Feb 04

Conserve the Conservative Party in Scotland…

Lucius Winslow is an MA student at Queen’s University Belfast, who takes delight in being described as a Unionist reactionary, and hardline Tory. He also writes things.

To tweak the old saying slightly, easy to bed and easy to rise might be a fairly apt description of me. Perhaps together they make me wise. Still, the former is hardly relevant (or particularly dignified), but the second is a suitable lead-in. For I was duly tweaked to irritation by this article of Andy Maciver’s.

In sum, his contention is that, 1) the Conservative Party in Scotland is doomed, 2) it needs to be dissolved, and 3) it should be replaced by a new party which may or may not choose to take the Westminster Whip. Oy vey with this shtick again. It all feels sooo 2011. In fairness to Maciver he also talks about wanting a volte-face on the Tories’ policy of opposing further devolution to Scotland. But I don’t want to talk about that today; let’s stick with the Tories (not the worst campaign slogan now that I think about it…).

I mention 2011 because I had assumed that this issue of whether or not to dissolve the Tory Party had been settled with the Conservative Leadership contest to replace Annabel Goldie. This was effectively a referendum on the issues Maciver mentions, with Ruth Davidson being no, and Murdo Fraser being yes. Davidson won, and it wasn’t a close contest.

Yet here we are, still talking about this. And after Davidson’s recent wobble it seems we have to do so.

Although I am not a Scot, I am a Tory, so I take an interest in this fight. And I reject all three of his contentions. So let’s deal with the three points, which are so inter-related there is no real point separating them.

The Tories have an electoral ceiling in Scotland, this is true. It is highly unlikely that they will ever be anything more than the junior party in a Holyrood coalition government, and even that is an aspiration. The ‘toxicity’ of the Tory party, one of Maciver’s key points, probably is partly responsible for this. But toxicity – i.e. a quasi-rational hatred of a party for past deeds rather than current policy – heals in time. Tony Blair and even Ed Miliband have taught us that. Half-baked, insincere window-dressing will not solve this problem, as David Cameron has shown us.

Yes there was Lady Thatcher and all that; because clearly Scottish voters are primarily actuated by the crystal clear memories of an administration which left office 22 years ago… But no, the reason why the Scottish Conservatives are ‘toxic’ (i.e. unelectable) is because they are a right-wing party in a profoundly left-wing part of the country. Why is everyone so surprised that the centre-right can’t win in the centre-left heartlands? Labour have no MPs – at all – in Surrey, Sussex East and West, Kent, and Essex (population roughly equal with Scotland, and forming a contiguous zone in England) – are Labour toxic there?

By this logic parties are ‘toxic’ where they cannot win. This is a curious proposition, being both ridiculous and accurate simultaneously. But back to Tory toxicity in left-wing areas: is this because of some visceral dislike of Tories for past deeds? No, at least mostly not. It probably does stem from visceral dislike, but only because left-wing voters don’t like the present Tory policies and attitudes, just as right-wing voters find left-wing politicians either foolish or evil, or both. So let’s not assume that the Tories can claw their way out of their ceiling by anything other than abandoning their principles, which is patently self-defeating.

But what of the proposition for a new party, as a way of countering the nebulous concept of toxicity? This would take a lot of effort, a lot of expense, and all for a lot of nothing. Because pick any name you like for the new entity, but Labour and the SNP will still call its membership the Tories. And why shouldn’t they given the fact that it will be made up of the very same people? In other words the new body won’t be detoxified in the eyes of the left-wing electorate. But it may just have the effect of alienating the right-wing minority who do vote for it.

So given that the Conservatives or the New Tories are never going to get anywhere in Scotland, it becomes a question of picking unicorns. And personally when it comes to picking unicorns, I’d like to stick with the blue one thank you.

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