Current Affairs Politics

The Scottish Unionist Party?

With the news that some in the Conservative Party in Scotland want to re-brand the political grouping as a non-Tory, centre-right Scottish Unionist party, Joan McAlpine offers up some pertinent comments in the Guardian:

‘It gives a whole new meaning to the “Vote for me and I’ll resign,” approach. The campaign slogan of Murdo Fraser, the frontrunner to lead the Conservatives in Scotland, appears to be “Vote for me and we’ll all resign”.

The deputy leader of the small band of Tories at Holyrood advocates a year-zero approach to reviving the party’s fortunes in Scotland, where they have only one MP and saw their support fall (again) to 12.4% of the regional list vote in the Scottish election in May. If he is elected leader of the Scottish Conservatives next month, Fraser will disband the party, he says, and form a new centre-right party.

Putting the Tories into receivership will go down well with most Scots. But the thin blue line of Scottish Conservative opinion is being tested. The Telegraph, along with the former Scottish secretary Lord Forsyth, describe the move as suicidal, while the Spectator magazine is supportive. David Cameron has maintained a diplomatic silence, but Francis Maude is said to be enthusiastic about a split.

But if a ship is fatally holed below the waterline, can you prevent it sinking by giving it a new name?

There is also a deep contradiction in Fraser’s proposal. He says the new party will reinvigorate and defend the union. Yet he believes that while independence will benefit the Scottish Tories, it will be bad for Scotland.

Since the SNP’s historic landslide in May, the Conservatives, Labour and the Lib Dems have formed a united front to attack the SNP and defend the UK as it stands. The Scots appear unimpressed. A Mori poll at the weekend showed the SNP on its highest ever rating of 49%. More than two thirds, 68%, thought Alex Salmond was doing a good job, giving him a positive rating of +34, compared to -14 for Ed Miliband and -36 for Cameron.

Fraser and his supporters will argue that a separate party has been tried before, and it worked. From 1912 to 1965 they were not called the Tories – let alone “the bloody Tories” – but were an independent Scottish party called the Unionists. They fought and won local council seats in an even more cunning disguise, calling themselves “independents” or “progressives”.

But Scotland has changed. It is more secular, the Orange vote has declined. The empire is gone and with it loyalty to old institutions and the union itself. The SNP’s success in May was not simply numerical, it reflected its ability to reach across society, gaining support from trade unionists as well as business leaders. It has convinced the electorate that it is the only party that will put Scotland’s interests first.

The Tories require more than rebranding and fresh leadership to change their fortunes. The departing Scottish leader, Annabel Goldie, is warmly regarded for her good humour and lack of pretension. During the election she promised Salmond and his Labour rival Iain Gray she would “grab them by the short and curlies”. How we laughed. But we still didn’t vote Tory.’

It seems the Tories are looking at the sort of re-booting in Scotland also contemplated by the Liberal Democrats following on from their troubles at the ballot box. However, it is hard to see how Scottish Tories can disassociate themselves from the London party while maintaining some sort of external links with the British Conservative party as a whole. Indeed both the Tories and the UUP in the North have seen just how problematical that particular balancing act can be – and the hard way.

So, with re-branding in the air how long before the British Labour Party in Scotland jumps on the bandwagon? Or are they too far gone for any such renewal?

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