Brian Monteith: Scottish slant on US group could fill Tory gap
As the Conservative Party is in its death throes here, let’s think about a new type of right-of-centre group, like America’s C-PAC, writes Brian Monteith
Last week I wrote of the terminal illness that has taken grip of the once proud Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party and why, like an animal writhing in pain, it should be dispatched with speed if we consider ourselves compassionate and humane.
I argued that the party could not consider itself Scottish, was no longer Conservative and had become an enemy of the very union it claims to defend. Of the many articles I have conceived over the last 11 years of writing for newspapers I have never had so many e-mails, texts and letters expressing agreement, and that was just from disillusioned Tories.
Many cannot wait for the time when a political resurrection comes, when there is the opportunity to again support and work for a Scottish party that believes in small government, low taxes and where the rule of law protects rather than bullies ordinary individuals and their property.
Well, that resurrection is not going to come this Easter, and probably not for a few Easters yet, for the London-based mob that funds and directs what passes for the Scottish Tory organisation is not ready yet to give up itscharge. Despairing though that is for the many Scots who want a genuinely Scottish party of the right-of-centre, all hope is not lost, for much can be done until the final act of Götterdämmerung is played, the temple of the gods comes crashing down and the enemies are swept away in a torrent.
What is needed at this time, when Scots are being asked if they wish to be British as well as Scottish, is not yet another new party that will crash and burn as if struck by Loge’s gaze, but the creation of a physical conservative movement that lays the foundations for a philosophically-based party when it is ready to be built.
This is no abstract wishful thinking on my part, for such a model exists in the United States. I am referring to the Conservative Political Action Conference, more commonly known as C-PAC, that, although not attached to the Republican Party, has become to all intents and purposes its political conscience and exerts a great deal of influence on how it now behaves.
C-PAC is really the embodiment of a movement. It is not a party, and a self-financing gathering like it that can produce papers, publications and policies would fill the vacuum that the Scottish Conservatives have already left.
If political activists of the right are to reconnect with the Scottish people and to re-establish a political base that results in electoral success, they need to have a discourse about political thought that identifies new ideas, opportunities and even grievances from a conservative perspective. Current Tory politicians need to be held to account for their failures and successes in advancing conservative policies and a platform needs to be given to the many politicians and activists that have become so disillusioned that they have left and done their own thing – or given up all thought of political activity.
Could such an entity exist? I have no doubt, for the beginnings of such an institution has already been working away quietly in Scotland for the last 14 years. The Tuesday Club, a dining club established by Struan Stevenson, Michael Fry and myself to discuss conservative and classical liberal policies still meets every month in Edinburgh under Chatham House Rules, which is why few people know of it for it is rarely reported.
The club tests the minds of politicians, journalists and people of genuine life experiences, such as fighting in wars and running successful businesses, over a good meal and decent wine. Originally its aim was to help the Scottish Conservatives, but they lived up to their reputation for being the stupid party that eschews intellectual thought, so the club eventually broadened its membership to include true liberals and real conservatives from other parties including the SNP, while its current chairman, Hugh Andrew, is a kenspeckle Liberal Democrat.
It is not too large a leap to believe that such a courteous gathering could be replicated by an annual conference for Scots of all parties and none that have conservative values. Indeed, it could meet more often than once a year, running policy gatherings on individual subjects such as land ownership and property rights. It could tap into the international conservative movement bringing to Scotland truly successful politicians that had revived their parties and found electoral success.
It could invite the likes of Ruth Davidson and ask her to justify her policy compromises and it could seek out conservatives and liberals in other parties so that common ground can be established, acknowledging that the future reality of Holyrood will be coalitions rather than Alex Salmond’s untypical singular triumph.
There are many people who had thought of putting money into Murdo Fraser’s proposed new party had he defeated Davidson for the Tory leadership in Scotland. To a man they have walked off stage right and have no wish to finance the unchanging Tories; even the redoubtable Sir Jack Harvie has said he has no wish to raise money for the party again. A Scottish C-PAC could be a project for all of them.
The Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party is now destined to depart the scene, probably not this year, maybe not next year, but depart it will. Irrespective of Scotland being inside or outside the union there will always be a need for a party that advocates the ideas born of our own enlightenment. The time for that party is not yet propitious; better first to establish a popular movement that, like the closing scene of Götterdämmerung, delivers a new child with a bright new future ahead of it.
• Brian Monteith is policy director of ThinkScotland.org
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