Scottish Tories must confront their woolly mammoths

Scottish Tories must confront their woolly mammoths

by Frankie Hutcheson
article from Tuesday 23, April, 2019

THERE IS NOT just an elephant in the room, but the biggest woolly mammoth imaginable. 

We’re facing the biggest political crisis of my lifetime. Not just in terms of our relationship with Europe, and all the economic and social turmoil that entails, but in terms of the functioning and legitimacy of our parliamentary democracy – and indeed the very survival of the Conservative Party as a future party of government.

Yet the silence is deafening. For the Opposition in Scotland, the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, a stiff upper lip is the order of the day. No one is saying anything, at least not officially. “Nothing to see here, folks” is the line – the least bad option for avoiding the coruscating spectacle of blue-on-blue conflict that has torn apart cabinet, government and local parties in England. Yet in Scotland, even with the farcical EU elections approaching and no prospect of Brexit actually happening, the political crisis is on no official Conservative agenda at Holyrood or in the party’s associations. 

And some party officials in Scotland have even been heard to be quietly congratulating themselves on their party discipline. They think they’ve got away with it. With Ruth Davidson being able to temporarily retire behind an extended maternity leave, the Party has dodged a bazooka.

All this indicates a dangerous and arrogant distance from people in Scotland similar to that which has been laid bare in England. The leadership of the Scottish Conservative Party may all be remainers – for ideological or pragmatic reasons – but the Scottish associations, even as many are dying on their feet, are little different to those in England in their hard Brexit leanings. Not just Conservative voters, but a sizeable tranche of SNP supporters who voted leave, may be less vocal than their English counterparts, but they are no less impatient and angry about how the “establishment” is “stitching up” Brexit. 

In recent days, I have heard Conservative councillors decry the lack of leadership in the Scottish party on Brexit, with uncomfortable parallels to the cowardly stance of Labour and Jeremy Corbyn. I see local activists refusing to turn out and threatening to vote for the Brexit Party; I hear attendance at the forthcoming party conference does not look good. On the doorstep, before Brexit day on March 29th, local issues had dominated, with people prepared to give Theresa May the benefit of the doubt; not anymore. Unsurprisingly, results in the two council by-elections in Scotland since March 29 have been grim for the Conservatives.

Then there is the whispered speculation about the UK leadership contest, which is undoubtedly coming. In particular, if Boris becomes leader and PM, then the question of a split from the UK party is back on the table: Ruth Davidson is out and proud when it comes to her personal and political antipathy towards Boris. Her narrative is clear, she considers him an electoral liability in Scotland. Perceived by many as a Tory toff, Boris signals a toxic throwback to the times before the Scottish party was recast by a young, working-class Scottish lesbian from Buckhaven.

For all the electoral success Davidson’s modernising project has brought Scottish Conservatives, the time is fast approaching when they cannot continue ducking the bazooka – talking about Brexit, building a popular base with or without their etiolated associations and forging their own Scottish identity.


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