Twenty years on, Tories finally get a taste of revenge

Michael Forsyth looks on as Labour's Anne McGuire is congratulated by her husband on election night in 1997 (Chris Bacon/PA)

Michael Forsyth looks on as Labour's Anne McGuire is congratulated by her husband on election night in 1997 (Chris Bacon/PA)

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It was Scotland’s ‘Portillo moment’, when the Conservative collapse in the 1997 general election was all but confirmed by the defeat of Scottish Secretary Michael Forsyth in Stirling.

Twenty years ago tomorrow, the Scottish Tories were wiped out in the Labour landslide, dealing the party a blow that has taken them a generation to recover from.

Now Lord Forsyth has predicted the Scottish Tories will send multiple MPs to Westminster for the first time since 1997 in a result that will ‘bury’ calls for a second independence referendum.

The peer accused Labour of being the midwives to a decade of SNP dominance by using “nationalist language” to question the Tories’ legitimacy in Scotland, and said they face their own decade of obscurity in Scotland and across the UK.

And he said the election could “completely change the political landscape”, opening a new debate about how Scotland is run and paving the way for Ruth Davidson to campaign to become the next First Minister.

On election night 20 years ago, the Conservatives lost all 11 of their MPs as Labour swept to power.

Asked about that reversal, Lord Forsyth told Scotland on Sunday: “They do say that revenge is a dish best eaten cold, and it’s certainly quite cold after 20 years.”

He claimed Jeremy Corbyn’s poor leadership and LibDem “confusion” on Europe meant the Conservatives were the only option for Unionist voters.

Lord Forsyth said: “I would anticipate us picking up quite a number of seats in Scotland and finally burying – if we’re not beaten to it by Nicola Sturgeon – the idea of a second referendum on independence.”

Lord Forsyth said he predicted at the time that the Tories would be out of power for a decade.

“It took a bit longer. I remember Denis Thatcher saying to me at the time that he wasn’t sure he would see another Conservative government in his lifetime, to which I replied, ‘Denis, you’re worried about your lifetime. I’m worried about mine.

“It was a disaster, and OK, party politics and partisanship aside, I don’t like seeing the current state of the Labour party because I think our politics does actually depend on having an effective opposition. I hope it won’t take them 20 years to get their act together.”

Lord Forsyth said he argued against devolution in the 1997 campaign because it would give the SNP a platform to “expand and project every conceivable grievance” and threaten the Union.

“I don’t take any pleasure in saying that is exactly what happened. I have to say it happened much more quickly than I would have imagined possible.

“But one of the reasons Labour are now in such great difficulty is George Robertson said that devolution would kill nationalism stone dead, but what it has done is kill Labour stone dead, because Labour embraced the language of nationalism.

“They talked about Conservatives having no mandate in Scotland. They said the Scots got a government they didn’t vote for. That was nationalist rhetoric which has come back to bite them.”

Lord Forsyth said a Conservative revival would focus debate in Scotland on schools, policing, health, local government and the economy, claiming: “I don’t think Nicola Sturgeon can blame England for ten years of failure by a nationalist administration.”

On one of the most contentious issues of the election so far, Lord Forsyth claimed “there is no ‘rape clause’ as such” and accused the SNP of “running campaigns complaining about Westminster when the authority and power rests with them to do whatever they like.”

And he praised Ms Davidson for rejecting the “counsel of despair” that said the Scottish Conservatives should rebrand and break away from the UK party.

“She said in the Scottish elections that she wanted to campaign to be leader of the opposition,” Lord Forsyth said. “I think she can now raise her sights and campaign to be First Minister.”

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