While Tory MPs rebrand and review, MSPs are in full retreat
THE best comedy is, of course, deadly serious. The nature of the attack by Tory MP David Mundell yesterday on Michael Fry, the historian and former Conservative candidate, for jettisoning his unionist beliefs and coming out in favour of independence was both laugh-out-loud hilarious and profoundly, if depressingly, revealing.
Mr Fry, Mr Mundell said without even a hint of irony, "has always advocated things that attract attention". Judging by this statement, Mr Mundell, the shadow Scottish secretary, must have been absent the day the Tory class of 2005 was taught about political strategy and tactics. Actually, on reflection, he wasn't absent; none of Scotland's Tories has had that lesson.
As if to underline the point, they'll be there in Bournemouth this week, trying to bask in the reflected glow of a resurgent Tory party under David Cameron: the hapless Mr Mundell and the leader of the Scottish Tories, Annabel Goldie, not so much matriarch as matron, and others whose stars are so dim in the firmament of Scottish politics that they are not worth naming. The trouble is that the Scottish Tories are light years off from Mr Cameron and none of his solar energy is going to rub off on them.
With poll ratings of about 10 per cent (this, from a party that in 1955 won 50 per cent of the vote in Scotland), a philosophy that owes less to Burke than a bunch of burks and a mentality drawn more from the self-preservation society than conservatism, the urgent question now is: what is the point of the Scottish Tories any more?
For his part, Mr Fry, the author of a series of well-received books on subjects as diverse as Henry Dundas and the Highland Clearances, thinks it would be for the best if the party north of the Border "just died out". Accusing Ms Goldie of "appalling drift and complacency", he says: "Apart from a bit of ranting about law and order, there is nothing. The cupboard is completely bare. The ... leadership just hasn't got the intellectual grasp or the political courage to face these problems squarely and try to do something about it."
This, if I am interpreting it correctly, is a jibe at Ms Goldie's statement that coalitions in the Scottish Parliament indulge in "horse trading" (insight of the year, surely) and that the Scottish Tories will not compromise their (non-) principles. As other commentators have suggested, contrast this with the position of the Liberal Democrats, who won one less seat than the Tories in the 2003 election but through their coalition with Labour have had a major influence on policy. Politics must, as the great Tory "Rab" Butler said, be the "art of the possible".
Mr Cameron knows this. His perceived weakness on policy will continue until his major policy reviews are completed next year, but he is at least carrying out such reviews. In Scotland, what is being done? Mr Cameron knows, too, that he needs to - and I apologise for using such dreadful management-speak - "decontaminate" the Tory brand and appeal to younger voters. Hence, whether we like it or not, the various tree logos and his advocacy of green issues. Again, in Scotland, what is being done?
FOLLOWING his conversion, Mr Fry joins that band of people who support independence but not the SNP, who view an independent Scotland as a catalyst for economic growth on a par with Ireland's - assuming independence would result in less state intervention, lower public expenditure and lower taxation. He says: "Once I would have argued that political independence is not a necessary condition for ... economic success, now I take the opposite view. The Estonians and the Irish cannot ask anybody for money, which is the Scots' first reaction to any crisis. They have to work out what to do for themselves and get on with it."
This is mightily close to the view outlined by SNP candidate Michael Russell in his book with Dennis MacLeod, Grasping the Thistle, extracts of which appeared in The Scotsman last week. While Mr Russell's views are anathema to Alex Salmond, the SNP leader, and Mr Fry's are equally unpalatable to the Scottish Tory leadership, there are here signs of a strong intellectual reaction to the failure of devolved government to transform Scotland. But will the Scottish Tories realise that converting to independence might save them and the ideas they once stood for? Don't make me laugh.
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Sunday 19 May 2013
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