13 May 2007

The Strange Case of the Conservatives

The Conservatives had an odd election: on the one hand, I predicted that they would lose seats, and they return to Holyrood with 17 MSPs compared with 18 in 2003. On the other hand, I predicted that they'd have hardly any influence, and instead they're needed. So needed, in fact, that the other parties practically had to beg the Tories to provide a Presiding Officer.

And so here we are: The SNP have 47 MSPs, plus the two Greens. Labour have 46. Annabel Goldie's actions, and those of her colleagues will make the difference between a First Minister being elected and a First Minister not being elected. They could also make the difference between who is elected.

In many ways, this is the worst possible result for the Tories. A total collapse would have forced a complete re-think of what the Party is for, and how it works. An advance would have vindicated Annabel Goldie completely, provided a morale boost for members, and given them extra momentum. Now, they have that in the South: their seat tally remained the same, but John Lamont did manage to pull off a constituency win in Roxburgh & Berwickshire, and Alex Fergusson surprised most commentators by holding on in Galloway & Upper Nithsdale. However, Murray Tosh failed to win Dumfries (something Derek Brownlee is probably relieved about), and the Party is one MSP short in the North East. Meanwhile, Goldie failed to gain the credibility that McLetchie gained in 2003 by winning a Constituency, and a harsh critic of her leadership, Jackson Carlaw, has been elected on the same Regional List as Bella.

Now, they have had a net loss, but have other signs they can point to to imagine a recovery that isn't necessarily there. The Party might be advancing in Constituencies in the South, but the advance isn't really happening elsewhere. Eastwood saw a hug swing to them, but not huge enough, and in Stirling, once home of Michael Forsyth, the SNP won the seat. The SNP!

Aberdeen South (a seat the Tories gained in 1992) is a LibDem/SNP marginal.The Tories are the only Party in the Big 4 not to have a shout in Edinburgh Central (Tory until 1987 [note - actually only 1983-87]). McLetchie has made Pentlands his own, but the Party have sunk back to 4th again in Edinburgh South (once Michael Ancram's seat at Westminster), though Gavin Brown's election as a Regional MSP might change things. They fell to 3rd place in Edinburgh West, a Tory stronghold until 1997. North East Fife has been LibDem and looks like remaining so for the foreseeable future. Banff & Buchan has been SNP for 20 years since Alex Salmond won it in 1987. The Tories are third in West Aberdeenshire & Kincardine, the successor to one-time Tory seat Kincardine and Deeside. Moray is now an SNP fortress, as are Angus and North Tayside. Argyll & Bute (Tory for a time) has been gained by the SNP from the LibDems; Jamie McGrigor came a distant third. Cunninghame North, once Tory, was won from Labour... by the SNP. They came fourth in Strathkelvin & Bearsden, once the seat of Michael Hirst. They didn't manage to unseat Roseanna Cunningham in Perth, their most obvious gain. So while progress of a sort is happening in the South, it's not happening elsewhere. The old strongholds seem as out of reach as they seemed after the 1997 Election.

And yet, the Tories will blame circumstances for the minor loss this time: they'll say they were squeezed by the Labour-SNP contest. That isn't good enough: the Party hasn't recovered. At least, not yet. And if they don't put in a good showing at the next Westminster Election, they will need to re-consider what they're for. In many ways, that could be the best thing.


Surreptitious Evil said...

Yes, still a bunch of pathetically smug gits. Something drastic is needed.

Jimmy McFawkes? Losing the rest of the Holyrood parasites as "collateral damage" wouldn't make me cry, either.

Anonymous said...

Just a wee point...although the Tories lost Edinburgh Central in 1987, to say it was Tory 'until' 1987 is a bit misleading, because they only won it in 1983 - I think it's been Labour since WW2 (with the exception of the 1983-7 Parliament).

Will said...

Oopsie. Duly noted, I'll leave the error in but link to the correction.