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The Scottish Tories have a chance to make themselves relevant at last. Will they be bold enough to take it?

3 April 2014

Like everyone else, I’ve often been mean about the Scottish Conservative and Unionist party. I recall suggesting they were the worst, most useless political party in the world. Fushionless and quite possibly beyond redemption.

But hark this shipmates, something is afoot and there are, titter ye not, modest grounds for modest optimism in Tory circles. After what was, I think it fair to say, a steep learning curve in her early days as leader Ruth Davidson is coming into her own. She has a poise and a stature that was not apparent even a year ago. The party’s recent conference in Edinburgh was a success and her speech her best since becoming leader.

Why, the Tory vote has even been nudging upwards in local council by-elections. A thin reed upon which to trust your life, perhaps, but drowning men have few options and must make the best of whatever’s available.

But, actually, the Tories are not drowning. Not any longer. They have not made much progress but they have made some. Not, true, in national elections but they are better positioned now than at any point in recent years.

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Thanks to Alex Salmond, with an assist from Johann Lamont. The independence debate has galvanised the Scottish Tories. That’s the subject of my column in The Times today.

Nearly twenty years of craven self-abasement won the Conservatives few friends and little respect but they need no longer, like Uriah Heep, be “ever so ’umble”. They have a cause to fight for and a chance to be part of the national conversation. They can be out and proud at last. This is progress. Real progress.

Next month Lord Strathclyde’s commission will deliver the Tory response to the independence gauntlet thrown down by the SNP. It is a chance the party cannot afford to miss. Labour’s reluctant, half-hearted, half-baked proposals for further devolution have helped to forge an opening for the Conservatives. “This is such an obvious opportunity,” warns one senior MSP, that “it would be a calamity if we decided not to be bold.” No pressure, then.

The Tories have been functionally irrelevant for so long that it is dizzying to think that they now risk raising expectations too high. Lord Strathclyde must deliver a package offering real change that satisfies Scottish ambitions while cementing its place within the Union. The party is at last ready to accept meaningful reform. Anything short of that will be a lamentable failure made worse by it being so easily avoidable.

That means offering what might be termed “real home rule”. Labour’s response to the nationalist challenge was transparently self-serving. Granting the Scottish parliament power to increase income taxes but withholding the power to cut them is utterly illogical and a good way to drive wealth from Scotland.

Hence the Tory opportunity to offer something better. Not, insiders insist, as a “tactical ploy” or an attempt to “buy off voters” who might otherwise vote Yes but because it is a chance to make Holyrood a real parliament at last.

A parliament that can spend but cannot tax is only half a parliament. No wonder it lacks accountability. The answer to every problem is only and always more money. And when the Tartan Money Tree fails to produce enough cash it is easy to blame London, not Edinburgh, for Holyrood’s shortcomings.

Whole thing here. Strathclyde’s proposals are an opportunity to bring adult politics to Holyrood. Which, in turn, would allow the Tories to offer a proper centre-right, tax-cutting alternative. And that leads, at last, to talking about something other than the constitution. It means making better use of the powers the parliament enjoys now as well as those to come. It means we can have proper arguments and perhaps, if we are lucky, some proper solutions too. Everyone else in the parliament offers an echo, the Tories can offer an alternative. A real choice. We can do better than this.

Sure, they’re not going to win an election any time soon. That’s not the point. But winning arguments is the first step. Seats may follow. Even if they don’t, there’s value in owning your own Overton Windows.

In truth, the death of Tory Scotland has always been somewhat exaggerated. True, one Westminster MP is a feeble state of affairs but there remain several hundred thousand Tory voters who have stuck with the party at a time when doing so was neither popular nor profitable. But everyone, I think, accepts there are many more Tories out there than people actually voting Conservative at election time. They just need some good reasons to return to the fold.

Salmond, Lamont and Davidson are each in their different ways helping create some of those reasons. Recovery will still be a long, slow process but there is an opportunity here. Moreover, it is one the party is minded to grasp. Never forget that at the last leadership election 40% of voting members were prepared to euthanise the party and start again. The party is a little more imaginative, even progressive, than sometimes thought.

But this is an opportunity they cannot afford to miss. This is the first time in god knows how long they have the chance to help set the agenda. It would be nice if they didn’t make an almighty, Van Vossenesque, hash of it.

