No Conservative needs to be reminded that the Conservative Party has a problem with Scotland.
Since before the General Election, I have followed what bloggers and politicians have been saying about the causes of the problem and what to do about it but always bearing in mind that the problems of Scotland and Northern Ireland are not the same. Picking out the features of the Scottish problem and applying those parts of it, which are relevant to the Northern Ireland problem is not a straightforward exercise. The exercise is an important one, nevertheless. Back in June, I wrote my first post on this subject.
A few weeks ago, the Sanderson report was completed. Since I published a post in reaction to media commentary, I have had an opportunity to read the full report. Despite the report’s very hard-hitting observations on party organisation and structure, I could not help feeling that the report fell short of proper analysis on the prospects for an Independent Scottish Party.
I am now glad to say that another Conservative with far more knowledge of this subject than me has written a post, which cuts very deep and makes a case to answer for an independent party. He is Blair Murray and his post has been published on Conservative Home.
Murray makes some important observations about where ‘would be’ tories have parked their vote:
“The fact is that there are many centre-Right voters in Scotland who do not vote Tory. In rural areas, particularly in the Highlands, they vote Lib Dem. In the North-East and in urban areas many vote SNP. Indeed, canvassing in previous elections it became clear to me that many SNP supporters would prefer lower taxes, incentives for business and less government regulation. Some of these voters were even ambivalent towards the SNP’s central goal of independence. It is these voters, to the right of Scottish Labour on economic arguments, that we must win in the future.”
Murray also makes very important points relating to the history of the Scottish Unionist Party leading up to the merger with the Conservatives in 1965. An important Scottish political identity had effectively been killed. Murray makes this very important observation about the branding and identity of political parties in Scotland before the merger:
“What all of these have in common is the deliberate avoidance of the term ‘Conservative’, which had always been associated with the English party. The effect of the 1965 merger should be clear for all to see.”
Murray also defends the proposal to give Holyrood greater fiscal autonomy and argues against those who say that it is more likely to lead to Scottish independence.
I totally agree. A look at history might help to understand the Scottish psyche a little better. The Scots were not conquered by England. The first Unionist was a Scot. Somewhere buried deeply in the Scottish psyche is a desire to be seen as having parity with the English.
“All the evidence shows that Scots feel more Scottish than British. Incidentally, the evidence also shows that the English feel increasingly English rather than British. This does not for a moment mean that those who feel more Scottish or more English want the UK to split. Most of us are comfortable with overlapping identities. I, like most Conservatives, am a passionate supporter of the Union. And many of those voters in Scotland who feel more Scottish than British would vote for a party of the centre-Right. They would vote for a party supportive of enterprise and social stability, emphasising tradition and responsibilities as well as rights. At the moment they don’t. Only by becoming like those voters – proudly Scottish but supportive of the UK – will the Scottish Conservatives become a success.”
Identity is a key problem in Northern Ireland too. I make no bones about the fact that it is not easy to persuade a voter who is a unionist to make a journey which leaves behind the comfort zone of a party with a unionist identity. Just reading the exchanges that I have had on this blog with Conservative officials bears that out. It will also be just as difficult to persuade Nationalists to leave the comfort zone of a party with a nationalist identity.
There are three powerful arguments in response to that which lend weight to the theory that the Northern Ireland Centre Right campaign is the right one to break down this paradox. Firstly, a party which is neutral on the constitutional position shortens that journey by half. Secondly, the overwhelming majority of Northern Irish people want an end to sectarianism. Thirdly, a Conservative Regional party which makes that journey from its present position would send a very inspiring powerful signal of leadership to the Northern Irish people.