“A Tory who was not a Jacobite had nothing left to be a Tory about…”

Nice couple of pieces from two Massies, Allan in the case of the headline, and Alex below… Both provide acute background to the Tories’ Scottish dilemma. First Allan writing in the Scotsman, to give a contemporary construct to that historical headline:

Today’s Jacobites, wanting to turn the clock back, are those who would repeal the Scotland Act and abolish the Scottish Parliament. There are such neo-Jacobites in the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party (and a number in the Scottish Labour Party too), but they are politically irrelevant. The Scottish Parliament is here to stay, just as the Hanoverians were.

So, reluctantly, the Scottish Tories have accommodated themselves to the new regime, just as after 1714 English Tories accepted the first two Georges; and much good it has done them. Support has continued to ebb away. As parliamentary leader, David McLetchie offered an Edinburgh lawyer’s good sense, and his successor, Annabel Goldie, offered charm, wit and a combative spirit; all in vain.

And in practical terms:

Murdo Fraser has, however, changed the way the game is played. The party is heading for the knacker’s yard, he says. So, if he wins, he will dissolve it and start again – or at least change its name. He will break away from the Conservative Party down south – even though any Fraserite elected to Westminster will take the Tory whip – and he will create a distinctive centre-right Scottish Party, whose relationship to the London party will be like that of the Bavarian CSU to the CDU in the federal German parliament.

Alex’s analysis goes deeper into the malaise affecting both major unionist parties north of the border:

It is hard to think of a successful right-of-centre party in Europe that is not in some way identified as the patriotic party. The Scottish Tories have lost the ability to make that claim or be identified with the national interest. Until this is remedied there can be no secure recovery. Those Tories who claim Fraser is “appeasing” the SNP have it precisely backwards: it is the Keep Calm and Plod Along brigade that abets nationalism. Times have changed and even Tories must accept that.

Instead, however, the party has spent thirty years saying No to everything at a time when Scotland has been minded to say Yes. That must change. Much of the time – no matter how worthy their small-bore policies may have been – the Scottish Tories have viewed everything through constitutional glasses and concluded that anything that pleases the SNP or advances a sense of distinctiveness should be treated with suspicion. As such the party has rarely had anything to say and it has been easy, if sometimes unfair, to portray the Tories as the anti-Scottish party.

And he concludes:

In the end, what matters more? The party or the future of right-of-centre politics in Scotland? Or, to put it another way, who dares think the Scottish Conservative and Unionist party, as presently constituted, is in any fit place to best lead or serve the interests of right-of-centre politics? Quite. It has had its chance and it has failed and now the national interest must be put above the interests of a mere political party.

Audacious argument…

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  • In the end, what matters more? The party or the future of right-of-centre politics in Scotland?

    This is a key question. The answer to that question is to be found in understanding centre-right ideology.

    Anybody who properly understands centre right politics will not be surprised by Mr. Fraser’s gambit. CCHQ, in particular, will not be surprised. Plans to separate the Scottish Conservatives have been in David Cameron’s back draw for some time.

    The Development is an evolutionary political reation to devolution. At the core of centre-right politics is regionalism. It is a strand of its ideology which puts the best interests of anybody within a regional boundary first and outsiders after that. It is, by nature a nationalist ideology.

    Before devolution, the Conservative Party was, understandably a sort of British Nationalist party. Post devolution, the British polity is still important but its interests now overlap and sometimes clash with the regional polities. Therefore the centre-right has to be represented both inside and outside the regions. For that reason the proposed CSU alliance option makes absolute sense.

    I dont buy the argument that Wales should be any different. At the moment, Conservatives are more successful there but they have to be honest and read the rune sticks. This wont last unless they can move to an independent Welsh centre right perspective. Indeed, Murdoch Fraser has said more or less the same thing about the Welsh position.

    Northern Ireland should also have an independent centre right party. One of the differences here is that we already have at least one independent centre right party – the DUP and the debate about what the Conservative objectives here should be are very different. For me, the holy grail is and always has been the removal of North / South tribalism from politics. Peter Robinson has already talked about becoming a cross-community party. Perhaps it would be best if the Conservatives put their resources into helping his party towards that objective.

  • I spend far too much time in the tweedy company of Jacobites even if I am persona non grata.
    The last instruction sent to his followers by Charlie after Culloden was to “look to their own safety”. When they got this message Charlie was taking his own advice and getting as far away as possible as quickly as possible.

