It’s ancient history now, but there was a time when the Conservative and Unionist Party won 50.1% of the vote in Scotland at the 1955 UK general election. The map of Scotland was almost solid blue with some red splashes in places like Central Scotland and the Western Isles. They had 36 out of 71 seats, just two more than Labour. The SNP won none.
Where I grew up in East Renfrewshire, a Tory MP was considered the natural order of things. It stayed that way for many years, and many elections. On that true blue patch it was not considered trendy to join the Young Socialists. I may have represented a quarter of the membership. Or perhaps a sixth. Maybe because Tories in these days were many strange things, as you might suppose, but they were also Scottish. In the shires they were be -tweeded and pearled, but they had a working class presence too. They may have appeared an alien species in many minds, but they knew how and when to play the Scottish card. The late George Younger, when Secretary of State for Scotland, threatened to resign if Margaret Thatcher closed the Ravenscraig steelworks. He did not lack brownie points in Lanarkshire for that.
Compare and contrast, as they say, today’s Tory rump. Jackson Carlaw remains a household name in his own household, and maintains a kneejerk loyalty to the gospel according to the Prime Minister. Even when the latest tablets of stone from Number 10 deny the presence of a Scotland England border and in the face of the most devastating of post Brexit threat to the devolution settlement – coming shortly to a courtroom near you.
This is all of a recent pattern. When the blessed Ruth Davidson was at the helm, the Scottish Tories managed to muster 13 seats, which was, as it happens, one more than Theresa May’s notional Commons majority once she’d bought up the DUP’s seats. That gave Davidson’s troops the power to advance Scotland’s interests in the Tory cabinet, but I’d be hard pushed to recall it ever being deployed.
The fact that the 2017 election defenestrated two of the Nationalists’ heavyweights in Salmond and Robertson, and that the SNP lost 21 seats may have given the Tories a false sense of their current importance. Losing a less than magnificent 7 just 18 months later, should have been a wake up call. Though not if you’re sound asleep at the wheel. Which brings me back to Mr Carlaw, a man who has garnered more enemies behind his own lines than elsewhere. In recent weeks there have been ample opportunities for a party which has traditionally enjoyed solid support from many in the farming and fishing communities to fight their corner at Westminster. To be Scottish MP’s, not Tory MP’s who happen to sit for Scottish seats.
There was the amendment put down in the Commons to protect farming welfare and production standards from any rogue trade deal which might damage and undercut them. It would have upgraded weasel words into binding legislation. Every single Scottish Tory voted it down.
There was the nonsense over the border, part of an ongoing attempt to persuade us that Britain and the UK are but one single national identity, a palpable lie which gets too often repeated by lazy broadcasters. Did you hear the Scottish Tories rise up in protest? Me neither. Curiously, a former Tory strategist was quoted yesterday as suggesting that borders/hard borders was a good hot button issue for the party. More like an inclination to fight the 2014 war all over again with old campaign weaponry, methinks.
But most egregious of all has been Mr Carlaw’s response to the naked attempt to hole Holyrood below the water line, by passing a law bringing in a single UK single market from January. And having a Westminster appointed body deciding what Holyrood lawmaking to permit. An outrageous piece of daylight constitutional robbery by the Brexit ultras. Is Jackson bovvered? Nutatall. His take is that it would be bad for our producers to have different standards than obtained in England. So, if I understand his reasoning, if Westminster’s “finest” do a deal which involves accepting dodgy food processes and currently illegal animal welfare standards, we should meekly go with the flow?
It’s difficult to remember a time when our future lay at the mercy of so many ill equipped chancers and charlatans. My theory as to why the appalling Cummings holds so much sway in the Johnson administration is not that they’re all feart of him – though they probably are – but in a land of political pygmies having two brain cells to rub together makes you a standout. Never have so many risks been taken by so few people of merit and talent. All of the once great offices of the land are occupied by intellectual minnows to whom some previous Conservative grandees would have struggled to give the time of day.
Their ideological fixation with Europe didn’t only propel them into jobs for which they could hardly be more ill equipped, but lit employment time bombs under the future of those whose wellbeing they are supposed to be representing. The Conservative government was offered a transition period to get some kind of post Brexit act together and spurned it. Just as they spurned a Europe wide ventilator scheme in the early days of the pandemic. Just as they have now set their face against an EU push to make any viable vaccine widely available.
Their reason: if they signed up to that it would prevent them doing their own deal. Imagine if you will some very big Pharma with a global reach musing that they would rather do a deal with Little Britain, than mega Europe. I would laugh if I wasn’t too busy weeping.
It’s difficult to try and understand the mindset of a Scottish Tory voter, never having been one. Nevertheless, permit me to offer their parliamentary representatives a modicum of free advice. If they persist in failing to defend Scotland’s interests; if they continue to give simpering obeisance to a UK government hell bent on doubling down on economic chaos and carnage, then they will reap an electoral whirlwind.
And they’ll deserve to.
FIRST PUBLISHED IN THE NATIONAL 13.7.20