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Tuesday, 6 September 2011

The Way Of All Tory Flesh

There are three things to be said about Murdo Fraser's willingness to put his own party out of its misery: this is not a new idea, it is not enough, on its own, to spark a centre-right revival in Scottish politics and it is a brave way to begin a leadership campaign. Tactically it is a risky ploy; strategically it makes sense. Put all this together and there's every chance, yet again, that nothing will come of it.

For that matter, it may be a mistake to make this the crucial issue in the leadership campaign. The Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party may be feeble but it is also stubborn and most of the time it is guided by a kind of paleounionism that will lead to its extinction. So the question is this: a quick death and a new beginning o a long, drawn-out demise that will make the rebirth of Scottish conservatism more difficult than it need or must be?

It is hard to think of a successful right-of-centre party in europe that is not in some way identified as the patriotic party. The Scottish Tories have lost the ability to make that claim or be identified with the national interest. Until this is remedied there can be no secure recovery. Those Tories who claim Fraser is "appeasing" the SNP have it precisely backwards: it is the Keep Calm and Plod Along brigade that abets nationalism. Times have changed and even Tories must accept that.

Instead, however, the party has spent thirty years saying No to everything at a time when Scotland has been minded to say Yes. That must change. Much of the time - no matter how worthy their small-bore policies may have been - the Scottish Tories have viewed everything through constitutional glasses and concluded that anything that pleases the SNP or advances a sense of distinctiveness should be treated with suspicion. As such the party has rarely had anything to say and it has been easy, if sometimes unfair, to portray the Tories as the anti-Scottish party. At best, there's been the sense that the Conservatives have not always put Scotland's interests - which might include, incidentally, a centre-right revival - first.

Some of this is hard to avoid. But a modern and mature Unionism need not be afraid of nationalism. Nor must it continually pretend that independence is an impossible or lunatic dream. The contrary it is feasible and scarcely likely to result in the sky falling. The question Unionists should ask nationalists is whether independence is necessary? Yes, some things might be gained but others would surely be lost.

We have been here before. Sensible Unionists can acknowledge that the benefts of Union came at a price. Something was lost in 1707 and it was appropriate that the bells at St Giles rang out Why Should I Be So Sad on My Wedding Day? So there's been a streak of melancholy running through Unionism. Today, however, the question is on the other foot: Why Should I Be So Sad When My Divroce Papers Arrive? Perhaps because there might be a feeling that we could have made a better go of it and that our seperation was not, actually, necessary or even, when push comes to shove, something we're sure we want to go through with.

The Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, however, has failed. Who really thinks it can, as presently constituted, recover? It's purpose must be more than to serve as a burial ground for the bodies left in Last Ditch Unionism. The better governance of Scotland - in whatever constitutional arrangement - should be its mission. At present why should any young, ambitious right-of-centre would-be politician join the Tories? Why not join the SNP and work for centre-right policies from within the SNP's capacious tent?

At present the SNP and Scottish Labour make claims to be the patriotic party. It might be thought preposterous that either consider it possible for them to enjoy a monopoly on patriotism but, no matter, it is evident that the Tories ceded this territory long ago and cannot win it back. For whom, at present, do they speak? And why should the rest of the country be interested in listening?

In the end, what matters more? The party or the future of right-of-centre politics in Scotland? Or, to put it another way, who dares think the Scottish Conservative and Unionist party, as presently constituted, is in any fit place to best lead or serve the interests of right-of-centre politics? Quite. It has had its chance and it has failed and now the national interest must be put above the interests of a mere political party.

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