    But while the Tories effectively became Whigs, embracing the new reality, its also true that the Whigs……….todays Guardian readers have moved further away.
    Its the “liberals” who are signing petitions to get rid of the monarchy or repeal 18th century Acts.
    Ironically its the Tories including Catholics….including old Jacobite and earlier recusants who are passionate supporters of the Windsors and the Constiution…..including ironically the religious aspect……..which leads to some bizarre hypocrisy at “modern” Jacobite meetings.

    Arguably the Whig compromise was at least partly Republican anyway.
    But aint that the way. People including the Irish Catholics who supported Jacobitism and the Three Kingdoms model have a right to “look to their own interests” and they took a different position to the Tory route……which really annoys the Jacobite nutters.

    Yet the odd thing about Scottish conservatism is that the Westminster connexion actually “moderates” Scottish Conservatism in the context of Scotlands dirty little sectarianism.

  • Old Mortality

    ‘we already have at least one independent centre right party – the DUP’

    Please name one DUP politician who is in favour of lower public expenditure. That is the test of whether a party is to the right of centre or not. The DUP most certainly fail it.

    I do, however, agree with your comments on the Scottish Tories and I am amazed that it has so long for Murdo Fraser’s big idea to have come to the fore.

  • Alias

    If there is any meaningful distinction between left and right politics in the UK it is surely lost on the voters.

  • Good thread: nice summary, young Fealty.

    I read the Alex Massie piece on the Spectator site with some puzzlement. It rang bells. Sure enough, by following from hot-link to hot-link I came to the seminal piece by Fraser Nelson, where else but in the Spectator of 7th April 2007

    Revealed: the Tories’ plan to separate
    The slide towards extinction in Scotland has persuaded the Tories to draw up a blueprint for separation, says Fraser Nelson. The Scottish Tories would split off — and Cameron’s Conservatives would become the English party

    Small World.

    Being Fraser Nelson, it is well-honed and full of neat flourishes:

    The party is no longer hated, as it was in 1997 (when its share of the vote was 18 per cent), nor even pitied, but simply ignored. Voting Tory is seen as a harmless perversion, like Morris dancing or cricket. A despised party could at least repent. But there is no hope for a forgotten party.

    I commend the piece (it runs to over 2,000 words) because it is as much about the future of the English Tories as the Party’s difficulties in “North Britain”.

    Almost all that is being said now, Nelson was outlining then:

    ‘A name change would not help the Scottish party any more than changing its logo to a bloody tree has helped,’ says one former Cabinet member. Mr Cameron would be mocked for his failure to reach beyond his own metropolitan heartlands. Hiving off the tough parts of Britain is no way to win an election, it would be argued. And the Tory party in Manchester, Liverpool and Newcastle cannot be jettisoned so easily.

    Ah! therein lies the rub! For, as Owen Jones is saying in today’s Guardian (but most readily accessed at jonesblog) —

    The destruction of British industry – particularly in the early 1980s – had much to do with this shared resentment. In 1991, the number of manufacturing jobs in Glasgow was just a third of the level two decades earlier. Two years after Thatcher’s election victory, Glasgow was 208th down the list of local authorities for economic inactivity; a decade later, it had risen to 10th place.
    Northern industrial areas were similarly hammered in the two recessions of the early 1980s and early 1990s. The trauma of mass unemployment under Conservative governments has made anti-Toryism a kind of folk hatred passed from generation to generation in parts of Britain. No wonder, then, that the north-east of England rejected the Conservatives almost as decisively as Scotland at the last election: less than 24% voted Tory, while Labour – facing its second worst result since 1918 on a national level – won nearly 44%. The legacy of Thatcherism has left the Tories with a glass ceiling of support – which partly explains why the party failed to win the last election despite a woefully unpopular Labour government and the worst economic crisis since the 1930s.

    Toryism is not an “English” disease: it is an ailment found only in leafy suburbs and rolling acres.

  • IJP


    The only problem with the CSU option, as I’ve said before, is it cannot possibly work because it lacks any political balance. How, for example, can you be an Independent party while committed to someone else’s whip at “federal” level when it has no initial say over what policies that whip will entail?

    The Canadian model, allowing membership of both provincial (country) and federal (UK) parties, offers a much more relevant route to achieving what you suggest.

    Old Mortality

    Actually all DUP members are in favour of reduced public expenditure, they just don’t like to be honest about it.