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Show comments
  • weescamp

    The only way the Tories will ever become relevant is when they admit Thatcherism has destroyed UK industry and reject their idiotic neo-liberal economics ideology.

  • Michael Macdonald

    Being neither a Tory nor a Scot means that this has no impact on me personally but if the Conservatives are to become more than a Party of Southern England then the

  • JPJ2

    Ruth Davidson is so wonderful :-) :-)
    She finished FOURTH to the SNP victors with 7.5% of the vote in the constituency in which she stood for election for Holyrood in 2011!
    She was saved only through the PR electoral system opposed by her party and elected to the Scottish Parliament also opposed by her party.
    Another leader of another Tory Scottish surge that will NEVER COME!

  • JPJ2

    The idea that the Tories will credibly offer Scotland more powers than their unionist allies in the Labour Party is utter fantasy.

  • allymax bruce

    Corbie: could a’ liv wi masel
    (witnessing Liz)
    by allymax

    could a’ liv wi masel
    knowin a’ voted no the day afore
    could a’ liv wi masel
    no closin thon door

    the doubtin the hatin
    the cringin n’ wrath
    why dae a’ always pit blocks in ma path

    a’ could’ve voted yes
    a’ could’ve cheenged everythin
    just once firever
    a’ wid’ve been happier
    bein me in ma skin

    yes ma life is dark
    but no ma ither me lives in hate
    yes a’m a cringer
    yes but no a’m a day too late

    could a’ liv wi masel
    could a’ liv wi masel
    could a’ liv wi masel
    if a’ voted no

    All Rights Reserved to allymax
    Last Post Productions

  • Auldreekie

    ‘The [Scottish Conservative] party’s recent conference in Edinburgh was a success….’

    You can see photographs of this ‘success’ – taken at the high point of the Leader’s speech – here:

  • allymax bruce

    I notice Ruth (Corbie) Davidson was slandering Scots men yesterday in Scotland’s Parliament; calling Scots men ‘negative angry men’ !
    Get lost you wench; nobody voted for you !

  • terence patrick hewett

    Apropos of nothing at all, on 14th Sept. 2009 I Googled:

    Hate the Scots 644,000 hits Love the Scots 2,740,000 hits

    Hate the Russians 1,380,000 hits Love the Russians 3,330,000 hits

    Hate the Welsh 1,590,000 hits Love the Welsh 9,730,000 hits

    Hate the Germans 1,830,000 hits Love the Germans 4,590,000 hits

    Hate the Irish 8,170,000 hits Love the Irish 48,400,000 hits

    Hate the Americans 34,600000 hits Love the Americans 53,400,000 hits

    Hate the French 61,900,000 hits Love the French 223,000,000 hits

    Hate the English 85,000,000 hits Love the English 663,000,000 hits

    Everybody is loved more than they are hated.

    The English are the most hated and the most loved. The Scots are the least hated and the least loved.

    • Wessex Man

      I think you should get out more.

      • terence patrick hewett


    • Damon

      “Love the Germans 4,590,000 hits.”
      The most disturbing thing I’ve read on here for years.

  • Auldreekie

    No: this is fantasy. The only way there would be any sort of noticeable revival in right-of-centre politics in Scotland would be sometime in the future, in an independent Scotland, with a party which had long since abandoned all links with Westminster government. This would be one or more generations hence. There is just no potential for revival of the Scottish Tories fortunes in the forseeable future; there is no evidence that people outside the party are paying any attention to them. The combination of lack of talent, the legacy of Thatcherite spivs, the landowner faction, and the reputation of serving the English interest is, as current jargon has it, toxic.

  • rjbh

    Ruth Davidson A product of Buckhaven high school, just like Hendry McCleish, alas dear Ruthie, if only you could harness the effections that people had for auntie Bella.

  • Kennybhoy

    Absent electoral reform the Conservatives in Scotland are f****d!

    For the umpteenth umpteenth umpteenth time…

    I Kennybhoy, being the Coffee House Returning Officer for Scotland, declare the votes cast in the General Election of May 6th, 2010 to be as follows.

