IF I HAD a Scottish Conservative Party membership card I would be tearing it up and sending it back to head office with a letter of resignation. The decision of its leader, Ruth Davidson, to back the misguided and paternalist policy of minimum pricing of alcohol would have been the last of many straws for me.
Fortunately, I am not a member. Although I resigned my membership more than six years ago I am told I have been the largest contributor to Stirling Conservatives’ campaign fund at the last three elections, but now there will be no more money from me. That is it. The Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party has disappointed me once too often and now it is neither Scottish, Conservative, nor even Unionist.
It is not Scottish because it is self-evidently run from Downing Street and the ploy of supporting minimum pricing is just the latest example. The Prime Minister has been making approving noises about minimum pricing of alcohol over the last six months but faced the discomfort that his Scottish Brigade, having faced SNP legislation just over a year ago, was opposed to the idea.
Its health spokesmen Murdo Fraser and Jackson Carlaw had argued convincingly and to powerful effect that the claims in support of the policy did not stand up to scrutiny. They showed that to have any effect it required a far larger minimum rate than was being proposed. It would have to be raised to levels that would punish ordinary moderate drinkers, and that it removed the responsibility of the individual by extending yet again the scope of our bullying, nannying state.
The Tories were in the vanguard of the opposition, convincing the other parties with their arguments, and the SNP was ultimately defeated. It was a rare example of a Tory triumph and one to be commended – but instead it has been betrayed. Now under new management, the Scottish Conservatives have ensured that when David Cameron announces minimum pricing as a new policy for England they will not be offered up as an embarrassing inconsistency in Tory thinking. Ruth Davidson’s group hug with Nicola Sturgeon is as ugly as it is reprehensible and I have every reason to suspect the likes of it will not be the last.
The party is not Scottish because, as we already know, the Prime Minister has himself decided that more powers will be offered to Holyrood if Scotland says no to independence without any regard to Ruth Davidson, drawing a very public line in the sand before all the party members.
The party is not Scottish because as I write, membership recruitment is being conducted from call centres in England, with any new members’ subscriptions being routed through London. I know this because people write to me with examples of the phone calls they receive.
The party is no longer Conservative because it has, over the years, not only defended the dependency culture of the welfare state but supported its extension. David McLetchie could not resist supporting free personal care for the elderly when more cautious Labour voices feared the cost. Annabel Goldie rushed to endorse free bridge tolls and started the game of finding things Tories could spend money on to cut a deals with the SNP; and now Ruth Davidson tells us the state knows best about how we conduct our lives.
If I want Labour policies I can vote Labour. If I want Labour policies in a shortbread tin I can vote SNP. Why should anyone vote Scottish Conservative to get what the other parties already offer?
The party is no longer Unionist because it has been feart since 1997 of having an honest and open discussion about how to resolve the many constitutional questions that devolution has thrown up – in case it might expose its internal decisions to the public. By avoiding at every opportunity any healthy debate it has put the party before the country, the party before the union and thus has no right to call itself unionist.
Proposals for various forms of devolution that were put in the public domain emanated as much from Conservatives as they did from any other party, indeed they had more breeding than those of Labour that were finally delivered. That they were sidelined is not the point, that they were designed to strengthen the union is the point, and so there is no shame, no contradiction in reviving them now. That would be the behaviour of a truly unionist party.
If the Scottish Conservative Party was my faithful old hound trying to repress its anguish from defeat after defeat, or skittering verbal inanities like being against more powers for Holyrood one minute and then for them the next – but it doesn’t quite know which ones – then the mutt would already be in the back of my car and on the way to the vet to put it out of its misery.
We are kinder to animals than we are to the Scottish Conservatives and if we are to call ourselves civilised that has to change. As it writhes in its death throes all of us who once cared for it should do the decent thing and put it out of its misery rather than wait on it dying a horrible death.
Those remaining Conservatives should join former Conservatives like me – and the many other Scots waiting in the wings for a new party – and should stop their annual membership subscription and put it towards the more expensive wine, beers and spirits they will soon be paying for.
Of course, there are individuals in the party who continue to be worthy of support and who may yet have a role to play in any political phoenix that rises from the funeral pyre that cannot be set alight quickly enough. I shall continue to applaud their good efforts when they make cogent and reasoned arguments based on conservative and libertarian principles.
Until such time as the Scottish Conservatives die and experience their own reincarnation what we need is a wider conservative movement in Scotland that re-establishes conservative principles, identifies what it means to be libertarian and conservative in Scotland and to support those who give voice to such ideas.
Allegedly Conservative politicians who have no values of substance, who blow with the wind, who take orders from London on matters that are ours to decide have no place calling themselves Scottish Conservative and Unionist.