Ben Duckworth meets Scottish secretary Michael Moore, a man guarding the political borders as he steers Scotland towards historic changes
Dover House is a quiet, soothing place. The security guard at the entrance has to turn the lights on even though it is already mid-morning. The Scotland Office does not initially appear a hub of activ-
ity. But through an elegant Georgian rotunda, Michael Moore has one of the loveliest offices in Whitehall, a long rectangle overlooking Horse Guards Parade. Lord Byron visited the building to conduct a notorious affair in the early 19th century. Although the current Scottish secretary and former accountant is hardly Byronesque, Moore does enjoy talking about the building’s unofficial “exotic history” as he sits on a sofa in his office.
It is a brief respite from more pressing matters. Moore is probably the last ever Scottish secretary, a point he tacitly admits: “At some point in the future, the time is likely to come where ‘the secretary of state for the nations and regions’, or however it might be described, will be the right thing to do in the circumstances.” It is a policy that he previously supported, and which could come soon, because while Moore works at “showing Scotland off to the rest of the country”, the former accountant declares that his country faces “a historic moment”.
The Liberal Democrat cabinet minister is tasked with promoting his country, liaising with cabinet colleagues to tackle its deep-rooted social problems, and, together with the prime minister, face down the threat to the United Kingdom from a majority Scottish National Party (SNP) government.
On that last responsibility, Moore refuses to
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P o ol label himself as a unionist − “I don’t use that term to describe myself ” − but his main concern is to stop the SNP winning an independence referendum, mooted to take place before 2015. Moore is promoting a ‘third way’. The alternative to the black-and-white choices of unionism or independence is a “modern United Kingdom”. He says unionism is dead. “Every one of the UK-wide parties, whatever journey they’ve been on, has recognised that the old-fashioned, centuries-old version of the UK is horribly outdated and we need to develop it. It’s been done asymmetrically. Wales was done at a different pace, but is now considering what its future might look like. Northern Ireland has special circumstances. England, over time, will find its own voice and how it wants to see that develop, too. Devolution is where it’s at, and nobody is thinking in terms of old-fashioned unionism any more.”
The government’s Scotland Bill, in the committee stage of the House of Lords at the time of writing, provides the framework. The Bill provides Holyrood with £12bn-worth of financial powers, including the ability to set rates of income tax. “It is the single largest transfer of financial powers from London to Edinburgh since the Act of Union,” says Moore. “That is a huge thing. We’ve got Treasury officials working out for the first time, probably in living memory, how to dis-apply a tax in Scotland and pass over half of the income tax arrangements to Scotland. This is a massive change, not just culturally for people in HMRC and the Treasury, but also a major statement from the government, based on ideas that we as Lib Dems were central to developing.” But can this culture change see off the SNP?
As perhaps the cabinet minister with the lowest public profile, Moore knows he cannot compete in the personality stakes with Alex Salmond. So he wants to dispel the idea that this is about focusing on one man who has, so far, seen off many opponents. “This isn’t about personality,” says Moore. “This is way bigger than that. No individual can expect or hope to stitch up the debate for one side or the other. That’s not the Scottish psyche.” He adds: “I certainly don’t think the debate on independence will be won by a couple of politicians slogging it out.”
In fact, Moore is keen to explain that he works well with the SNP. “The Scottish people expect us to be working together on their behalf, not getting in each other’s way.” However well the Scottish secretary and the Scottish first minister get on in their professional relationship, Moore has also been working with his former special adviser and the new Lib Dem leader north of the border, Willie Rennie, on their vision of a future Scotland. Their plan is for a ‘Home Rule Commission’ that will develop the next round of devolution once the Scotland Bill is introduced.
If this all sounds like another dull process rather than a dramatic move to political freedom, Moore seems comfortable with that. “We’ll come up with a set of proposals, but we don’t expect them to be implemented absolutely right away because we will want again to find common ground, develop consensus and then implement.” Details are sketchy at the moment, but Moore attacks Salmond’s “damaging” dangling of the referendum carrot without setting a specific date. “It’s very damaging in terms of the uncertainty it creates. It’s not helpful for business and actually not helpful for lots of other people, either.”
Every one of the UK-wide parties has recognised that the old-fashioned, centuries-old version of the UK is horribly outdated. Devolution is where it’s at, and nobody’s thinking in terms of old-fashioned unionism any more
The future for Scotland heralds further political change. Its current reality is a struggling economy. The October figures showed unemployment in Scotland rising by 7,000. What can Scotland’s secretary do for his nation? Moore speaks of his role being about “getting people talking to the right people” and that he is an “activist” for his country. In the spring of 2012, Moore is co-hosting a national convention on youth unemployment in Dundee alongside work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith and the Scottish Parliament’s secretary for finance, employment and sustainable growth, John Swinney. It casts Moore as a facilitator between Scotland’s two governments to ensure there is progress on its social issues. He explains: “These issues [of unemployment] are deep-seated, and range from the education system to family background – and the experiences of those families – to skills, to the support we provide from a Westminster perspective, and the general health of the economy.”
