Sunday 1 September 2019

Conservatives in Scotland need something different

There are only two issues of consequence in Scottish politics, Brexit and independence. I don’t follow what happens from day to day in the Scottish Parliament. In this, I strongly suspect, I am identical to the vast majority of Scots. Most Scots may want the Scottish Parliament but they are uninterested in what happens there, the rest of us don’t want it and are still less interested. The Scottish Parliament is like the European Parliament. We may or may not wish to Leave the EU, but none of us can name our MEP and none of us follow what happens in Brussels.

The defining issues that are going to determine how people vote in Scotland then are Brexit and independence. But what has been forgotten is that 38% of Scots voted for Brexit. At the moment these people are completely unrepresented by mainstream Scottish Parties. It’s hard to name an obvious Brexiteer in frontline Scottish politics. The SNP I suspect have some hidden Brexiteers in Holyrood. The Conservatives may have some too. But Scottish politicians put forward a more or less united front opposing Brexit.

It is not infrequent for a party to win a General Election if it wins 38% of the vote. If the Scottish Conservatives won that sort of percentage it would win far more seats in a General Election than it has at present and it would win more seats at Holyrood too. The Scottish Conservatives therefore have an opportunity to become the only mainstream Scottish Party that is both Pro UK and Pro Brexit.

If a complete Brexit doesn’t happen very soon indeed, there will be no Conservative Party. It will therefore not matter one little bit who leads it either in the UK or in Scotland. We have been given one last chance. Brexit supporters are willing to vote for Boris on the assumption that he really will get us out and get us out completely. If he fails, in any subsequent General Election, the Conservatives will go the way of the Lib Dems in 2015. That was the message of the European Election in May. You either get this or you don’t.

If the UK leaves the EU completely, are the Scottish Conservatives still going to be led by a Remainer who thinks that Brexit was a terrible mistake that will help the SNP to independence. If so, it would be far, far better if the Scottish Conservatives ceased to exist, because this stuff just helps the SNP.

The key to persuading voters is to offer them something different from the other parties. Ruth Davidson did very well in reviving the fortunes of the Scottish Conservatives, but her main failing was that she could have fit in equally well in any of the other Scottish Parties. She agreed with the SNP and the Greens about pretty much everything except independence. She held just about the same views as Tony Blair, Nick Clegg, David Cameron and Theresa May. Like them she was mired in the centre ground mush.

But the centre offers no distinction and no real choice. It is the default of both the Scottish and the British establishments. It is the Remainer rearguard that is most of all offended that the British people by voting for Brexit rejected its advice, its rule and its nannying.

The key to defeating the SNP is to cease appeasing them. Don’t agree with them about anything. Don’t make any concessions, don’t grant them any more powers.

Some Scottish Conservatives think it is a good idea to separate the Scottish Conservatives from the UK Conservatives. Perhaps the party in Scotland will get a new name and a new branding. If you think that separation is the key and you want to appeal to separatists, then you really ought to join the SNP.

What we need instead is a Scottish Conservative Party that wants to unite Scotland still more with the UK. We have reached the ludicrous stage where nearly every product in the supermarket is called Scottish and has Scottish flags all over it. They don’t do this in France. They don’t do this anywhere else, but in Scotland. The EU thinks the solution to every problem is more Europe. If you think the solution to every problem is more Scotland, then once more you are in the wrong party.

If a complete Brexit happens, then the majority of Scottish parties will hope that it fails. The SNP, Lib Dems, Labour etc are hoping for chaos, recession and poverty so that they can tell us we told you so. The pity is that some people’s pessimism will actually be used to make the UK worse off. Some “Pro UK” Scottish Remainers would be delighted if Brexit broke up our country.

But pessimism is not a good campaign strategy and will quite soon turn out to be a vote loser. Returning to the EU will not be an option once we are out. So Scottish Conservatives have a choice. We either embrace Britain’s Brexit future and make it work or we join the pessimists and defeatists in defeat.

As I have argued for years, Brexit will give us some very good arguments to use against the SNP. The pity is that Ruth Davidson was either unaware of them or unwilling to use them. She preferred to agree with Sturgeon about everything except independence.

Brexit will give the UK a chance to fulfil the Thatcherite revolution, by turning us into a low tax, pro-business free trade hub. It will make all of us richer. Conservatism in Scotland needs to oppose independence with every means available including making it clear to the SNP that post-Brexit UK will be one nation and we will be indivisible.

The Scottish establishment is united across party lines that Scotland needs more public spending, more subsidy, more free this and free that and above all more Scotland. It has appeased Scottish nationalism and is defeatist about the UK. We need a new Conservative Party that thinks the UK should be more united not less. We need Scottish Conservatives who are genuinely Conservative. Who believe in free markets, living within our means and a small state. Brexit is about bringing sovereignty back to Britain. It can unite us and unify us and make Scottish independence impossible, but we need a Conservative leader in Scotland who believes in all these things. We need a new way of thinking post Brexit, not the same old appeasement and centre ground mush.