Any vaguely unionist Conservative will be familiar with the plight of the Scottish Conservative & Unionist Party. Since a heydey in the middle of the last century as a strange coalition of Scottish political parties led by the Unionists, it merged with the southern party in the sixties and has declined since, with a total collapse at the end of the last Conservative administration* leading it to its presently parlous state of being Scotland's fourth party.
This sorry tale has clearly done serious damage to the psychology of Scottish Conservatives. Some, such as the blog New Right (whose Europhilia I share) are advocates of fiscal autonomy for Scotland. Other times, a story of the Scottish Conservative & Unionist Party calling for an expensive memorial centre to be built on the site of some rebel victory will filter through. There are signs that the Conservatives north of the border are trying to ape some SNP stances, or at least appeal to their electorate. And then, in the wake of an election where Scotland again swung towards an unpopular incumbent, the likes of Norman Tebbit again bring up the idea of making the Scottish party independent.** As a Conservative but especially as a Unionist, I think this would be a very bad idea.
Firstly, there's the fact that those who simply wish to 'undo' the merger tend to have misunderstood the state of the Scottish political right before it. I read somewhere that the 'Scottish Progressive & Unionist Party' should be refounded - no such party ever existed. The right in Scotland during the mid-century heydey was a coalition of the soft-protestant Unionist Party and a motley assortment of people who used labels such as National Liberal, Liberal Unionist and yes, Progressive. This state of affairs was the product of decades of political evolution north of the border to say the least - it cannot simply be reconstructed by severing links with the Scottish party.
Assuming then that the Scottish Conservative & Unionist Party became independent as a single party, how would it then relate to the Conservative Party? The Conservative Party would even more than now be viewed as a 'strictly English' political party, and when making cuts would be deeply unpopular in Scotland. The new party - who after all have been created solely to boost their electoral fortunes - would have precious little reason to be loyal to the London Conservative government.
Indeed, much might be gained by beginning to score political points off it. Assuming for a moment that the party's stance on unionism did not continue to soften into non-existence, it is not hard to envisage this Scottish party evolving along the lines of the 'Little Ulster' unionists in Northern Ireland. A centre-right 'Little Scot' party that 'defends Scotland' from London as strongly as it fights the SNP might well be more popular than the current Scottish Conservatives, but is it really one the Conservative Party should be in the business of creating? Given the noises that intermittently come out of the Scottish Party, it is perhaps expecting a miracle for an independent party to remain (if that is even the right word, perhaps 'become') a vociferous champion of integrated unionism north of the border. And in my view, the Scottish electorate deserve such an option.
And finally, what would an independent Scottish party mean for the Conservatives - especially under Cameron? In one of his most admirable strains of political consistency, Cameron has shown himself to be the most enthusiastic unionist to take the helm of the Conservative Party in a long time. He has taken a big risk in attempting (and continuing to attempt in the face of setbacks) to establish the Conservative & Unionist Party as a pan-UK party, including rebuilding links with what was once the Conservative Party surrogate in Northern Ireland, the Ulster Unionist Party. Is he seriously willing to countenance undoing all that at a stroke by confining the Conservatives to England, Wales and Northern Ireland? It seems ridiculous. Experience with the UUP is also telling - I for one would not consider creating a Scottish UUP-equivalent an attractive proposal for restoring the fortunes of post-1997 Scottish conservatism.
In a way, it again reinforces the consistent theme I have noticed that unionists are veritable Picassos of pessimism. After our defeat in 1997 even O'Neill is saying that the Conservatives "are never going to be again the second, never mind first, party in Scotland". Why not? In the 1950s, when the Liberals had 5 MPs, I don't suppose any of them thought they'd be in government again. Like the Scottish Conservatives, many of them remembered a bygone golden age. But they persevered, and continued to hold true (ish) to their beliefs. What is it about having 5 Liberal MPs in an age when 97% of the population vote Labour/Tory in an FPTP system that is so much more inspirational than being the fourth party (although not by much) in a more proportional electoral system? Nothing I can see, unless you accept the much-pushed 'Thatcher killed the Scottish Conservatives' mantra.
Unionists should buck up and learn to believe in themselves and their cause. And the Conservative & Unionist Party should remain the pan-union party it has so recently started to again become.
*This 'It Was Thatcher' interpretation has gained wide currency but seems to overlook the fact that in the 1992 election Scotland swung towards the Conservative Party, and the Tories became the second-largest party north of the border.
**I would normally at this point furnish links, but typing 'Norman Tebbit Scottish Conservatives' into Google provides a cornucopia of material.