Monday, 10 May 2010

How do you solve a problem like the Union?

Rob Leitch, over at ConHome, has written about the troubles the Union may face given the divergence between the Conservative showing in England compared to Scotland.

I think that while it is right to highlight our party's failure in Scotland, this article is somewhat doom-laden, so I shall present my counter-points here.

1) The vast majority of Scotland is held by unionist parties: We should be careful not to translate our own party's difficulties north of the border into the kind of terminal scenario painted by Leitch. The Liberal Democratic and Labour parties held their own in Scotland, the SNP made no breakthrough and support for independence remains stubbornly low. We need to look at why we aren't breaking through, but the Conservatives should be careful not to do Alex Salmond's work for him.

2) I love FPTP, but it screwed us over north of the border: The Labour Party polled over a million votes in Scotland, and we polled over 400,000. The Labour Party won 41 seats in Scotland, whereas we won 1. We have a not-insubstantial vote in Scotland, but we're struggling to break through under FPTP. This is a difficult situation but is not beyond remedy.

3) This is hardly a result from which we can announce the doom of Tartan Toryism: If we had swept the board south of the border then maybe we'd be in more serious trouble, but frankly whilst no doubt an excellent result Thursday did not deliver the Conservatives command of the nation. London and Wales, other areas with more left-leaning electorates also saw the resistance of Conservative advances. There is not yet the evidence from which to conclude that this is a purely Scottish malaise.

4) A silver lining to even the darkest cloud: Most importantly, whilst there was a small swing to Labour (!) in Scotland the Conservatives did gain significant ground on the Liberal Democrats in two seats: Argyll & Bute and Aberdeenshire West & Kincardine, both seats that used to be Conservative. Additionally, there are Scottish seats where a fall in the Labour vote (which I assume is still possible in Scotland) or the Nationalists could deliver Conservative & Unionist MPs: Dumfries & Galloway, East Renfrewshire, Stirling, Ochil & Perthshire South, Perth & Perthshire North, Edinburgh South (if Darling stands down at some point) and even Moray or Berwickshire, Roxburgh & Selkirk are not out of the question. The latter may be distant now, but they are not impossible long term targets.

Much as I dislike their politics, we should learn from the SNP. In 1979 their Westminster representation fell from 11 seats to 1 - an electoral disaster by anybody's standards. But they've stuck at it, and now they run the devolved assembly.

As for Leitch's point on the little-Englanders in the party - he's absolutely right. And we "strong traditional unionists who will fight tooth and nail for the continuation of the United Kingdom" must do exactly that.

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