Listening to the speeches during the Scottish Tory Conference it felt like entering a parallel universe, writes Kenny MacAskill.
Watching Theresa May at the Scottish Tory conference I was minded of a film I saw many years ago.
It was one of the nuclear apocalypse genre made at the height of the cold war.
There was a scene near the end when the political and military Dr Strangeloves were in an airplane and destruction had started below. Maps on a screen in the control room plotted the elimination of entire cities, on both sides of the conflict.
All the while a Tannoy blared in the background “Missiles have launched. Confidence is High”. It was as if they were in a parallel universe, oblivious to the reality on the ground.
When the Prime Minister came to Glasgow she intoned: “Brexit is coming. Confidence is high.” Meanwhile, the pound fell a further two and a half cents against the dollar resulting in a further increase in the cost of living for ordinary people, as wages stagnate and benefits are cut. Foreign students, vital to our economy are down and jobs are being lost. Across the Irish Sea the combined Nationalist vote reached 40 per cent for the first time and Sinn Fein almost overtook the DUP. How ironic that it’s the ardent unionists who are fuelling nationalism. But, have no fear came the klaxon “Defend the Union, Confidence is high.”
Whilst I’ve always opposed the political philosophy of the Conservatives, there have been many individuals I’ve been genuinely fond of. In the Scottish Parliament, Bill Aitken and Annabel Goldie spring to mind.
They served with distinction and contributed greatly; often challenging but always scrupulously decent and fair. Moreover, they were rooted in their community and understood what was happening on the ground.
Likewise, in the UK I always respected Michael Heseltine and Ken Clarke.
The latter was by far the easiest going Westminster counterpart I engaged with. He could be robust but was trustworthy and engaging. I couldn’t say that about some of the others, especially some Labour ones. Again, whilst I disagreed with Heseltine and Clarke I admired their political courage over Westland and Europe; and respected the fact that they would argue their case to people’s face, not stab them in the back.
Sadly, as in the war film it’s the renegades that are now in charge of the Conservative Party in the UK. The Brexiteers that have schemed and plotted for years have carried out a Palace coup. Theresa May has succumbed to their policy and accepted their lunacy. It’s not just misguided but frightening. The policy proposals being articulated by some, such as Empire 2.0 and replacing the EU market with increased trade with Australia and New Zealand are fantasies. But, they’re being articulated by those in or with access to power.
It has as much prospect of success as the Government advisory leaflets about what to do in the event of nuclear war; such as pulling the curtains and getting under the table! The speeches in the Commons by Clarke and in the Lords by Heseltine have warned of the idiocy and dangers. But, have no fear, confidence is high among the zealots.
Listening to some of the speeches from the Hall during the Scottish Tory Conference, the feeling of living in a parallel universe was only increased. From the rostrum, both by the Prime Minister and her colleagues came a condemnation of the failings of the SNP Government and constant references to the scandalous and perilous state of public services in Scotland. Such was the extent of the hyperbole some who didn’t know better would be afraid to venture out in this land of ours.
Now, I accept there are many challenges and even failings by the SNP administration. Not all the current ills of Scottish services can be laid on austerity imposed from London; though it has a great deal to do with it. I have commented myself about the need to do better and be bolder.
However, the party of the union is in power in one part of the realm and that’s south of the Border. Whatever challenges are faced in Scotland, it’s as nothing though to what’s happening there. Nightly on TV news come stories of the travails of the NHS, struggles of the police, failings in education, riots in prisons. There’s concern north of the Border, but its situation critical south of it, in so many areas. Not just the statistics but the staff will tell you so.
So, whilst the delegates lapped up the tales of despair here, there was no mention of the alternative. They almost rejoiced at the difficulties being faced here but denied the reality of what they’re imposing in the part they control, not just with austerity but privatisation.
The Tories are now the official opposition in Scotland. Its right in a democracy that they challenge the SNP Government but it’s also important they lay out the alternative they seek. After all, Ruth Davidson has intimated her desire to be First Minister in 2021. But, the reality south of the Border looks even less appealing, than the difficulties that exist north of it. Moreover, there was almost hysterically condemnation of the First Minister for having an obsession on the constitution. However, as the Conservative Government fulminate over Europe and pull the UK out of the EU, there was neither any sense of rank hypocrisy, nor even slight irony. Apparently, to support independence for Scotland is obsessive, but to remove the UK from the EU isn’t. Only, those living in a parallel universe could think so.
As the buttons launching the Brexit missiles are about to be pressed, the Brexiteers are as deluded as the Dr Strangeloves. The reality in public services south of the Border is catastrophic and the future with Brexit looks frightening. The Independence Referendum was lost as the risks seemed too high, for too many. The risks now of staying are beginning to seem greater.
But, don’t worry the Tannoy blared at the SECC “Brexit is Coming. Confidence is high.” A parallel universe indeed.