    Labour: 1,035,528 votes = 42 seats
    Lib Dem: 465,471 votes = 11 seats
    SNP: 491,386 votes = 6 seats
    Conservative: 412,855 votes = 1 seat

    Under PR the division of seats would be…

    Labour: 24
    Lib Dem: 11
    SNP: 12
    Conservatives: 10
    UKIP: Maybe 1
    Greens: Maybe 1

    By way of comparison the same phenomenon exists down south in, for example, Yorkshire and the Humber where a two per cent difference in electoral share gives Labour pushing twice the number of seats as the Conservatives ffs!

    Oh and 77.6% of the votes cast were for unionist parties.

    • Jambo25

      Unfortunately, you cannot really see 77.6% of votes as votes for the Union as substantial numbers of voters for nominally Unionist parties are reported to be willing to vote ‘Yes’ in September and a fair number of SNP voters may well be anti-independence. Its not that simple.

      • Wessex Man

        oh thank heavens for that.

    • Doggie Roussel

      So that’s about 2.5 million Scots who bothered to vote and, from that, the wretched Scots are able to have 42 Labour MPs voting in Westminster on English matters….

      The sooner we are shot f the Scotch, the better !

      Give them their miserable rain-sodden fiefdom and let us English be dictated to by representatives elected by ENGLISH voters to the mother of all parliaments.

  • anncalba

    “The worst, most useless political party in the world” – sadly, almost all Scottish politicians, in the Scottish Parliament, in Westminster or local council, of whatever political party, are dire.

    • Jambo25

      As opposed to the English ones who clearly mix the political vision of JS Mill with the ruthless efficiency of Bismarck.

  • asalord

    “Hence the Tory opportunity to offer something better. Not, insiders
    insist, as a “tactical ploy” or an attempt to “buy off voters” who might
    otherwise vote Yes but because it is a chance to make Holyrood a real
    parliament at last.”

    Hilarious. Mr.Massie, if you actually believe that you should contemplate a different occupation.

  • Raw England

    Haven’t you Scots pissed off yet?

  • dougthedug

    Next month Lord Strathclyde’s commission will deliver the Tory response to the independence gauntlet thrown down by the SNP.

    Just to be clear Alex, is this commission a commission which reports to the Conservatives regional grouping in Scotland or is it a report which will be adopted by the Conservative party as a whole?

    I may be wrong but you seem to be confusing the regional wing of the Conservatives in Scotland with the entire Conservative party.

    Until the recommendations of any report produced by Lord Strathclyde are actually adopted as policy by the Conservatives then they are just a regional wish list from Ruth.

    • asalord

      Who, in Scotland, actually believes unionist promises anymore?

      • Michael Mckeown

        The overwhelming majority of people who, according to all polls, will be voting no.

      • Kitty MLB

        And you believe everything Alex Salmond spouts at you,
        because you want to leave the union regardless of whether it’s
        correct or not. Blind loyalty is irresponsible and foolhardy.

        • terregles2

          Kitty I do not trust any politiician that is why I am voting YES. I want the politicians that are making decisions for my country in Holyrood where I can keep an eye on them and vote them out when they disappoint me. They are all worth the watching. Lot’s of people who are not SNP voters are voting YES.

          • allymax bruce

            Agree 100%; I will vote Yes, but not for my local MSP Marco Biagi. Pity really because I want to vote SNP, but at a iReferendum debate last thursday, Marco Biagi came across as a self-serving bobble-headed know-it-all. I didn’t like the way he seemed to sneer at the audience, seemingly to despise anything/anyone who disagrees with his perspective. I also noticed he ‘bowled easy openers’ for Tommy Shepherd (ex Genral Secrtary of the Labour Party!), on introducing the Ultra-Left radical loonies, The Jimmy Reid Foundation, into the iReferendum discussion! I won’t be voting for bobble-head Biagi; I’ll probably vote for Alison Johnstone.

  • Malcolm McCandless

    ………. but who in Scotland believes in Tory promises?

    We do have a poll.

    Only 16% of Scots believe Tory promises on further devolution, funnily enough this is where the Tories roughly stand in the polls

    So the Tories will only be fooling themselves ………… and Alex Massie.

    • Michael Mckeown

      That poll is not concerned with the Scottish conservatives as it was talking about UK party’s.

  • allymax bruce

    “Lord Strathclyde must deliver a package offering real change that
    satisfies Scottish ambitions while cementing its place within the Union.
    The party is at last ready to accept meaningful reform. Anything short
    of that will be a lamentable failure”
    Seriously, if Lord Strathclyde doesn’t back Scottish Independence, then he’s setting the scene for the continued and desperate languish of ‘centre-right’ politics in Scotland. Nothing else will do but to be bold, and grasp the thistle for Scottish Independence.

