The poll of Tory members was stark – 63 per cent were prepared to sacrifice the union for Brexit. What was remarkable was it was even higher than the percentage willing to sever the link with Northern Ireland, at 59 per cent, although these figures have to be seen in the light of an incredible 54 per cent prepared to see the destruction of their party if required to leave the EU.
That shows that it’s zealots who are now in charge of not just the destiny of the Conservative Party but of the UK with the selection of the Prime Minister.
Polls come and go but they’re indicative of changing attitudes and what’s clear is that Tory members are set on a trajectory that neither cares for nor includes Scotland. When they talk about “taking their country back”, it’s England they’re referring to, not the UK. Warnings from Tory grandees like Sir John Major about the union being imperilled by Brexit matter not a jot to them. They’ve a dream and they are going to try and deliver it, come what may.
Ruth Davidson can warn, harangue and even plead but it won’t have any effect. Scotland is marginal to them and becoming an irritant, if not an impediment, to their grand plans. Would-be Tory PMs can troop north to pledge their undying loyalty to the union and rejection of Indyref2 but the home base is revolting.
They don’t care and there’s nothing the Scottish Tory leader can do about it. It’s one thing being feted at party conferences as a Tory moderniser and the slayer of nationalist beasts, but it’s quite another to have any influence on policy. Despite being empowered by the Scottish Tory revival post-2014, it’s had no effect on status, indeed Brexit has shown it to be reducing, if not dead and buried. It seems light years since Ruth Davidson was challenging Boris Johnson in debates over Brexit, calling out his flagrant absurdities and demanding vital assurances on the likes of a customs union and single market.
Now there seems to be no bottom line for Davidson or her acolytes; if it’s demanded by the rank-and-file Colonel Blimps or retired Majors, then the modest Scottish contingent will supinely sup it up. If the Tory Brexiteers say jump, Scots Tories say how high.
Talk of Davidson for Prime Minister was always delusional but it’s now clear, with Boris Johnson having made that abundantly plain. The days of a Bonar Law representing Glasgow Central or Alex Douglas-Home Kinross and West Perthshire but ensconced in 10 Downing Street are long gone and never to return. This is not Federal Canada with a Quebec Premier and never will be.
It’s a huge problem for the Scottish Tories and not just as it hampers their already limited chances of success at Holyrood. The abject failure of Scottish Tories to have any influence at Westminster and extract any benefits for Scotland undermines their home-based colleagues. Simply upping the rhetoric on populist soundbites won’t cut it when they’re so-often seen to capitulate on anything and be clueless about the direction of the party on everything.
Worse still for them though is the shifting of the tectonic plates at the border. It started before Brexit as Scotland and England drifted apart, whether through devolution or immigration. But the close ties of empire, world wars and national service have diminished as different directions were chosen. The days of folk in the south of England having a Scots granny or holidaying here, replaced by a new age where their people are from Greece or Africa and holidays are in Spain or beyond. A general warmth towards Scotland has been supplanted by a feeling of ‘uppity Jocks’ among some, with not just the audacity of the independence referendum but the constitutional confrontation irritating some others.
It’s ironic the threat now isn’t Scots leaving the union but the union ejecting Scotland. Polls haven’t really shifted on support for independence but the rejection of the union by English Tories is new and powerful. After all, the dissolution of Czechoslovakia came about as much by accident as design with arguably the Czechs demanding the break-up even more than Slovaks.
The velvet divorce as it called, came about in 1993 and must be both a nightmare and a warning for the Scots Tories. Circumstances are beyond their control and it’s events that will dictate matters; and they’re now caught on the horns of a dilemma. Craven indulgence to Brexiteers brings contempt in Scotland but challenging them poses huge risks in England. There’s no easy way out, they’ll just have to wait and hope.