The Scottish secretary is regularly in contact with Duncan Smith. Scotland’s challenging issues over the high number of people on incapacity benefit has seen Moore focusing on changes to the Employment and Support Allowance and Jobseekers’ Allowance. He wants to act as the early-warning siren for any “particular aspects of the situation in Scotland that they may need to be alerted to”.
Although he shares Dover House with his coalition partner – the only Scottish Conservative MP David Mundell – and the Lib Dems have been reduced to a mere five MSPs in the Scottish Parliament, Moore is emphatic that he is helping his nation. He says: “We’re certainly doing everything we can to make it straightforward for people to make it through
Moore meets China’s Vice Premier Li Keqiang at Edinburgh airport difficult times. By next April, we’ll have 91,000 Scots out of tax altogether. We have increased the state pension substantially and simplified it. We have made much fairer arrangements for helping people through the challenges of rising fuel prices.” He claims that “people get that it’s tough and challenging, but it’s a five-year programme. It’s not something which can be done by a week on Thursday.”
Born in Northern Ireland, Moore grew up in the Scottish Borders town of Jedburgh, attending the local grammar school. He now represents the area as the local MP. As attractive a working environment as Dover House is, he only spends Tuesdays and Wednesdays in London; the rest of the time he is up in Scotland. Half of his ministry is based in Edinburgh.
His experience gained during five summers working in Jedburgh’s tourism office will need to be implemented on a bigger scale when he leads a trade delegation to Brazil in November 2011. The aim is to show Scotland off, so the party will include, among others, whisky, golf, oil and gas industry representatives.
Brazil is a growing economic power and has proved popular with Lib Dems. Nick Clegg led a previous trip in June. What does Moore achieve by heading down there? “As the Scottish secretary in the UK government, we have the entire government infrastructure of the Foreign Office, the UK Trade & Investment and other bodies at our disposal. I’m going there standing on the shoulders of the Foreign Office and using Britain’s presence around the world to open the doors to senior officials and politicians in Brazil, to leading industries in others, and providing the route in for Scottish businesses that would not otherwise get that level of access.”
If he does prove to be the last ever dedicated Scottish secretary, Moore wants to leave behind a constitutional settlement. But he remains in a strange position. He criticises Salmond and the SNP for failing to come up with “hard facts” on how independence will work in practice and details of the referendum’s contents and timing.
But while talking about leaving a legacy of securing Scotland’s place within the UK, the Scottish secretary can’t offer anything concrete on what devolution, post-Scotland Bill, will look like. He is left “making sure Scotland gets its voice”. That voice is still defining itself. ■
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government Where power reallyliesiNTHe
David Cameron may be the prime minister, but those in Westminster are well aware that the power behind the throne is George osborne. He will certainly determine whether Cameron gets a second term, says Simon McGee. Illustrations by Miles Cole
There’s only one name that matters in government today: George, Boy George, Gideon or chancellor, his is the name that people invoke reverently when talking about approval for a policy proposal or solving a particularly knotty problem. On his Treasury shoulders also rest David Cameron’s chances of a second term.
It is frankly hard to overstate the esteem in which he is held. As I wander around the Westminster Village, asking his colleagues in Whitehall or the Commons, or the Spad flunkies who carry the proverbial ministerial bag,
the simple question “George, discuss”, the answers are unanimous.
“Cameron may be chairman, but George is the chief executive,” says one member of the government. “He runs the show,” says a special adviser. “Anything political – anything – needs his approval.” And run things he does, both in Whitehall and in the House of Commons, in a way that few chancellors have ever done before.
For all the Tories’ criticism of Tony Blair-style ‘sofa government’, that basic method of modern governance continues to this day, and Osborne is happily ensconced on one half of the figurative two-seater couch alongside Cameron, with the rest of the Downing Street gang perching on arm rests
Osborne has become the ‘yes or no’ man on so many things. It’s not that Cameron doesn’t have political antennae, it’s just that he trusts George’s more
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Amber Elliott and Caroline Crampton chat to the shadow chancellor about the eurozone crisis, Labour’s optimistic manifesto, George Osborne and Elvis. Photos by Ray Burmiston
It’s a surreal moment when Ed Balls starts singing Elvis at you, especially when he mispronounces the words and uses a dodgy American accent. AnAmericanTrilogy is renamed AnAmerican Tril-ol-ogy. He insists it sounds better that way.
While the King made a living from crooning and shaking his hips at screaming girls, Balls spends his day crowing and waggling his arms at David Cameron and George Osborne. Strangely, his tactics seem to be equally effective in turning up the heat.
