Conference: Tories’ independence dividend

Conference: Tories’ independence dividend
Conference: Tories’ independence dividend
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ruth-davidson.jpg
Without devolution would Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson have
a job in politics? IMAGE: STOCKPIX.EU

Scottish news: Conference: Tories’ independence dividend

Analysis by Andy Mackie

The party conference season is in full swing and the Conservative party took centre stage this week. The early part of the week was dominated by the Scottish Conservatives and their leader Ruth Davidson’s provocative characterisation of Scotland as a nation of benefit ‘junkies’. A statement that even Michael Forsyth questioned.

Beyond the pleasantries, one of the main features of the conference was the extensive use of the Union flag and exhaustive ‘better together’ rhetoric from the platform and across social media. Pretty much as you would expect from the party most strongly identified with Unionism.

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Unlike the Scottish Labour Party who are now self-identified as a Unionist party the Conservatives campaigned against devolution and even their official name in Scotland contains the word Unionist. Yet, ironically, it was the very establishment of the Scottish parliament that they campaigned against, along with proportional representation, which saved them as a political factor in Scotland.

If Holyrood did not exist the Conservative representation on the national stage would comprise of a solitary Westminster MP. Without proportional representation, another innovation the party has railed against, their quota of MSPs would be substantially reduced further.

Now looking forward to what a post-independence Scotland could look like politically it is the very party that is most strenuously opposed to the concept that could be the biggest winners. The toxic Tories label still hangs around the neck of the party in Scotland, preventing substantial electoral gains. Yet scratch below the surface and many Scots are conservative with a small c in their views and could quite easily support a centre-right party minus the Thatcher baggage.

Murdo Fraser recognised this in his 2011 leadership campaign and proposed re-branding the party. It was too much of a leap of faith for the rank and file and the younger but more traditional Ruth Davidson triumphed. Any cutting, or even loosening, of ties with the UK party was unthinkable for many in the party but it is difficult not to conclude that it would be beneficial.

Some Conservatives in Scotland may have thought, indeed may still think, that they can ‘wait it out’ until the residual Thatcher-inspired hatred subsides in Scotland. The problem is that it shows no signs of abating any time soon. How many people in Scotland agree with Conservative policies but claim they could never vote Tory because their dad/mum/grandparents would disown them? A whole generation of voters exist who were not even born when Thatcher was Prime Minister yet they have had it drummed into them by their parents that they can never forgive the Conservative party.

Similarly politicians such as Davidson and Gavin Brown are tarred with the toxic Tory brush despite being at school through the Thatcher years and regardless of their personal qualities and standing.

So, if devolution rescued the Conservative party as a political force, albeit marginal, in Scotland it could be their nightmare scenario, an independent Scotland, that makes them a substantial political force once again.

Imagine a renamed and reinvigorated centre-right party in Scotland free from the shadow of Thatcherism and free from the image, real or imagined, of millionaire home county Tories imposing legislation on Scotland. Such a party could be a serious player in an independent Scotland. Or the party could get what it wants, the status quo with the Conservatives as hated as ever north of the border and gaining little more than a token elected presence.

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