Brian Monteith: Yes vote won’t keep Tories out

The electorate will decide if there will be future Conservative governments, not the SNP, writes Brian Monteith

The Independent Peter de Vink, with others, plans a centre-right party. Picture: Kate Chandler
The Independent Peter de Vink, with others, plans a centre-right party. Picture: Kate Chandler
The Independent Peter de Vink, with others, plans a centre-right party. Picture: Kate Chandler

There are many tartan kites being flown by the SNP in an attempt to garner more Yes votes. These include that Scotland can keep the pound without losing its newly-gained economic independence; that we can have different immigration policies to encourage its plan for 100,000 incomers without it resulting in border controls from Berwick to Gretna; that we can maintain the beneficial social union with the rest of Britain whilst they mock Scotland’s people as being mean, prejudiced and small-minded – and while charging its sons and daughters to study here.

There is, however, a greater deceit that it is repeatedly flaunted, especially when the Prime Minister dares to comment about the value of Scotland being inside the United Kingdom, and that is that there will never again be Tory governments in power in Scotland.

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Whether it be Alex Salmond or his deputy Nicola Sturgeon that accuses the Prime Minister of being the “embodiment” of the case for independence, the message is clear: just vote Yes and Conservatives will never again rule in Scotland.

This is a bit rich coming from a First Minister whose minority government relied upon the political support of Annabel Goldie when she was leader of the Scottish Conservatives, but it also ignores Scottish and international history which supplies ample evidence that an independent Scotland might expect to have Tory rulers within a generation.

Nationalists are in the habit of looking towards Scandinavia for examples of how Scotland might be, not just because it provides some examples of a social democratic society that it presents as preferable to our own, but also because it adds to the narrative that nationalists are busy inventing, which says the differences between Scotland and England are greater than the similarities.

What is conveniently forgotten is that all Scandinavian governments have elected what might be called Tory governments in modern times and (this is the sweetly ironic part) especially so since Margaret Thatcher established what is described by her critics as a neo-liberal economic consensus in Western Europe.

This week, John Swinney visits Norway and the opportunity is not being lost to suggest we could be more like the Norwegians. What is not being said is that conservative party Høyre has formed governments on eight occasions since liberation from the German occupation in 1945 and leads the current ruling coalition government with conservative Erna Solberg as prime minister.

Iceland, that erstwhile member of Alex Salmond’s “arc of prosperity” has seen conservative prime ministers from its Independence party lead 17 of its 31 administrations since 1945, more than either the Progressive or Social Democrat parties. Even when other parties have provided the premier, the Independence party has often been a member of the ruling coalition, as is currently the case.

The Conservative Peoples Party in Denmark might on first sight appear to have had a harder time of it, managing to participate in only ten administrations since the Second World War – but it can point to its premier Paul Schlüter forming four governments between 1982 and 1993 and having been in power for 21 of the last 32 years.

The current prime minister of Finland, Jyrki Katainen, is leader of its conservative party, Kokoomus, and while there has been only one other premier from that party since 1945, it has participated in ten governments and had the largest share of the vote in the 2011 elections.

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While Sweden is often presented as famously social democrat, it too has had what we would recognise as conservative prime minsters in Carl Bildt (1991-94) and the current incumbent Fredrik Reinfeldt, who has been in power since 2006 – a year longer than Alex Salmond.

Taking a wider view, we can see that conservatives are currently part of the ruling governments of every Scandinavian country except Denmark and provide the premiers in Sweden, Norway and Finland.

Like all conservative parties around the world, they differ in some degrees, but all are members of the International Democrat Union (IDU) along with the British Conservatives, the US Republicans, the Canadian Conservatives and Australia’s Liberals.

The Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party can trace its antecedents to the old Scottish Parliament and is, by any measure, Scotland’s oldest political party. Were independence to present itself, there would be a need for a new centre-right party to form and we know there are some political activists, mostly former Scottish Conservatives, waiting to do this.

My old friends Michael Fry and Peter de Vink are two such formidable people, and who is to say they, together with others, would not be able to form a new Scottish political force that would become a member of the IDU? Are we to believe that socialist or social democrat opponents, including the SNP if it does not break up into different parts, would not call them “same old Tories”?

Fry and de Vink are honest and sincere in promoting their own neo-liberal recipe of low taxes (preferably a flat tax), minimal government and an open society. This is pretty much the antithesis of what Nicola Sturgeon, the Jimmy Reid Foundation and many other vocal supporters of nationalism say Scotland will obtain once Scotland is independent.

Do Salmond, Sturgeon et al honestly believe Scottish conservatives of one name or another (undoubtedly they would seek a different brand identity) would not one day be in a position of power, maybe in coalition, even providing the First Minister?

It is disingenuous to suggest that through independence there will be no Scottish Tory governments: not only is it a promise the SNP cannot possibly keep, for it will be future electorates that will decide, it is a deceit to suggest it unlikely. It is probably likely at some stage – even if it takes 20 or 30 years to happen.

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Alex Salmond is either playing Peter de Vink and Michael Fry for fools by encouraging them to promote a free-market independent Scotland when he does not want one or believe there will be one – or he and Sturgeon are deceiving the Scottish public when they say independence will rid Scotland of Tory rule.

I hope it is the latter. It cannot be both.