How ‘conservative’ Unionism lost its footing in Scotland?

Graham Walker’s been reading beyond the reported remarks of Reg Empey in the Lords recently:

Indeed, the part of his comments given less attention concerned the need for Unionists to get the ‘tone’ of their contributions right, and to avoid appearing to ‘bully’ or ‘hector’ the Scots. Amen to that.

And, yes, people in Northern Ireland should certainly concern themselves with the Scottish issue and its broader effects on the UK as a whole.

It behoves pro-Union political players in all parts of the UK to not only ensure the success of devolution in making a positive difference to those parts of the UK that possess it; but also to work at preserving and strengthening the benefits to all of UK citizenship.

He then points out the history of the washing out of unionist politics from Scotland:

It was only the split in the Liberal Party over Irish Home Rule that allowed the Tories to score some successes in Scotland in the late 19th and early 20th century. They had made significant strides to popularise their appeal – primarily on the basis of religion and Empire patriotism – although they could not shake off the stigma of being viewed as the party of privilege and of the landed interest.

In 1912, in response to the controversy over the Ulster crisis, the Conservatives formally merged with the ‘Liberal Unionists’ to form the Scottish Unionist Party.

From then until 1965 this party was known as ‘The Unionists’ and it remains to this day the only one to have won over half the Scottish vote at a general election, in 1955.

The ‘Unionists’ changed their name to Conservatives in 1965 and many political observers have pointed to this as a contributory factor in the party’s demise in Scotland. There were other deeper reasons for the Conservative slump: religious affiliation was in sharp decline, the Empire had gone, the old culture of deference was in retreat, and more and more Scots were questioning the benefits of Union.

The party was led nationally by Margaret Thatcher from 1975. Her style and manner grated with Scottish voters and she clearly had little time for Scottish sensitivities around national institutions and a separate identity. Her decimation of traditional heavy industry added to the alienation of the Scottish electorate. The decisive referendum result in favour of a Scottish Parliament in 1997 was in large part a measure of the determination of the Scots to never again leave themselves at the mercy of an ideologically driven Tory Prime Minister.

Last year during the Scottish Conservative Party leadership election, the Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) Murdo Fraser proposed to wind up the party and re-launch it as a modern right-of-centre political force without the name ‘Conservative’.

He was defeated by his colleague Ruth Davidson, whose stance was ultra traditionalist. Arguably Fraser was right and the last hope for the Conservative-minded in Scotland has now gone.

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