    Their whole election campaign, quite overtly, was about boasting NI’s status as the lowest taxed part of the UK. Which also means, by definition, it has the lowest public expenditure (not allowing for Barnett, of course).


    Probably as pertinent a point as any, frankly!

  • Mick Fealty

    Ian, perhaps the Alliance, Lib Dem relationship is more akin to what they should be looking at.

    The whip is a tie that binds in all circumstances. Not taking the whip but binding in most circumstances would be a more useful (from a Scots point of view) arrangement.

    So long as you are squeezing Scottish Labour out of their accustomed position north of the border the southern Tories gain from UK Labour’s loss, even if they lose the support of this new unwhipped Scottish partner.

  • IJP


    But then the problem would be that the Scottish centre right would have no say over the creation of, and debate surrounding, UK policy (CSU advocates also forget that Bavaria accounts for a significantly greater share of the German population and greater still of the German economy in what is, in any case, a much more evenly and equally decentralised country).

    Thus Scottish Unionists would be taking themselves out of having any meaningful impact on the Union!

    The issue for me was never the “brand”: it was the lack of organisation (even simple things like canvass records are often not properly maintained in Scotland), basic understanding of Scotland (Thatcherism was utterly alien to most of Scotland but you do not have to be Thatcherite to be centre-right), and a lack of strong, charismatic leadership.

    In other words, the issue for me is the narrative, not the name. Fraser wants the cosmetic change – and what a hassle that will cause! – but does not seem so motivated by the obvious need for a fundamental reassessment of what it is to be Scottish and centre right… which is why most people who are will no doubt continue to vote SNP…

  • Anent all of the above, there’s piece by Rob Marchant — Scottish Labour – everyone’s problem — well worth the trip. For those who object to its hosted location, just hold your nose, and leap it. You may like it.

    It isn’t that the SNP is a “success” — it’s just that for the time being it’s the only horse in the race. Where I’d be happy to agree with anyone, with every one is that Scotland needs a political debate. That means a voice on the Left and a voice on the Right. Just now Salmond’s SNP can be all populist things to all gullible folk. “Left of centre social democrats” … my posterior.

  • Re: Malcolm Redfellow @ 11:09 am

    Ahem! That was posted before aforesaid Redfellow had read the second leader (Alex Salmond: Free Reign) in today’s Guardian.

    Note in particular the first two sentences of the fourth paragraph:

    Since devolution Scottish governments have made their reputation by spending money differently to the rest of Britain. From now on they are going to have to start saving it and raising it as well. Indeed, as important to Scotland’s future as the SNP programme is the Scotland bill, a piece of legislation that deserves greater scrutiny than it is getting. This implements the report of the Calman commission and, among other things, gives Scotland a great deal of freedom to raise or lower taxation, and borrow a limited amount money. UK taxation in Scotland will be reduced, leaving Scots to make up the difference as they wish. It is, one Lib Dem minister told the Lords this week, “the biggest transfer of fiscal responsibility within the UK since the Act of Union in 1707”.

    For this is where it gets interesting: how to carry through John Swinney’s intent to cut a third of Scotland’s capital spending, while having no enforced redundancies in the public service. See Angus Macleod in today’s Times (it’s behind the pay-wall, so not worth hot-linking):

    To some extent, this legislative programme, while still important, is a false trail. The crucial announcement from the SNP will come in a fortnight’s time when John Swinney, the Finance Secretary, lays out his three-year spending plans.
    Public spending and the amount of cash the country is able to devote to core services are being slashed, and for the first time since devolution biting cutbacks are in prospect.
    We shall learn much more about this SNP government’s real priorities from what Mr Swinney has to tell us then than we did from Mr Salmond yesterday.

    As The Observer was saying this weekend, as Rob Marchant (see above) is saying, and as all political complexions here are suggesting, there is a crying need for responsible and effective opposition parties in Scotland.

    By the by, if my great thoughts are continuing to appear and disappear in some cyber-fan dance, I’m taking my trade elsewhere.

  • Old mortality:

    Please name one DUP politician who is in favour of lower public expenditure. That is the test of whether a party is to the right of centre or not. The DUP most certainly fail it.

    “Right-wing” is not solely defined by tax and spend. Another equally important component is social conservatism, and the DUP have that in spades. But they’re not your typical centre-right either. Their combination of social conservatism and economic populism is more akin to Peronism or Bertie Ahern than David Cameron.

    Nadine Dorries would probably feel right at home, mind you.