Kenny MacAskill: The Tories have clawed their way back, but to what purpose?

The Scottish Tories have come a long way since being wiped out in 1997's election, ironically saved by devolution. David McLetchie and Annabel Goldie's wit steadied the ship, Ruth Davidson energised them and the independence referendum revitalised them. 20 years on they're the principal opposition in the Scottish Parliament and ensconced in the UK Government.

Ruth Davidson serves up ice creams on the election campaign trail in Giffnock. Picture: John Devlin
Ruth Davidson serves up ice creams on the election campaign trail in Giffnock. Picture: John Devlin

They’re entitled to be satisfied with progress made, even if only back to levels polled when John Major was in office. But, back they are and not just in Westminster and Holyrood but local government. A few nasties have been returned and a whiff of Orangeism lingers, but as all parties know success brings issues with it.

However, as a Tory acquaintance remarked it’s one thing reaping the Unionist vote, but quite another to make Conservatives of them. Much of the success has rested on it being a logical choice following a No vote in the independence Referendum and continuing hostility to a second one, or a vote to leave the EU followed by a continuing desire for Brexit. That won’t always be the situation, other actions will need defended and policies espoused.

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Being in Government in Westminster brings a responsibility to deliver, whilst aspiring to enter into administration in Holyrood requires a prospectus to be set out. Yet it’s hard to know what they’ve achieved in Westminster other than being in office and in Holyrood there’s constant negativity about the failings of the Scottish Government, but little vision of the alternative administration they seek.

With Ruth Davidson it’s hard to know just what her position is on Europe other than too supinely accept whatever’s directed from whichever Cabinet Secretary opines at any time. Her UK reputation was made with a spirited defence of the EU and an eviscerating attack on Boris Johnson. Yet he’s now Foreign Secretary and though lauded she remains on the margins.

Her decision to accept the UK overall vote to Leave and ignore Scotland’s significant opposition again had logic as a committed unionist. However, her defence of a soft Brexit and continued membership of European institutions integral to it have been undermined by the UK Government. It appears that her once principled position has evaporated.

The re-elected Tory Government saw an increase from its sole member to a gang of 13 but what have they achieved? For sure it’s not yet 100 days in office but so far there’s little sign of any tangible wins, never mind ambition for Scotland. That’s contrasted with the DUP who’ve used their ten MP’s to acquire unbounded riches for their province.

Even VAT on emergency services, once raised by David Mundell as an issue, he could resolve has been foreworn. It’s true that both Police Scotland and Scottish Fire and Rescue were established without an agreement being concluded. Even without it significant savings could be made and the contrasting plight of them north and south of the Border evidences that. It was always, though, anticipated that an agreement could be reached given it wasn’t imposed on the Police Service of Northern Ireland or some similarly structured agencies in England.

However, every suggestion to the Treasury was refused and requests for clarification as to what would qualify ignored. It remains simply a perverse political decision in which David Mundell has no sway, despite its meagre costs in comparison to the bung offered in Ulster, where it already applies.

At Westminster English Votes for English Laws (EVEL) must be insulting as they’re emasculating in the unitary Parliament they crave. Instead Scottish Tories are left defending the cruelty and harshness of the UK Government’s policies, which they do unquestioningly. It’s not simply the abomination of the Rape Clause in which they’ve been found wanting. A newly elected MP was recently put on radio as the patsy to defend the benefit cap. Rather than address the dreadful plight of single mothers that was aired, he referred to other issues such as housing. To be fair, high private rents were a large part of her woe but he made no suggestion of a solution. Yet he’d been an MSP where the Tories had opposed rent controls, rejected the ending of the sale of council houses and been begrudging in the construction of new ones, all of which are part of the answer.

The Tory position in Holyrood seems is to incessantly criticise the Scottish Government. Again, there’s issues and failings that need addressed. However, constant negativity’s caustic for democracy and there’s a total absence of any positive vision of what they’d do. Even issues previously derided, such as free prescriptions, are binned if felt to be electorally harmful. Yet the medicine prescribed by the Tories south of the Border is proving calamitous to the NHS.

Attacks on the SNP in education have been equally corrosive yet without detailing their solution. Not just grammar schools but teacher morale is a huge problem south of the Border and as a direct consequence of Tory policies. A response to Westminster cuts that Holyrood can restore them ignores whether the Scottish Tories believe in them or not. If they do they should support them and if they don’t they should oppose abatement.

The Tories becoming the opposition was a sea change in Scottish politics, from two left-leaning parties divided by differing views on the constitution. Now, it’s not just independence but the usual left-right split that separates government from opposition. However, the Tories have failed to spell out just what changes they wish and what society they want.

There’s an alternative to social democracy and its being rolled out south of the Border. The heath service along with others aspects of the state are being privatised and the wealth gap is widening. It’s neither pleasant nor working.

Indy Ref2 and Brexit will subside and hang ’em high and tax ’em low are simply glib soundbites The Tories need to spell out what society they seek but many may decide that the new lot are as bad as the old lot.