    • Michael Mckeown

      Anyone that does not back your position clearly has a problem but the trouble with that attitude is that its simply intolerance.

    • Angus_MacLellan

      There is a greater chance of pigs growing wings than Strathclyde advocating independence.

      • allymax bruce

        Just saying.
        I was at a Scottish Socialist Party (SSP), debate on ‘Yes for Scottish Independence’, last night, and the speakers were (SSP), Colin F, Silly Sillars, and a Labour for Radical-Independence candidate. The emphasis was that ‘the Left’ are conglomerating to push the Yes vote over the line! Now, when all Lefties in Scotland come together for a ‘progressive’ policy/ideology like Scottish Independence, then you know it’s a landslide for the Yes vote!
        As I said in my original comment, if Lord Strathclyde doesn’t grasp the Yes4Indie thistle, then we, Scotland, are in for a generation of Left policies; regardless of any Political Party becoming Scottish Government in iScotland.
        Just saying!

        • Kitty MLB

          Another question, Ally- sorry :) If Scotland gets her divorce from us horrible English ,whom you cannot live with any more and reclaims her freedom. Will Shetland also be granted independence from Scotland as
          she has always felt more Norwegian in whom she belonged
          to once a few lifetimes ago.

          • allymax bruce

            Kitty, I think Shetland is an inherent region of Scotland; the Scottish Sovereign Nation-State. As such, Shetland could no more secede from Scotland, than can Liverpool, Manchester, or Bristol from England. It is the 1707 Treaty of Union, between two Nation-States, Scotland & England* that is dissolving, that’s all. It’s not a free-for-all; if that was the case, then I would choose to be a brilliant artist.

            • Kitty MLB

              Thank You Ally, I had been wondering for a while and
              some parts of Scottish history I am unsure of.
              And yes I know, even the curmudgeonly Jambo
              is quite fond of the English really– he just rattles rather a lot.

              • Wessex Man

                Don’t be fooled by Jambo, he certainly isn’t, as for Shetland, thet don’t consider themselves to be Scottish at all and have seriously talked about either independence from Scotland or remaining part of the UK. Google it!

                • Jambo25

                  No they haven’t.

                • JPJ2

                  Complete and utter rubbish re Shetland. Opinion polls have shown that 80% of the people of Shetland wish to remain part of Scotland, and that support for remaining part of the UK even if Shetland votes “No” but Scotland as a whole votes “Yes” is negligible.
                  Unionists are fooling themselves if they think Shetlanders think they have more in common with Essex than Caithness :-)

            • andagain

              I see: “Independence for us but not for them!”

              They’ve got half the oil…

            • anncalba

              An “inherent region of Scotland” – what does that mean? Why is it ok for Scotland to leave the UK but not for Shetland to leave Scotland? You may think Shetland is an inherent? region of Scotland, but many in Shetland do not. Bad Shetlanders, be grateful or get the wrath of the Scots on you.

              • Moderator

                “Why is it ok for Scotland to leave the UK but not for Shetland to leave Scotland? ”

                Because there is no demand for independence from Scotland apart from sht stirring from some english.

              • terregles2

                Because Scotland is a country with our own education system our own church and our own legal system.
                Shetland is an area within Scotland. Try visiting Shetland and ask them about leaving Scotland.

          • terregles2

            Kitty why do you call the English horrible.? People in Scotland are voting to govern their own country. It has nothing to do with being anti English,
            There are English politicans within the SNP and many English people living in Scotland are voting YES.
            As a Sottish person I am voting YES and I am tired of a few English people saying it is because I dislike the English. I have lots of friends and family in England and wish some posters on this forum would stop calling them horrible.

            • Moderator

              Kitty is one of those English who think that they are wonderful and take it personally that Scotland no longer wishes to have any power sharing with them. It therefore has to be anti-english as they are so inbred and cannot see beyond their own mirrors.

          • Moderator

            “she has always felt more Norwegian in whom she belonged
            to once a few lifetimes ago.”

            What rot. A few generations ago is 5 generations before Shakespeare to put it into perspective – utterly remote.

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