Why the Tories are constitutionally all at sea in Scotland

Alex Massie is Scotland’s man in the seried ranks of Tory thinkers in London. He’s not exactly unique, but there are few Unionist commentators who, like him, get a respectful hearing amongst the increasingly confident Scots nationalist blogosphere. In response to a well meaning, but inevitably London bound leader veiw from his own paper the Spectator, he notes:

Of course Alex Salmond is beatable and of course support for UN-member independence is a minority enthusiasm. This is one reason why a referendum seems to scare Scots less than it does politicians and pundits based in London. (Most of those pundits and politicians, incidentally, seem only to care about Scotland’s constitutional question; the actual governance of the country is, at best, most often an afterthought.)

He obviously finds the leader too too calculating by half. Instead he recommends Tory love bombing:

…it would be useful if Cameron flattered Scotland. For once, just for once, it would be pleasing to see senior Unionist politicians make a case for the Union that is based on something more than the benefits – many of them real – Scotland has enjoyed from its partnership with England. That is all very well and good but it is not good enough. Perhaps Cameron and other senior Tories could tell Scots why they are wanted, even needed, as part of the United Kingdom. “We Want You” is a more edifying slogan than “You Need Us”.

Quite so. It’s not as though the Scots need to be told they are loved by English conservatives (I doubt, post Thatcher many of them would believe it, and it’s likely anyway to remain largely unrequited). But if the union is to be saved, they need to hear a few arguments from their giant southern partner as why it still makes sense to keep close (if not too close).

The paradox is that the English Tory responses (cut off as they are from any serious electoral interest or intelligence north of the border), is milk and honey to those wanting to push for the maximum distance between themselves and the auld enemy:

Instead, Tories and other Unionists tend to assume the case for the Union is axiomatic. It is not. Suggesting that Scots should compile a cost-benefit analysis and then consider their choices is a tactic that, perhaps paradoxically, works better for nationalists than for Unionists. When Unionists talk in these terms they implicitly argue that Scotland must be unusually ill-suited to independence and from there it is but a short leap to suggesting Scotland should be grateful for English largesse, be happy with everything it’s got and cease chuntering for more powers when history suggests they’re scarcely capable of using those they already enjoy.

Frankly, however, that’s exactly how it sometimes seems as though a significant part of the Tory party actually does view Scotland. (This is too say nothing of the rabid online English nationalists who give their Cybernat counterparts a fair run for their money.)

And he’s not the only one. Politics on Toast:

Throughout this parliaments lifetime the Unionists failed to take up the fight. Given the narrow margins this was a mistake which may come back to haunt the anti-independence movement in Scotland.

Of greater concern for those of us who wish to preserve the union, is that this lack of fight lingers. Where is the unionist opposition coming from? In Scotland itself at last years election the Labour Party lacked direction and widely misspent, while at the 2010 general election the Conservative Party returned one MP, Edinburgh Zoo currently has more Giant Pandas. Consequently, the Prime Minister is in a difficult position. He, and his party have minimal sway with the Scottish electorate, and with the election of Ruth Davidson as leader of the Conservative & Unionist Party for Scotland, it seems unlikely that this endemic unpopularity will subside before a potential referendum before 2016.

The unionist parties in Britain have not conceived of themselves as that for most of the generations since the Republic left the union. The Scots nats are way more constitutionally literate than the Tories, Labour and Lib Dems (bless em) all put together.Something to do no doubt to do with that beautiful but often incommunicable unwritten Constitution they insist on having.

In a nutshell, Alex’s sage advice is don’t fight the last war, fight the next one!

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty