Posts Tagged Scottish Conservatives

EXCLUSIVE: Ruth Davidson – why I’m proud to be Scottish and British

Writing exclusively for Better Nation, Ruth Davidson, Glasgow MSP and Scottish Conservative leadership contender, sets out her political beliefs on identity and the constitution.

One of the more specious claims made by a number of Nationalists is Unionists can’t make a positive case for the Union.  That’s just nonsense.  The Union between England and Scotland has led to the most peaceful and prosperous times in our two nations’ history.  So here are just a few reasons why I am proud to be Scottish and British.

Firstly I have never understood people who say you have to choose between being British and Scottish.  It is like arguing you cannot be passionate about your club and national football team.  Or even that supporting Andy Murray is incompatible with supporting Andy Murray in the Davis Cup.  It is just absurd.  Our identities are created by a number of factors, not just one narrow element. So I am proud to be Scottish and proud to be British.  I know I am not alone in this.  Millions of Scots instinctively recognise they can retain their Scottish heritage without rejecting the modern United Kingdom.

That dual-identity is at the core of my political beliefs.  I am proud to be a Unionist.  I believe Scotland is better off as part of the United Kingdom.  We have more influence over our future, as well as other parts of the world.  We are part of one of the worlds largest economies.  We are part of a cultural relationship with our closest neighbour which has made both nations better off.  Most of all the United Kingdom is greater than the sum of its parts.  As a country we have worked together against some of the greatest tyrants and threats the world has known, and we continue to do so.  That shared history, and shared success means people can be proud to be British.

Or as Annabel Goldie said recently: “I want the best for my country – and for me the best is being Scottish and British and working together for the good of us all.”

Yet despite being in this political and economic union, we have still been able to maintain our own sense of nationhood.  The Church of Scotland, the Scottish Legal System and of course the Scottish Parliament, are all examples of how we have national institutions which help to ensure we can be Scottish, while also accruing all the benefits of being part of the United Kingdom.

There are other institutions which manage to combine the two as well.  Look at the British Army.  Despite three hundred years of integration, there are Scottish units with their individual identities, but who work together to create one of the most efficient and effective forces in the world.  And look at the Scottish soldiers, seamen and airmen who serve in the Armed Forces.  They do that because it serves both their nation, and their state.  That role is one of protection, but also a chance to help make a difference in a wider arena

Because it isn’t just Scotland and Britain as entities that benefit, it’s individual Scots as well. By being British citizens it’s possible for Scots to be able to make a real difference across the world.  There is nothing to stop a Scot from joining the army, or the Foreign Office where they can affect international politics.  The United Kingdom is still a major power, one of the world’s largest economies, a permanent Security Council member, with one of the most effective diplomatic and military corps on the planet.

Scots influence the direction of a great nation.  That is something we would lose if we lost the Union.

Unfortunately, small independent nations don’t have that influence.  Look at the impact of the credit crisis upon Scotland and Ireland.  In Scotland our banks were recapitalised by the UK Government.  That protected jobs, protected the savings of millions, and ensured Scotland was spared the economic disaster which engulfed the (regrettably named) Arc of Prosperity.  The Irish Banking sector was also bailed out, but much later, and without the guarantees which RBS and HBOS received.

The reason why we are better off is simple.  Scotland is part of the United Kingdom, and that means the United Kingdom owes duties towards Scotland.  Our security and our economy are guaranteed.

Of course there are issues where one part of the Union has done better than another.  That is an argument for politicians to stand up for Scotland, not to give up on a partnership which has brought enormous advantage.

I am a Unionist because it is part of my identity.  It provides me, and every other Scot with amazing opportunities to change the world.  And being part of the United Kingdom allows us to be part of a greater country, one which is better able to face the threats, expected and unexpected, economic and security, which face us today.  Scotland and Britain benefit from the Union and I am very proud to defend it.

So there can be no doubt Scotland and Scots benefit enormously from being part of the Union.  I will never back down from defending the United Kingdom from separation.  But it shouldn’t be the only focus of Scottish political discussion.  I want to move the debate on.  That is why once the Scotland Bill becomes law I think we need to stop discussing political process and start talking about real issues.  That doesn’t mean there can never be any change in the devolution settlement afterwards, but it does mean we should work with the powers we have before evaluating whether more, or fewer powers are required.

I want this to be the decade when Scotland moves on from discussing devolution to making devolution work.  I want to use the powers the Scottish Parliament has to make my vision of Scotland a reality.  That means supporting families.  It means supporting aspiration, and encouraging entrepreneurs.  It means ensuring our streets are safe, our schools are the best, and that everyone receives the best healthcare available.

Scotland faces huge challenges over the next decade.  It is up to politicians to work on facing these real challenges, not engaging in unnecessary discourse.  Scotland deserves better.

As a Conservative, I am an optimist. I believe we can overcome the challenges Scotland faces.  But there is no doubt it will be easier to accomplish as part of a strong United Kingdom.  That is why I am proud to be Scottish, Conservative, and Unionist.


Tags: , , , , ,

Ruth Davidson will be the next Scottish Tory leader

At the risk of giving the Scottish Conservatives far more ether-coverage than they are used to, or they deserve, another blogpost from me on their leadership contest.

So far there isn’t actually a contest, what with Jackson Carlaw MSP, the only one to show his hand. But you read it here first. Ruth Davidson will win.

Reliable sources, as they say, advise that she will stand and that she is garnering support from some of the party’s big guns. Apparently, the constituency party with the most members, Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire (John Lamont MSP’s seat), will vote for her. So too will David Mundell MP’s seat, Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale. Ditto John Scott MSP’s Ayr.

And these three constituencies count for big swathes of the party’s membership. It also indicates that not only does Ms Davidson carry the outgoing leader, Annabel Goldie’s, patronage but support from some of the party’s biggest hitters. In a party of 15 MSPs and 1 MP, she has effectively sewn up a quarter of that high level support. No doubt there are others in the wings too. Struan Stevenson MEP touted her leadership qualities when Malc and I caught up with him in Strasbourg in June (as you do) so there’s another of the party’s elected representatives in her court. And Struan’s a popular figure whose opinion will also count.

Anyone with a geography O/standard grade will have worked out that so far Ms Davidson’s support is from the South of Scotland. Murdo Fraser MSP is also likely to stand and no doubt he will pick up most of his support from his North East – ahem – heartlands. Like Jackson Carlaw, though, he’s tainted. While he has bestrode (bestridden?) this part of Scotland like a colossus, traditionally Tory territory has fallen to the Nats. Like snaw off a dyke, as the FM might, and probably did, say.

During his tenure as Depute Tory leader, his patch has been put through the wringer and turned totally yellow. They don’t count SNP votes anymore in these constituencies, they weigh them. Moreover, there appears to be a bit of a move on in the party to keep Murdo out. And anyone who has ever stood for political election, either internally or externally, knows you care little about why people vote for you, you just want them to vote for you. Ms Davidson therefore will accept such anti-Murdo votes with a gracious smile.

Moreover, Ruth Davidson represents the future face of Scottish Conservatism. Too young to be tainted by Thatcher, she might finally make the break with the past and allow the Tories to turn their fortunes around. Or at least that’s the thinking. Whether or not she will manage it remains to be seen – bigger political Tory beasts than her have tried and failed.

If she becomes leader – and she will, or I’ll eat someone’s hat – the Scottish Conservatives will have the youngest party leader, be the only party in Scotland not only to have a woman at the helm but to do it twice and moreover, elect a lesbian to the position. There are so many ironies in this I don’t know where to start. Progressive Torydom. Even in the Shires. Who knew?

For these and many more reasons, hers will be a remarkable election. She’s only been an MSP for a few months. Her rise may have been stratospheric, but she has undoubted qualities. Articulate and media savvy, she will inject something different into our political discourse. Cybernats will no doubt scoff at her prospects against the First Minister every week but I wouldn’t write her off. Going toe to toe with him is bound to end in disaster, but as Annabel has shown many times in recent years, there are other ways to get attention, get your point across and importantly, get under Alex Salmond’s skin.

Ruth Davidson is probably more centred politically than many on the right would like. That will make for an interesting conversation. While the rest of Europe lurches rightwards, including our ain dear UK Parliament, Scotland will have proven definitively that it is on a quite different political course. Her election will undoubtedly make it easier for the Scottish Tories to establish clear blue water from their UK counterparts – and hopefully detoxify their brand from the government’s activities that are not finding favour with Scots voters – but we await clues to see how this might pan out in policy terms.

But the most urgent task at hand is the implementation of the Sanderson review. The party needs overhaul at every level and in every sphere, to bring it out of the 1970s and into the 21st Century. Only when it has achieved this, can it seriously begin to think about political renewal. No doubt Ruth Davidson supports the review’s recommendations but does she have the mettle to push them through?

Such activity requires an attention to detail and a knowledge of what to do and when – qualities that John Swinney demonstrated in abundance during his ill-fated SNP leadership, during which he managed to push through a centralised membership scheme and also one member, one vote in all internal elections. This was no accident: his longterm membership and service in key party roles, particularly as National Secretary, served as a useful apprenticeship to achieving such fundamental structural changes. Does Ruth Davidson have the same organisational skills to bring to the fore?

