Scottish Tories doomed by Boris Johnson’s ‘New English Conservative Party’ – Kenny MacAskill

Will the Scottish Conservatives supinely suck up the snubs from Westminster or stand up for Scotland? If they do the former, they’re doomed while the latter means they’ll cease to be a unionist party, writes Kenny MacAskill.
Ruth Davidson was once a Conservative conference star, but she's now in Boris Johnson's shadow (Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire)Ruth Davidson was once a Conservative conference star, but she's now in Boris Johnson's shadow (Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire)
Ruth Davidson was once a Conservative conference star, but she's now in Boris Johnson's shadow (Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire)

As a classics scholar, “Veni, Vidi, Vici” may well have sprung to Boris Johnson’s mind when visiting Scotland this week. He came, he saw, he conquered not the Scottish people, as his reception showed, but certainly the Scottish Tory Party who have utterly capitulated.

Ruth Davidson’s no longer feted as the slayer of the Nats and rolled out as the conference darling across the UK. Come the next annual bash with Boris in the spotlight, she’ll be lucky to be allowed in a cupboard. Her rejection of Brexit has been long since abandoned, joining other broken ‘red lines’, as the country lurches towards a no-deal catastrophe. David Mundell humiliated and replaced as Scottish Secretary by a someone folk had never heard of – Malcolm Rifkind’s description of the post being akin to a Governor-General sadly coming to pass.

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Now there’s even the irony of Scottish Tories seeking independence for their party. To be fair some like Murdo Fraser, who wrote about it in The Scotsman yesterday, have long supported it. There’s precedent and contemporary examples but it’s not easy and, under Boris Johnson and the ‘New English Conservative Party’, it’s doomed.

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Changing your name and constitution can be done. But adapting to a new political terrain and giving up the core raison d’etre is problematic, if not impossible. Jimmy Reid, viewed as an early Euro-Communist, pointed out the futility of the exercise, arguing that if Communist parties renounced democratic centralism, then they ceased to be Communist parties. Indeed, that’s what came to pass in Italy and elsewhere.

And therein lies the Scottish Tories’ dilemma. They can change the name and can moderate the tone but if they become an independent party, it undermines their unionism. They can argue for it from their new vantage but can’t be thoroughly thirled to it – Northern Ireland showing that unionist parties can go their own way and even run counter to the policies of the entity they seek to preserve.

Of course, progressives and ratepayers parties have previously provided a vehicle in Scotland for those wishing a right-of-centre party without the baggage or demonisation of the Tory ticket. For some running as a notional independent, that still offers distance. Of course, many were and are decent people even if they were conservatives. I knew and liked old Corny Waugh in Leith who was both a character and a fine councillor. But things are different now and an ersatz version isn’t going to wash.

A distinct but sister party status that some sought for the Scottish Tories – as applies in Germany with the CDU/CSU – is a political ship that’s sailed. Indeed, that’s no longer what’s being sought, which itself is an admission that the supposed Scottish Conservative and Unionist party was just a sham. Leadership and diktat came from London, it always did and it always will, if there’s a link.

So instead, the talk has moved onto the Canadian situation where entirely different parties can operate at federal and provincial level and people can even move between them. But the difference in Canada is that the Conservatives there support the confederation. In the UK now, it’s not the union but English nationalism that the Tories now promote. Ireland should know its place and the Scots better not get uppity.

In Canada, political parties would deliberately select a Quebecker as leader, such as the Liberals with the Trudeaus and Chretien. Yet here Boris Johnson has declared it’s inconceivable that a Scot could become Prime Minister and there’s no Ontario equivalent of EVEL (English votes for English laws). Even Canadian Tories with a traditionally low membership in Quebec, court the province. Leaders speak French when there, showing sensitivity to its distinct society. But in Scotland, far from a charm offensive, instead it’s going to be an offensive against Holyrood, with power grabs and control of funds.

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A new Scottish Tory party would allow for some cover in Holyrood despite the debacle the Tories are presiding over nationally. Separate they may be, but tainted they’ll remain, even if there’s a political market for a right-of-centre party in Scotland.

But what do they do at Westminster? Communist parties collapsed not just ideologically but also through the fall of the Soviet Union and it’s supplanting by Russian nationalism. Does this Tory reincarnation supinely suck up the snubs or do they argue back and stand up for Scottish interests in the face of English nationalism? If they do the former, they’re doomed and if they do the latter, they’ll cease to be a unionist party.

Unionism’s now threatened by English nationalism and neither a new name nor a new party suffice. It’s not the party that’s the problem, it’s the union.