A rebalancing of Scottish politics requires a rejuvenated Tory Party, says JOHN McTERNAN
Labour should welcome Murdo Fraser’s pledge to wind up the Scottish Conservatives if he’s elected leader in the current leadership ballot. There is a need for a strong Tory Party in Scottish politics, just as there is for a Liberal Democrat revival and a rejuvenated Scottish Labour Party.
Politics has an ecology, and the disappearance of one political force often feeds another. Labour’s rise last century was fuelled by the decline of the Liberals. In similar fashion, for a period the decline of the Scottish Tories helped all other parties – Labour, the Lib Dems and the SNP all picked up seats that had traditionally been Tory ones. Within living memory the Tories held seats in Glasgow (including Cathcart, the core of the seat now held by LabourHame’s own Tom Harris.)
In the end, though, it has been the SNP who have gained most from the catastrophic decline of the Conservatives in Scotland. As definitional abuse the phrase “Tartan Tories” no longer works against the SNP. But it speaks to a truth – the SNP’s unassailable heartlands, in Perthshire and Morayshire, were once a Tory fastness. And Tories are the only people who can dislodge them – but they have been too weak for too long for that to be a realistic option. With such a safe haven as their heartland the SNP are able to become Tartan Socialists, Tartan Greens and Tartan Liberal Democrats. Hence their sweeping the board in May.
There’s a traditional saying: How do you eat an elephant? Answer: A lot of people start at different edges and eat towards the centre. In similar way the SNP will only lose their dominance over Scottish politics if they are challenged by a revival of all the other parties. So, a revival of the Scottish Tories is necessary.
Does a radical break with the past guarantee success for the pProgressives, or the Democrats, or whatever Murdo Fraser will call his party? Of course not.
But not changing would guarantee continued defeat. At the very least the Scottish Tories are being talked about, and when was the last time that happened?
John McTernan was head of policy to First Minister Henry McLeish, a senior advisor to Tony Blair and special advisor to Jim Murphy MP when he was Secretary of State for Scotland. He now writes for the Telegraph and the Scotsman. Follow John on Twitter at @johnmcternan.