The Scottish Conservatives have no doubt spent their summer chattering amongst themselves and one hopes garnering an inkling on what the three likely candidates think about stuff. And while these are the only votes that count for now, Ruth Davidson might like to share some of her thoughts on stuff with the rest of us. It would be bizarre indeed to greet a new Tory leader without knowing her views on well, anything.

And while the prospect of such a vibrant, youthful unknown leading one of Scotland’s main parties provides a frisson of excitement, I wonder if Ruth Davidson might just be peaking too soon? The Tories are in transition and such leadership stipends rarely last long enough to reap gains from any reforms enacted or attempted. Ask the afore-mentioned John Swinney. And Wendy Alexander.

Which makes John Lamont’s decision to sit out this round of musical chairs, and instead, throw his hat (and constituency votes) behind the most likely contender to defeat his shot at the next leadership election seem very shrewd indeed.

Tags: , , , ,

Election round up: Never mind the parties, what about their voters?

How do you round up when there’s nothing to round up?  I mean, they might as well not have bothered this week.

It’s beginning to feel like Groundhog Day: every morning the meeja are summoned to some inane photo opportunity in some poor unsuspecting town; the respective machines reel off constant announcements and statements (go visit the Steamie to see how relentless they are); news programmes dutifully report the day’s headlines and if they’re really lucky, a gaffe.  And then everyone goes leafleting, canvassing, to hustings and meetings and then they do it all again the next day.  Yep, so far, so dull.

What happened this week?  More polls showed a super soaraway lead for the SNP;  a relaunch for Labour put Salmond, the SNP and independence firmly in its sights;  Annabel presented a ridiculous caricature of herself, if this is possible, in a hairnet eating teacakes;  Iain Gray failed to fight Salmond in the Asda aisles;  and Hadrians wall was breached as UK leaders and big hitters headed north to shore up the faltering Labour and Lib Dem campaigns, and Mr and Mrs Salmond went to London to see the Queen and that wedding;  shock, horror there was a wumman in charge of the country and the sky didn’t fall in.

Dear voter, hang tight, the end is in sight. Here’s hoping for a rip-roaring grand finale with two leaders’ debates this Sunday on the BBC and then on Tuesday at STV.  Please inspire us with a gripping toe-to-toe discourse on the key policies and issues.

So that’s the parties;  what about the voters?  Who is actually voting for whom in this election and what does that say about, well, anything?

Using the IPSOS-Mori poll because it has the most detail in terms of voter disaggregation, there are few surprising variations on what we might expect.

If you intend to vote SNP on 5 May, you are most likely to be male, aged 35 -54, working full time, born in Scotland and living in a rural area, in the least deprived communities.  However, the SNP can also expect a considerable vote from pensioners, though amongst younger age groups, its vote is pretty evenly split between those having children and those not.

Given that Labour and the SNP are fighting it out for the centre ground, they might also be tussling over the same voters?  Actually, no.  Labour voters are more likely to be female, under 35, working part time, living with children in a council or housing association house in the most deprived areas in cities or towns.  Interestingly, their voters are just as likely to come from other parts of the UK or indeed, beyond, as from Scotland.

What does this tell us?  That Labour is holding onto its traditional voter ground, is resonating with the “squeezed middle” but needs to do more to secure the aspirational vote.  It is clear that this vote still sits largely with the SNP.  And despite big efforts, the SNP is still toiling to appeal to women and urban voters.  This matters: if the SNP’s projected lead turns into seats, expect Scotland to turn largely yellow all across the North and South of Scotland, but the central belt will stay stubbornly red.  One other interesting demographic is how few people (according to this poll but probably backed up by experience) born outwith Scotland intend to vote SNP:  the party’s civic nationalist messages do not appear to be getting through.

Perhaps the most significant development is the switch of the all-important pensioner vote, which has been mirrored in the polls throughout this election and which I blogged on previously.  Given older people’s propensity to actually go and vote, these are the voters likely to have a huge bearing on the overall result.  And the shift would appear to be just reward for the SNP Government’s overt woo-ing with a range of pensioner-friendly policies.

What of the other parties?  Conservative voters are most likely to be female, retired, without children, born elsewhere in the UK and living in the most affluent areas in rural communities.  Little surprise there then, but note that their main challengers for this vote are the SNP (who are winning it hands down).

The Lib Dems’ vote is most likely to be younger (25 -34), have no children, own their home, and again live in the most affluent areas of rural communities.

