Tuesday 15 June 2021

Reeling the SNP in.


My earliest political act as a child in 1979 was throwing mud at campaign sign for the local Conservative MP which was in his garden. The Conservatives won 22 seats that year and my mud across the face of the MP did him no harm, but got me into trouble with the primary school. I think I also put up an SNP poster in my window, which horrified my Conservative voting parents, who made me take it down immediately. But this didn’t help the SNP as it lost seven seats and ended up with only two. It’s only a little over forty years ago, but it’s not so much that the past is a foreign country as that Scotland is.

Labour won 44 seats in Scotland in 1979, but it has lost all but one of them not so much because of the SNP, but because it turned Scotland into the land that hates Tories. In doing so it created the sense of the rest of Britain being some foreign and rather wicked place that votes Tory. It was this that created the modern SNP and which also destroyed Labour in Scotland.

The desire for independence did not seriously exist in Scotland when I was a child. Even SNP supporters did not think it would ever happen. It was an issue for cranks and obsessives. Support had increased with the discovery of oil and with it the idea that it was Scotland’s oil, but at the moment when Scottish independence might have been economically viable, support was miniscule. As oil began to decline to the point where it will within a few years reach obsolescence perversely support for the SNP reached levels that neither the Conservatives nor Labour could have dreamed of in 1979.

But whereas in the 1970s SNP support might have been driven by the “what if we had it all” argument and while in 2014 it was still possible to dream of secret oil fields filling the coffers, now instead we have merely the legacy of Margaret Thatcher and the idea that Scotland is not like the other parts of Britain because we are egalitarian and believe in fairness and they are just wicked Tory Brexiteers.

The Scottish independence movement is not really an independence movement at all. It is mere anti-Toryism. The 1980s changed Scotland from a place that historically voted Conservative at least some of the time and which viewed Conservatism as just one ideology amongst others, to somewhere that saw the Conservative Party as being unScottish and lower than vermin.

This created a new Scotland that was divorced from our conservative past, which was full of thrift, frugality and Adam Smith. It severed the connection between our Jacobite ancestry (who were after all Tories in the traditional sense of the word) and created for the first time a form of Scottish nationalism which is quite alien to our experience in both the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

When historical nationalism arose in Europe in the 19th century, it found no answer in Scotland because we were content on the northern part of our island and had done very well out of our marriage with the English crown. It was for this reason that Walter Scott was able to express, perhaps invent, Scottishness in the Waverley novels while also inventing Englishness in Ivanhoe. Somehow his writing could be both Scottish and English at the same time without diminishing either, but by celebrating both. This was Toryism. It admired the Jacobites and the wild Highlanders like Rob Roy while recognising the progress that arose due to the defeat of the Stuarts. This that created the Scottishness of the 19th century, which built monuments to William Wallace and Robert the Bruce while being pleased that eventually the warring parties had made peace and become united. This was the Scottishness that endured until 1979.

For this reason, I find the SNP quite foreign to the Scotland I grew up in. They took away my heroes and my flag. They turned a romantic song about Bannockburn into something that I can no longer sing because it would make me a hypocrite. They have divided Scotland in a way we have not been divided since the Covenanters and all because of hatred of Tories.

I have always been a Conservative, despite my mudslinging which continues to this day with criticism when I think it is merited. I am Conservative because it is the only way we can get Scotland back to what it once was. A place that was not so very different from other parts of Britain and which did not have the absurd idea that somehow, we are exceptional or radically different from other Brits.

We need to spit out the anti-Tory poison, because it is this and this alone that fuels Scottish nationalism. If the Conservatives were just another party whose record was fairly judged, we would already have defeated the SNP.

The next electoral challenge will be the next General Election in perhaps two years. Small parties will be unable to compete with First Past the Post. A legal independence referendum will not happen until then. An unofficial referendum is unlikely given that Sturgeon knows she would need international recognition to succeed and anyway could either be stopped by the courts or made farcical by a Pro UK boycott.

Labour is competing for the same voters with the SNP, which makes it both soft on independence, but not soft enough for genuine independence supporters to support. It is already clear that Labour will be lucky if it retains even its solitary MP. The Lib Dems will continue to hold the far north of Scotland and bits of Fife, but their share of the vote is not going to change massively, because their only selling point rejoining the EU is a dead issue in Britain and will be supported by no major party in its manifesto except the SNP. The only way to really increase Pro UK seats is in those parts of Scotland where the Conservatives stand the best chance of winning. This also avoids the chance of letting the SNP into power because a vote for either the Lib Dems or Labour might lead to them forming a coalition with the SNP, the price of which would be indyref2. Conservative Government is how we avoid a pact between Starmer and Sturgeon.

While Conservatives have shown themselves to be willing to vote Labour and Lib Dem where the Conservatives have no chance of winning, there is a reluctance on the Left to reciprocate. Centre Left Scots having been brought up to think of the Conservatives as wicked are unwilling to lend their vote even for the good of UK unity. It is this above all that allows the SNP to keep winning, because it is this anti-Toryism that is the foundation of Scottish nationalism.

We have a few years to change the narrative. Being virulently anti-Tory has become a sort of code for hating Britain and the English who give us Tory governments. It is the difference between now and 1979 when 31% of Scots voted Conservative and the UK was threatened only by the Soviets.

It is reasonable to criticise Boris Johnson’s government when it makes mistakes, but we must judge his record fairly and not by dogma. You may have voted to Remain, but we must judge Brexit not by what we thought then, but by the results now. Vaccination would not have happened so quickly if we had stayed in the EU. That at least is one thing we gained from leaving. Trade deals may bring challenges for our farmers, but they may also bring cheaper produce and more choice. The British Government funds both the NHS, the vaccine programme and furlough, so why do we give credit to Nicola Sturgeon? It’s as if we gave credit to the puppet for its movements while ignoring the strings. Boris is the fisherman and she is merely dancing on the end of the line. Support him and we will reel the SNP in.