Magazine article Public Finance

Dismal State of the Unionists

Magazine article Public Finance

Dismal State of the Unionists

Article excerpt

It's not uncommon for political parties to go into long-term decline, as the Liberals and Old Labour did in the past century. But they rarely cease to exist. The Communist Party of Great Britain, which disbanded in 1991, is perhaps the only recent example. But now it looks as if the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party might go the same way.

Leading figures, such as MSP Murdo Fraser, have concluded that there is no future for a Scottish Tory party. It's time to shut up shop and open a new business under a new name. The proposal has outraged the Scottish party leader, David McLetchie, and provoked a furious row in the Scottish press.

One of the oddities of the Scottish political culture, or rather media culture, is that while the Scottish Conservatives are a marginal force, the Scottish press is top-heavy with papers of the Right. It sometimes makes for confusing reading. The fate of a party that has only one Westminster MP is given greater prominence than the current leadership battle in the Scottish Liberal Democrats, who are in government with Labour in the Scottish Executive.

The press might behave as if the Tories are still the natural party of government but the truth is that Scottish Conservatism is on its last legs. It desperately needs someone to come along and deliver the coup de grâce. Right now, Scotland is effectively a political monoculture with no party of the centre Right. This is unhealthy since it leaves the many conservative-minded voters unrepresented.

The Tories are the only party in Scotland ever to have won a majority of votes and seats in a general election. That was in the 1950s. However, Margaret Thatcher, the poll tax and Tory opposition to Scottish home rule turned Scotland against the Conservatives. In 1997, they lost every parliamentary seat.

Had it not been for the Scottish Parliament they so vehemently opposed, the Tories might have expired then and there. But, thanks to proportional representation, the Scottish Conservatives returned 18 MSPs in 1999. These have done their best to make the Scottish Conservatives an electoral force again, and McLetchie has been an effective performer in Scottish parliamentary debates.

However, in much of Scotland, Tory is still a four-letter word. The Scottish Tories gained only one seat in the 2005 general election, the inexperienced David Mundell in Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale, and lost the shadow Scottish secretary, Peter Duncan.

His replacement, the Wiltshire MP James Gray, had to resign, nine days into the job, after proposing that the Scottish Parliament be scrapped and the Holyrood building be used for debates by MPs two days a week. …

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