16 May 2010

Two Visions of the Scottish Tories

Was there an election on the other week? If you were a Scottish Tory, you'd have struggled to notice. They went into the campaign with one seat, and 15.8% of the Scottish vote at Westminster. They go into this Parliament with one seat and 16.7% of the vote. Oh dear.

David Mundell managed to increase his majority, but the Tories did have 11 seats on their shopping list. Their vote actually went down in neighbouring seat (and top target) Dumfries & Galloway. John Lamont, who fought Berwickshire, Roxburgh & Selkirk in 2005 and has been the MSP for Roxburgh & Berwickshire since 2007 couldn't even manage a 1% swing against Michael Moore. Their hope of moving from third to first in Edinburgh South was dashed when they lost votes there, and they at least managed an increase in their vote in Edinburgh South West, but still saw a net swing to Alistair Darling there, and with a net 3.2% swing to Jim Murphy in East Renfrewshire, the Tories in East Renfrewshire failed to produce a 'Portillo Moment'. There was even a swing against the Tories in Stirling (how many disabled people did Anne McGuire have to sack to lose this seat?), while the SNP increased its majority in Angus and Perth & North Perthshire. It was the LibDem-held seats - Argyll & Bute and West Aberdeenshire & Kincardine - that provided the Tories with their best results on the 'hit list': swings of 2.7% and 4.9% respectively. Not great.

But then, the premise of the Tory campaign was - and let's not mince words here - utter shite. Its basis appeared to be that England was going to vote in a Tory Government, so the Scots might as well jump on the bandwagon.

But Scotland chose not to jump on the bandwagon. Scotland's support for Labour may have waned somewhat in recent years, but it seems as though there was a collective decision to hold onto Nurse for fear of something worse. And so, with the LibDems coming third in Scotland, England and Wales, and the Tories coming first in England, second in Wales but fourth in Scotland (and with UCUNF coming fourth in Northern Ireland with a sum total of no seats), it's clear that Scotland has been decidedly less enthusiastic than other parts of the UK about the coming Government. And those suggesting that the Coalition has an enhanced mandate when you add the LibDem and Tory figures together might do well to bear in mind that the combined total of the two parties' votes in Scotland is still less than Labour's total poll. The combined votes of the Coalition might well have come first in England and indeed in Wales, but it still came second in Scotland, so the 64% of Scottish voters who voted for someone other than the governing parties might well have differing views of the constitutional niceties of the UK, but you can, I think, forgive them some wariness at what they see emerging from Westminster.

And, let's face it, the Cameron-Goldie combination has not set the heather alight: its vote increased by a paltry 1% in the Westminster elections; it went down 1% in the European elections; barely moved on the Holyrood Constituency vote and fell by 1.6% on the Regional vote. So it's a given that the Tories as they are presently constituted do not resonate in Scotland.

So the Tories have not got off on the right foot with Scotland. And given the circumstances we find ourselves in, the Tory-led Government has to take some ugly, ugly decisions which will reverberate. A government that isn't popular anyway is going to have to take steps which will make it even less popular.

Which brings us neatly to 2011. With Annabel Goldie not setting the heather alight, and with the sole Tory MP David Mundell being given the job of Minister of State at the Scotland Office - essentially the guy who gets Danny Alexander's coffee, and remember that Alexander was basically Nick Clegg's typist (well, I'm applying some dramatic licence there, but probably not all that much) - the Tories are surely in real trouble to hold on to what they have next year.

For example, the Tories have three seats in Mid Scotland & Fife. It is not beyond the realms of possibility that they could lose one of them. Boundary changes in the North East given them an extra Regional seat there - an unpopular Tory Government at Westminster could put that at risk. And Ken McIntosh's re-election prospects in Eastwood probably look a little brighter now than they did a fortnight ago. And if the Tories were to lose their seats in either Central Scotland or Glasgow - it's not impossible - then it would be a calamity: they'd be the first of the Big 4 parties to find themselves with full Regional gaps in their Parliamentary team. Until now, all of the Big 4 have managed at least one seat in every region, in every election. A growing hostility to David Cameron could end that next year.

But there's one problem with that analysis: it's based on the Coalition being a disaster.

What if the Coalition exceeds expectations? And let's be honest, that isn't hard.

We all talk about the hostility to Margaret Thatcher, but we forget that one month after she entered Downing Street for the first time (though in those days she had 22 Scottish MPs), the Tories 'won' the European Election in Scotland, and despite losing a seat overall in 1983, it was 1987 when they lost half their Scottish seats and the slow death of Tory Scotland began, culminating in the 1997 annihilation. In short, it took eight years for real hostility to creep into proceedings. Perhaps the first sign of trouble was surely the 1984 European election, but even that served only to bring Tory support down to the level that would have been reasonably expected at that time.

What if the Coalition makes itself look responsible? What if that gives the Tories new credibility?

Then it's a whole new ball game. An extra set in Lothian? Why not? Finally unseating Roseanna Cunningham? Why not? Coming through the middle in Stirling? Why not? Winning Dumfriesshire? Again, why not? A relevant Tory party? It's not impossible.

The Coalition that poses so many risks for the Tories also affords so many opportunities if they know how to act on them.

But despite the noises made by David Cameron on Friday, I don't think they will. The Tories have been out of office for 13 years, the Labour Government looked tired and out of ideas, yet the best reaction the Tories have had in Scotland over the last few years appears to be, "Ummm... Naaahhhh!"

Even if they don't turn it into outright hostility, I just don't think the Tories are capable of advancing. The Scottish HQ is moving into the Edinburgh North & Leith Constituency Association. The candidate in East Renfrewshire is talking about the party changing. Norman Tebbit wants to cut it loose from the UK organisation altogether.

That's not a party that's ready for any advance. I suspect the darker vision for the Tories is closer to the immediate future.


Andrea said...

I think that maybe they need a big turnover in their Holyrood's faces. The current team doesn't seem to impress anyone (ok, Goldie is often well regarded by the press' commentators, but she hasn't "won" a bloody election yet!)

Will said...

Well, Andrea, if the reshuffle is anything to go by, you're being proven right today...

neil craig said...

Bearing in mind the mess we are in & that both Tories & LDs are committed to cuttin CO2 & windmillery for ideological reasons I doubt if the sort of massive success (ie Irish style growth rates & no tax rises) is an option. While less could still be a success, particularly if Labour implodes, I doubt if it could be the game changing success needed.