Do you see the pattern?  It seems to support the headline findings which show that the SNP is taking votes from both these parties.  And it also shows the danger of believing the national polls in terms of how big the SNP’s lead over Labour actually is.  Unless and until the SNP is winning votes from Labour in urban constituencies, few seats in the central belt will change hands.

Effectively, the SNP is in the lead because it is taking votes away from the Tories and Lib Dems in largely rural seats, which is also supported by IPSOS-Mori’s findings on the regional vote.  These suggest more Tory and Lib Dem constituency voters intend to vote SNP on the list vote than for Labour.

It all points to two things.  First, that we are likely to have a big urban-rural divide in terms of election outcome.  How that will play out in Holyrood and government remains to be seen.  Secondly, Labour has indeed got its campaign strategy wrong.  Its lagging behind the SNP has less to do with losing the national battle (though this has undoubtedly had an impact), and more to do with mistaking this election – as veteran political journalist Angus McLeod deftly pointed out – as a core vote one, when it has actually been a switcher election.

Finally, what of the Scottish Greens?  Well, the party enjoys pretty even support across all the demographics, though its vote is more likely to be urban, living in the least deprived areas and most likely to have been born outwith the UK.  Everything else is pretty marginal: while having a universal appeal across age groups, gender and employment status might suit the egalitarian spirit of the Greens and their need to pick up regional votes from all types of voters, one wonders what might happen if it targeted more heavily towards particular groups and communities?

Tags: , , , , , ,

What will the “PM Cameron effect” be for the Tories in Scotland?

The “Cameron Effect” seemed to work for the Tories on a UK-wide level, delivering gains in England and Wales, and David Cameron into Downing Street, albeit in coalition and not, as he had intended, with a Conservative majority.  However the Tories struggled once again in Scotland, holding onto the only seat they had won in 2005 and winning nothing else.  In short, the Cameron effect stretched only as far as Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale and no further.

But, David Cameron is now Prime Minister.  So what impact will his Prime Ministerial role have upon Conservative fortunes in Scotland?  Will the slump that saw the party wiped out in 1997 and 2001 continue?  Or will a youthful Tory PM – with a new-born child in Downing Street – be the catalyst for Scotland to fall back in love (or at least, fall back into liking/ tolerate) with the Tories?

I think in some senses it is too early to tell – and that might be as much to do with time as it is to do with the cuts agenda.  David Cameron – and to an extent, George Osbourne – were smart enough to let the devolved administrations in Edinburgh and Cardiff make their cuts now or defer them until next year, with both deferring (which was equally smart – it means that incoming administrations in May 2011 will have to deal with the fall-out).  So, in that respect, the full force of cuts won’t really be felt until next year – certainly in Scotland and Wales.

That, in turn, allows the Scottish Conservatives to campaign in May with a positive – their (relatively popular) man in government at Westminster without the focus on cuts, cuts and cuts.  On the other hand, Scots have tended to be more suspicious of the style over substance approach (even though we delivered Tony Blair a huge majority of Scottish MPs) and Cameron’s Eton background may not appeal to everyone.  Equally, while I – and I think, most commentators – have been fairly impressed with the way the Tories have gone about their business at Holyrood (engaging in budget debates, being constructive in opposition to a minority administration) there is a sense that they seem tired and in need of fresh impetus.  Perhaps the fact that they are in government at UK level will breathe new life into them at Holyrood, but I’m not convinced.

A Scottish Conservative yesterday...

I know Jeff has written in the past about the need for leadership change within the Scottish Tories.  While I really like Annabel Goldie and think she has taken the Scottish Conservatives further than I thought she could, I’m beginning to agree with him.  Nothing against Ms Goldie, but I think the party need a fresh look – and a change.  Several of the old guard – Bill Aitken, Ted Brocklebank – have already announced their retirement, though in contrast, Nanette Milne (68, Aberdeenshire West), Mary Scanlon (62, Inverness & Nairn) and Jamie McGrigor (60, Argyll & Bute) will all be standing in May and at least two of them are likely to return on regional lists.

So new blood is required.  I think the days are gone when the term “young Conservative” was seen as a oxymoron.  And perhaps that has been the impact of the Cameron effect.  However, the term “Scottish Conservative” looks like it is becoming like the lesser-spotted dodo.  If PM Cameron is to have an impact on the Tories in Scotland, some combination of the two – the youth and the Scottish – will have to emerge.  Otherwise, despite their good work in this third term of devolution (and that positive view of the Scottish Tories is debateable) I can see the party losing votes and seats come May.

Tags: , , ,