Saturday 2 March 2024

The centre right needs to ditch the Tory brand


Scottish politics is still primarily motivated by hatred of Tories. For this reason, at the next election 30% of Scots will vote for left-wing SNP, 35% will vote for left-wing Labour, 5-10 percent will vote for left-wing Lib Dems, 15-20% will vote for left-wing Scottish Conservatives and the rest will stay at home. But a year ago the SNP nearly voted for a socially conservative, fiscally conservative leader who would likewise claim to be left-wing, whatever that means.

Scottish nationalism unlike any other European nationalism is not really about independence at all. It is for this reason that it didn’t emerge as a force in the nineteenth century when everyone else discovered nationalism. It did not even really emerge in the 1930s and 1940s when lots of European countries provided the Waffen SS with divisions. The SNP flirted with fascism and had its leaders interned for supporting Germany, but few Scots at the time were even aware that the SNP existed.

Scotland has always had a desire to maintain a somewhat separate identity and has achieved this primarily by a half-joking, half-serious hostility to the population of our nearest neighbour. To be Scottish is to not be English. But for many centuries we were as content with the merger of Scotland and England as anyone else and there was no serious independence movement until around 2011 or later.

So, if Scottish nationalism is not really about independence, what is it about? It’s about Margaret Thatcher.

If the UK had continued its managed decline after 1979 with a succession of Labour governments and One Nation Tories we might still be mining for coal, making steel and producing cars that no one wanted to buy. We might still have British rail and other nationalised industries and the SNP would still be a tiny little band of eccentrics in kilts and tweed jackets laughed at by every other Scot. Instead, we had Margaret Thatcher and Scotland can no more forgive her for existing than the Irish can forgive Oliver Cromwell.

It is for this reason that there is no centre-right alternative in Scotland and no chance of a genuine alternative to the left. We can be ruled by left-wing SNP pretending it wants independence to avoid the possibility of us being ruled by Margaret Thatcher again or we can have a combination of Labour, Lib Dems and Tory Wets offering the same minus independence. But what they all offer is the same policies and the same dull thoughts.

It is for this reason that we end up with collectivism no matter who we vote for and politicians thinking it is their business to decide what we eat by restricting meal deals, what we drink by introducing minimum unit pricing and whether or not we can sell our house if it doesn’t have a heat pump.

If every party, you can vote for in Scotland is left-wing do not be surprised if every solution to every problem is collective and involves higher public spending and more micromanagement of our lives. It is an odd sort of freedom that the SNP offers.

The problem with Scottish conservatism is that it isn’t conservative, but is just as tainted by Margaret Thatcher as if its policies came directly from Friedrich Hayek and Adam Smith. Most Scots would not even consider voting Conservative even if it offered a gold sovereign to every voter for every vote. The brand is toxic and so trundles along at between 15 and 20% occasionally a little more occasionally a little less, but with never a chance to actually do anything let alone rule.

When you explain to Scottish nationalists that the present Conservative government is in terms of public spending, taxation and liberal immigration policies about as left-wing as it has ever been, they still respond with cliches about Tories. When the next Labour government continues in an indistinguishable fashion, they will be called red Tories. Yet perversely the most likely result of Scotland obtaining independence would be real Tories.

The first Scottish government after independence would try to create a socialist paradise where everything was free and work was optional, but after that failed, it would have to cut public spending, lower taxation and try to undercut both the former UK and the European Union by creating a more competitive economic environment that was friendly to business with fewer regulations and with lower corporation tax.

While the UK has largely failed to take advantage of Brexit by undercutting the EU, Scotland would have to take advantage of Scexit by undercutting the former UK in order to make up for the loss of the Barnett formula and the other economic advantages of being part of the UK single market. It might work, but it would be MacThatcherism with as many teeth and claws as a Scottish wild cat.

But then if nearly 50% of SNP members would vote for Kate Forbes who is a Tartan Tory married to a real Tory and if the inevitable result of independence was Thatcherism and free market capitalism, why will approximately 100% of the Scottish electorate vote for left-wing parties at the General Election?

The reason is the word “Tory”. The Conservative brand in the UK generally and especially in Scotland has become totally poisonous. The Tory party ceased to exist in 1834. The word “Tory” has always been an insult and was associated with Jacobitism and those who supported James the Second. No one calls Labour or the Liberals “Whigs”, so it is time also to ditch the word “Tory” that is both archaic and deliberately insulting.

It may take the death of the Conservative party to achieve this, but there is a natural majority both in the UK generally and even in Scotland for centre right economics which makes us wealthier and a party that puts the interests of British citizens first. Just don’t call it Conservative or Tory.

I want a moderate centre-right party that is willing to do these things.

1 Lower public spending.
2 Cut taxes
2 Reform public services like the NHS.
3 Cut net migration to 100,000.
4 Deport everyone who arrives in the UK illegally.
5 Increase defence spending.
6 Punish criminals rather than law abiding citizens.
7 Stop woke nonsense ruining our lives.
8 Adapt to climate change without making us poorer with Net Zero.
9 Make clear that we have a right to free speech.
10 Defend the territorial integrity of the UK against its enemies.

Do what is necessary to achieve these goals. If it means leaving the European Court of Human rights do it. If it means breaking this treaty or that treaty do it. Parliament is sovereign. It always pretends that it can’t, but it can. All it needs is a majority and to push through whatever legislation is necessary. We could have done all of this in 2019, but the Conservative party blew its majority and achieved nothing.

There is a huge natural majority for these policies. Not only do they win the Red Wall in England they win in other parts of the UK too including Scotland. But there is no one to vote for. No one wants to give voters what they want.

The Conservative party at present is full of social democrats who are indistinguishable from Blairites and who hate Thatcherism or are embarrassed by it. Let these people join the Lib Dems or the Labour Party. Those Conservatives who genuinely believe in free market economics and a smaller state and protecting the national interest rather than making our country worse every year can help to form a new movement. It can join with the more moderate parts of Reform/UKIP to create a party offering the voters throughout the UK what they want, rather than what they don’t want.

Above all it has to remain moderate and inclusive attempting to represent all British citizens or it will fail from the start.

The task this year is to defeat the SNP decisively, but this will not be enough to make Scotland or the UK in general more prosperous unless we find an alternative to the centre-left which has come to dominate Scottish politics.

The Scottish Conservatives can muck around on 15-20% by remaining wet pale imitations of the Lib Dems and achieve precisely nothing or they can rebrand as something else and develop policies that might actually make both Scotland and the UK more prosperous.

There needs to be a realignment of the centre right across the UK that above all ditches the word “Tory” and perhaps even the word “conservative”. We don’t want to conserve the mess that Britain has become we want to improve it. To conserve is to look backwards, while the task is to move forwards.

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