Wednesday 15 March 2023

Can a Tartan Tory lead the SNP?


From the Pro UK perspective, it is blindingly obvious that we ought to hope that Humza Yousaf becomes SNP leader and First Minister. Yet he is the establishment candidate backed by Sturgeon and almost everyone else of significance in the SNP. It’s hard to see why?

The SNP is an overwhelmingly white party, and most members could if they wished trace their ancestry back to the Jacobites if not Robert the Bruce. It is for this reason that Yousaf has in the past proved useful. He is one of the few SNP politicians from an ethnic minority. He makes the SNP therefore look just that little bit less nationalistic and perhaps attracts some of his fellow Muslims to the SNP.

But Muslims are some of the most socially conservative people in Scotland. Of course, Muslims hold a spectrum of views just like Christians do. Some go to the Mosque every week and follow all of the rules, but others bend or break rules just like Christians do. Still, it doesn’t take an in depth knowledge of Islam to see how some Scottish Muslims might have a problem with SNP orthodoxy on homosexuality and transgender.

Why they should want to break up the UK when they or their parents chose to live here and take advantage of the opportunities that the UK offers has always rather confused me. I have never understood why Yousaf should be hostile to the existence of the UK? If the UK is so awful that he cannot bear to live here, would he prefer that his parents had decided not to come here at all?

I suspect there is an element in Yousaf that wants to take revenge on the UK for everything from Empire to fighting wars against Muslim states. There may also be an element of trying to be more Scottish than the Scots owing to the abuse that he may have received as a child.

But frankly whatever Yousaf brings to the SNP it cannot possibly outweigh the negatives. He is not likeable. He is not competent and there is something false and insincere about him. Support for the SNP and independence will go down if Yousaf becomes leader. Why do the SNP want him? To keep its secrets? Who knows? It is hard to imagine a worse leader.

What about Kate Forbes? Some rather excitable members of the press are suggesting that she could increase support for the SNP and independence. Forbes has many good qualities. The first good quality is her honesty about her beliefs. Politicians routinely lie and evade. Forbes told the truth. She accepts that SNP have ruled Scotland in a mediocre way and that more of the same will get it nowhere. She is more realistic about independence being a more long-term goal requiring change to the Scottish economy. She appears to be likeable and a kind, good individual. Even someone like me might be open to persuasion by someone like Kate Forbes.

So, is the UK in danger if Yousaf loses and Forbes wins? On the one hand she would certainly be a better leader than Yousaf. She could appeal to Pro UK people who find her a pleasant contrast to Sturgeon. But this is Forbes’s problem. Her appeal to Pro UK people would be at the expense of her appeal to SNP voters.

Forbes is socially conservative, but clearly a large number of SNP MPs and MSPs are about as socially progressive as it is possible to be. Forbes in the past would have been called a Tartan Tory. If she didn’t believe in Scottish independence, she would certainly make a near perfect leader of the Scottish Conservatives. This is why Tories like me like her. We agree with her on everything except independence.

But then how can Forbes lead a party that is full of leftwingers ands social progressives?

Her answer on how to obtain Scottish independence is correct insofar as it goes. If Scotland was doing so well economically that it no longer relied on a subsidy from the UK Treasury and no longer had a deficit, it would be much much easier to argue for independence. But Forbes is less than honest about the timescale. For Scotland to become such an economy would take decades and would also require cuts in public spending and lowering of taxes. It would require a much smaller public sector and a much larger private sector. The Scottish Government would be best advised to undercut the other parts of the UK and make itself more business friendly than England.

But who on earth is going to vote for that in Scotland? It would be the equivalent of Scots voting for a government that is more right-wing than any Tory government of recent years.

I think Scotland is much more socially conservative than the SNP realised. Scots are not so horrified by Forbes’s wee free Christianity as the SNP would have thought. But very few Scots indeed believe in low taxes, low public spending and free market laissez faire economics. This of course is Scotland’s best route to independence. Shrink the state, cut taxes, make a surplus rather than a deficit, become like Switzerland or Singapore.

If Forbes turns Scotland into Singapore, I will vote for independence. But who else would?

Forbes can appeal to Pro UK people, but only if we move beyond what led the SNP to be mediocre. This was that voters kept voting SNP even when they knew it was running Scotland badly. It was this that caused the mediocrity, because the SNP did not need to run Scotland well to win. But the condition for the possibility of ending the mediocrity is that Scottish politics becomes competitive again. But if that happens the SNP will have no chance of gaining independence, because Labour or the Conservatives would have to have a similar level of support to the SNP.

Yousaf would be a worse leader than Forbes and we must hope he wins. But Forbes would be unable to lead a party which only agrees with her on independence. She might not be able to hold the SNP together at all. On balance I hope Yousaf wins. Kate Forbes is a clever decent opponent and worthy of our respect. But I have never heard her explain clearly quite why it is necessary for Scotland to leave the UK. It can hardly be because the UK votes Tory, when she is a Tartan Tory herself and her route to independence is to be more Conservative than the Conservatives.