned over the threat posed to the Union by the rise of Scottish Nationalism. The diversity of the United Kingdom is our strength - the pride we each take in our English, Northern Irish, Scottish and Welsh identities. But we are stronger together, within the Union.”
It will be fascinating to see the concrete detail which emerges from the Conservative / UUP Working Group over the next month or so. Clearly though, the process of harmonising the two parties is already underway.