Saturday 1 August 2020

Are the Scottish Tories Doomed?

These days party discipline is something talked about in the breach rather than the observance, but hats off to the SNP. Their National Executive Committee who met Thursday evening to consider new rules on MPs wishing to switch to Holyrood and the outcome didn't leak. Impressive. Still, there wasn't any doubt. Nicola Sturgeon's steady-as-she-goes faction control the SNP machinery, and so the NEC were always going to make it harder for Joanna Cherry to butt heads with Angus Robertson in the selection for Edinburgh Central, and smooth the path for another take over of the party by Alex Salmond. Well, Cherry's down and out for now, and the small matter of blocking Salmond's path back to prominence presents itself. For those who watched the Scottish Socialist Party break apart a decade-and-a-half ago, you ain't seen nothing yet.

While the SNP pursues its split trajectory between realo and fundi nationalism, another nationalist force - British, this time - has developed a headache of its own. On Thursday, the Scottish Tory leader Jackson Carlaw unexpectedly resigned. Without much hint of ulterior dissatisfaction, he said "In the last few weeks, I have reached a simple if painful conclusion – that I am not, in the present circumstances, the person best placed to lead that [ Unionist] case over these next vital months in Scottish politics prior to the Holyrood elections." Deary me. In the interim, Ruth Davidson is expected to stand in at First Minister's Questions while her peerage is in the post. There is, however, an element of Carlaw jumping before getting pushed. His performance since Davidson announced her departure has been less-than-stellar. He was all over the place on Dominic Cummings's celebrated trip to Barnard Castle, was universally mocked for poorly performing at FMQs, got brickbats from Tory MSPs for going unilateral on a no deal Brexit, and losing seven seats at the general election. Rubbish polling sealed his fate. So dud, meet open window.

How do we know this was engineered and not Jackson acting on a self-conscious whim? Enter stage right Douglas Ross. Who he? Ross is the honourable member for Moray and, in 2017, won back the seat from the SNP for the first time since 1983, and disposing of Angus Robertson too. He retained it last year with a much reduced majority. He has emerged from semi-obscurity to the attention of Scottish politics thanks to having a, to coin a phrase, oven-ready leadership campaign ready to go. Fancy that. Despite upsetting the London-based In Defence of Our Dom faction by resigning from the Scottish Office over Cummings's behaviour, Johnson appears reconciled to his taking over. Apparently, Ross is fancied as having something about him - some of what you might call the Davidson magic. Or, to translate into plain English, is pliable as far as Number 10 are concerned.

What else does Ross have to offer, assuming the Scottish party accepts London's writ without question? Well, also in line with the otherwise empty Tory manifesto Ross has a thing for scapegoating travellers. Indeed, in 2017 he said cracking down on "Gypsy Travellers" would be his top priority if he was Prime Minister for a day. What a charmer. Apart from this, he's voted as directed by the whips' office - speaking out against Cummings was a rare moment of independent thought, albeit one likely powered by grumbles and disgruntlement across the wider party. Prior to his elevation to the Commons, Ross enjoyed a somewhat elastic relationship to the Tories, as Angus Robertson deliciously recounts. Another interesting feature of Ross's pitch is his decision not to resign from Westminster when he's selected and elected to Holyrood. This brings up the politically toxic issue of double-jobbing - claiming twice the salary for doing half a job for each isn't going to endear him to anyone, and just shows how much contempt the Tories have for their voters if they think they'd just swallow this. A hay-making opportunity for the SNP, and perhaps even the comatose Scottish Labour might find it in themselves to make a populist splash on this too.

Whether Ross prevails or not, he's come to prominence under the steerage of others. And I suppose this is just as well, because as Scottish Tory leader he won't be the master of his own destiny either - boxed in as he will be by SNP hegemony and despatches from Dom's office. And there is the ever-present underlying problem: the unionist vote is in an advanced state of decrepitude and long-term decline. With the SNP having locked down rising layers of workers by speaking to their interests and offering a vague enough vision of an independent Scotland allowing the projection onto it or all things fine and fair, the only place the Tories can go is to feast on Labour's vote. It could work yet having one declining force feed off another is, at best, a recipe for the shortest of short-term gains. How the Tories might take votes off the SNP is looking more difficult with every passing day Johnson sits in Downing Street and shafts Scotland. The Tory position then is bad. Their recent rejuvenation is time limited, and the expiration date is fast approaching. Hope for Scottish Conservatism lies in the developing split in Scottish nationalism, and that is entirely out of their hands.

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nig said...

erm.. far from being a 'hay making' opportunity for the SNP Ross's 'double-jobbing' is a nightmare for the SNP as it brings Alex Salmond's 'double-jobbing' sharply back into focus.

Phil said...

Yes, but they have drawn a line under that with the new rule change. And if going on about double jobbing damages Salmond, I'm sure Sturgeon can live with that.

nig said...

I'm no expert but found this from wikipedia entry. It appears Scotland is the only regional parliament still able for this to happen "As of 2019, it remains possible only for members of the Scottish Parliament to be members of the UK Parliament, though at present none are."