SCOTLAND needs a healthy, grounded and ambitious centre-right political party if we are to achieve our potential as a country with or without a “Yes” vote in 2014. I don’t mean in power necessarily, but I do mean influencing the debate. And here is why.
One of the many things I have learned in my life is that culture matters. I don’t mean culture of the artistic bent (although it matters, hugely) but rather the behaviours and practices within any organisation. The organic and intangible way of going about our business and life is at the root of everything.
As the management thinker Peter Drucker once put it: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” What he meant was that a leader of any organisation could invent the best strategy in the world, but it would founder unless the culture of their organisation was healthy and aligned.
Whether it is a business, a football club, country or family, the behaviours we encourage and default to will go most of the way to determining our success or failure, function or dysfunction.
Thinking of this in the context of a country is more interesting still. If we truly want to transform and progress anything from business start-ups to health and life chances then we will succeed only if we embed the right behaviours. Finding policy levers to do that is not simple; look around you.
The same is true, of course, of the tenor of our politics. Just as a business needs a healthy culture of challenge and openness in the modern era so too do those entrusted with governing require testing and opposition to their ideas.
Mud-slinging about marginal differences no, but testing the direction of travel and deeply held beliefs is critical. It sharpens us all and helps prevent laziness and complacency of thinking. It should also help improve engagement all round in the political process.
So it stands, therefore, that those who envisage a Nordic social democratic model for Scotland should have their mettle tested against a coherent case for a different approach.
Which brings me to my point on the need for the centre-right. The Conservative Party, as it stands, has but a whisper of a voice in the debate of how we govern ourselves in the years ahead. It is clear in all the polling and from any conversation that the legacy of Thatcherism and entrenched opposition to home rule have all but killed the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party. They never modernised their culture and so are withering. I believe that our political culture will ultimately be the poorer for that.
MSP Murdo Fraser realised this and was a brave, open and thoughtful candidate for leadership in 2011 with his own ideas for both embracing more powers for Scotland, but also in cutting his party loose from the UK version. He was criticised by many for not campaigning on a safer manifesto, then leading his party there. I disagree: it was a radical choice and he put it to his party openly. It was brave and modern leadership in my book.
In the end, however, the party establishment opposed him and he lost narrowly to Ruth Davidson. If 283 people had changed their mind he would have won and the party wouldn’t have spent nearly 18 months drifting before crossing at least one of the Rubicons Fraser suggested. Now, we are told, they are to embrace more financial powers for the Parliament, although the logic of a new distinct party from London has not yet found its moment.
So credit to Davidson for having the wherewithal to open her mind to the need to stride across her own self-imposed line in the sand. But in politics, as in life, actions speak louder than words. Having made the call in her recent speech, Davidson must now follow through in deeds if any of it is to mean anything.
Policies from London like the “bedroom tax” will only serve to squeeze the last breath of life out of the party unless Davidson can take a stand which shows the Scottish centre-right party is different and has changed. She needs her own “Clause 4” demonstration, but mere symbolism won’t be enough. Opposing this toxic policy would be top of my list.
Downing Street has clearly approved Davidson’s move or, ironically, may even have demanded it. Whatever, she must now grasp the opportunity to set her own policy course to suit Scottish opportunities and problems on her own terms.
I have no doubt that a backlash is underway from the same sources of anachronistic intransigence that have dragged the once majority voice of Scotland to the dying whisper it is today.
She must resist them, take a deep breath and embrace the future with confidence. There are a large number of conservatives in Scotland, but a dying, dwindling band of Conservatives. Now is her opportunity to do something about it.
Drucker also said that “the greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence – it is to act with yesterday’s logic”. The Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party should ponder on that. «