Indeed, the prime minister once described the shadow chancellor as “the most annoying person in modern politics”. As the eurozone crisis deepens – and Balls takes every opportunity to suggest that it was Labour that kept Britain out of the euro – it’s easy to see how he might get under people’s skin.
There is an increasingly popular narrative that Balls is the power behind ‘the other Ed’. The shadow chancellor works so closely with the Labour leader that they share office space, staff and co-host press conferences. “They’ve ended up being quite a good double-act,” agrees one senior Labour source.
Earlier, waiting for Balls to arrive, a Labour Party come from the same part of the party, intellectually. I did a Bevan lecture recently which Ed might have done, or Yvette, because we’re all from the… I’d call it ‘visionary pragmatic tradition’. You want to be in government but you also want to change the world.”
It’s indicative of the awkward family photo album that is the top of the Labour Party – two
While Elvis made a living from crooning and shaking his hips at screaming girls, Balls makes his by crowing and waggling his arms at Cameron and Osborne, which seem to be equally effective in turning up the heat. Strangely, his tactics seem to be equally effective in turning up the heat
But, sitting in his Westminster office, the shadow chancellor is in charm mode. “The last time you interviewed me was in the former Met Police commander’s office,” he remembers. “This was Margaret Thatcher’s office from 1974–79,” he says, gesturing around the room. “And Clement Attlee’s (1951-55), Tony Blair’s (1994-97), Michael Foot’s, Neil Kinnock’s… Every leader of the opposition before Cameron, basically.”
He nods: “I lost the election, but I got the office.”
researcher sidled up with a bottle of champagne to be auctioned at a local fundraiser. “I thought I’d come over and get Ed Miliband to sign it. But your Ed will do,” she says cheerily, holding out her pen.
Balls is happy to talk about how close they are. “The truth about me, Ed and Yvette is that we’ve known each other for 20 years,” he says. “We’ve all brothers barely seen in public together, and a husband and wife who both wear the trousers.
But that uneasy dynamic may change. Asked by TheSundayTelegraph if he still wanted to be Labour leader, Balls replied simply: “No.” He also revealed that he’d asked Cooper if she wanted to stand for the top job last year, but she’d decided
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Regulars Letters 5 Diary 6 IndependentonSunday’s Jane Merrick Polling 8 Andrew Hawkins on support for a lobbyists register Blogger writes 9 The idea 10 Musician Feargal Sharkey argues that music has a positive impact on our economy Debate 12 Is international aid a priority? Martin Horwood MP and David Taylor disagree Point of order 13 Gloria De Piero MP Events 14 Ministerial profile 16 Health minister Anne Milton Data 17 MP of the month 18 Steve Rotheram MP
Total Campaigns Public access 20 How to bring voters closer to candidates George Pascoe-Watson on... 21 How the Conservatives are trying to appeal to women Dan Hodges on... 21 Our new columnist highlights Labour’s identity crisis Campaign doctor 22 Drinks with... 24 Occupy LSX campaigner Aaron Peters The art of rhetoric 26 Simon Lancaster takes us on a linguistic journey through time
Features Making history 28 Scottish secretary Michael Moore talks independence and political borders with Ben Duckworth In conversation with Sally Bercow 30 Does the Speaker’s wife still harbour ambitions to be an MP? What does John Bercow really think of her new-found celebrity status? Iain Dale finds out Top 100 political journalists 35 Who’s up and who’s down in our 2011 poll? Find out if your favourite made the list Graham Brady 44 In the midst of the EU rebellion, Rob Wilson talks to the chairman of the 1922 committee about his relationship with the prime minister The real master of government 48 George Osborne holds the Conservatives’ future in his hands. Simon McGee believes the chancellor will be the one to determine whether Cameron gets a second term as leader Ed Balls 52 Elvis impersonator, attack dog or aspiring Labour leader? Amber Elliott and Caroline Crampton talk to shadow chancellor Ed Balls about power on the opposition benches
Total History Cardinal Wolsey 78 David Grummitt explores the rise and fall of Henry VIII’s first chief minister Where are they now? 80 Barry Legg The history of one object 81 The petition of John Wilkes Memorabilia 81 Jim Dobbin MP They were also MPs 82 John Donne
Total Life Book reviews 84 Tristram Hunt MP on Machiavelli and Stephen Hammond MP on Boris Johnson Brought to book 85 Michael Connarty MP My old book 85 Henry Smith MP Religious theatre 86 Playwright David Edgar talks about his RSC Bible play Researchers stories 87 Hinterland 88 Caroline Nokes MP Top 10 merry MPs 89 Lunch with...90 Tony Lloyd MP
Made in Britian 58 Siemens and Total Politics discuss how we can grow the British manufacturing industry, including an interview with Mary Creagh MP
Animal welfare in Wales 70 The Welsh Assembly is now responsible for animal welfare. We discuss with the RSPCA and the Welsh environment minister
Total Politics | December 2011 | 3