I have to admit some sense of déjà vu on picking up my copy of the Sunday Times yesterday to read the piece penned by Peter Duncan entitled, “New centre-right party can help Conservative cause.” Had I travelled back to 2011, I wondered, when this issue was thrust front and centre of the Scottish Conservative Leadership Campaign by Murdo Fraser and his pledge to launch, “a new party; a new Unionism; a new dawn”?
The idea drew support from members– but not enough. And Ruth Davidson won the leadership with a pledge to maintain the Scottish Conservative Party as a part of the wider UK Conservatives.
Murdo’s arguments for a new party were sound in 2011 – and are echoed in Peter’s piece yesterday. Polling suggests we are losing ground. Polling suggests the UK Party and its leader are not popular in Scotland. Polling suggests we look to lose seats in upcoming elections.
But whereas Murdo’s arguments had merit in 2011 when we had 1 MP, 15 MSPs and 143 councillors, we are, in 2022, in an incomparably stronger position. Yes we have fallen back from our, so far, post devolution high point of 13 MPs in 2017, but we still have 6 times as many than at any time since 1997. Despite predictions of electoral collapse in 2021, in May’s Holyrood election, Douglas Ross matched Ruth Davidson’s record of 31 MSPs- adding 100,000 new Conservative votes across Scotland. People are still voting for us, as they have shown in multiple local by election wins in 2021. And we now have 276 councillors and are in administration in 6 local authorities across the country.
I do not question that Peter’s case is heartfelt and has the future of Scottish Conservatism at its heart. But to suggest, as he does, that we do not already have a ‘grown up relationship’ with the UK Party is to ignore the evolution in that relationship over the past decade.
As the Scottish Party has shown on its strong position against vaccine passports, its support for free prescriptions and tuition or its support of drug consumption room pilots, Douglas and the Holyrood Team already have the autonomy and flexibility to develop policies that are best for Scotland, whilst also having the benefit of being part of a wider Conservative Party organisation- allowing its influence to be felt at the heart of Government, in various departments, in Downing Street and indeed, at the Cabinet Table.
I can of course see the appeal of a separate Scottish party when times get rough, but I simply cannot foresee a time when any separate party would consider withdrawing its support for a Conservative Prime Minister or Government in favour of another, and so to the Scottish electorate, we would still remain “The Tories”, which would defeat the whole object.
Instead, what we must do with renewed vigour, enthusiasm and positivity is make the case for Conservatism in Scotland, within the UK. A strong, autonomous party, championing freedom, for a lower tax burden on working Scots, standing up for business, supporting our local communities and effectively challenging the woeful SNP record on schools, the NHS, local infrastructure and broadband. Whilst all the while, demonstrating the immense benefits of our remaining a United Kingdom.
Because ultimately the Conservatives remain the only party truly able to stand up for the majority of Scots that want our country to remain together.
We do not do that by dividing ourselves. Our One Nation Party, in its various forms across the UK, is unique. It is, at times, frustrating, but we achieve far more together than we ever could apart. In that it reflects our United Kingdom. We are, and always will be, better together.
Article first appeared in The Sunday Times 2nd January 2022