Rise! Rise!

Scotland doesn’t need another party of the Left – it needs a real party of the Right. The left-of-centre field is getting mighty cluttered with those claiming they can out radical each other but we don’t even have a single ambitious party of the right worthy of the name. The Scottish Conservatives aren’t so much a branch office as a regional depot for despatching London policy.

The Scottish Tories have been the embarrassing relative everybody avoids since the Scots, finally realising what Margaret Thatcher meant by bringing harmony and peace, took their revenge by obliterating them at the ballot box. What was left by ‘97 was a rump of Dad’s Army Telegraph readers with interest-bearing accounts and share dividends. They think Labour equates to Communism, the Nats are anarchists and we can save the health service by reintroducing Matron (see 1999 manifesto).

Once a Tory could be a West of Scotland working class Protestant, a Borders mill worker suspicious of socialist change or a professional who respected social structures that had endured. But the stigma of Thatcher poisoned the name so that Scots canvassed on their voting intentions would demur and claim they were Don’t Knows instead of Tories.

Some of this is illogical since there are policy positions many voters could approve of and indeed candidates sufficiently credible to deserve a vote. But things ain’t wot they used to be…attitudes and culture change so that what was once mainstream becomes unimaginable – think bell-bottoms or frizzy hair.

Have the Scottish Tories binned the flares and stopped listening to Slade and the Sweet? Well, the leader is certainly a change – new generation, plain-speaking and non-posh. Ruth Davidson is able to mix it with the mainstream of mainly Left-orientated politicians without sounding like Margo in the Good Life. There are able and effective individuals in elected positions – Jackson Carlaw, Murdo Fraser, Liz Smith. But…what are they for? They cannot claim to be instigators of a Scottish renaissance of ideas since it’s hard to know when they last had one. There is a sense in which they read between the lines of popular sentiment and hedge their bets. It’s interesting to look back to 1999 when they were still in shock from the Extinction of the Dinosaurs two years previously. All pretence at fading popularity was washed away with all 11 MPs, led to oblivion by the Thatcherite zealot Michael Forsyth, blindly denying the demand for devolution and democratic change.

The manifesto for the first Holyrood includes abolition of university tuition fees(!?) and free childcare for all four-year-olds and making the parliament work for Scotland within the UK, all which could be lifted from any progressive party document. In fact the sense of realism and contrition pointing to new and bolder future is palpable. Here is part of the leader’s statement (the late David McLetchie).


On May 1st 1997 the people of Scotland told us what they thought – we got it wrong.

They said we were out of touch. We didn’t listen; that our decisions and policies had London stamped all over them, with little relevance, or sympathy, for the needs of the Scottish people.

As a result, our history is indelibly marked with the 1997 election defeat.
The defeat, however, was a turning point. It made us look at ourselves. It was time to face the criticisms and address them head on. It was now or never.
One of our immediate tasks was to find out what Scotland really thought of us. And, more importantly, what Scotland expected of us.

Since July 1998 we have held over five hundred ‘listening’ meetings to hear the views of over 15,000 people from all walks of life, from all over Scotland. The result? The manifesto you see before you.

It gives me great pride to say that no other manifesto has ever been put together this way. It truly was created for you, by you.
Please feel free to read on. Whether you read it all, or whether you just dip in and out, you’ll see that, while our core values and principles remain intact, this is a new party.

A party that is listening.
A party that has got back to grass roots. A party that has risen to the challenge of devolution.
A party that is committed to putting Scotland First.


Is that what has happened? Does this describe the Tories you know? Do today’s policies sound as if they are crafted in Scotland with unique properties of their own? Can you name a single big idea that emanated from or is uniquely identified with the Scottish Tories? Is there any single way in which you understand the Tories to put Scotland first? Do they reflect the needs of the Scottish people?

When it came to the defining issue of the age – independence – did they have copyright on any aspect of the campaign although their party was in legal control of the referendum process? Surely the opposite was true – they cowered behind Labour’s larger support and greater credibility in speaking to the Scottish people (pause for retrospective irony). They surrendered the ground to Labour although it was in truth the most fertile territory any Scottish Tory could wish for. They merged into the execrable Better Together because they had no distinctive voice on Scotland’s place in the world and no character big enough to match even the semi-retired Alistair Darling, twice Britain’s Most Boring Politician.

Indeed if you scan the 2015 Tory election manifesto, it has ‘Scotland’ on top of every page but the content is 95 per cent the UK manifesto. This is partly understandable for a UK election, it’s true, but on the key area of the economy alone, there is but one single paragraph on Scotland which, after giving us the employment rate, merely states that growth will help ‘every part of Britain.’

Immigration, another key area and the policy bedrock for virtually every Right-wing European party, has literally no mention of Scotland at all despite a different tone to the debate here and different economic and social needs. Education, perhaps the area where Scotland is most distinct and where the Tories have the widest remit for unique ideas, is a pale version of London policy – allowing individuals and charities to set up their own schools and allowing schools to be run independently from local councils. This is England’s Academy policy with a kilt.

How much real independence does either the party of the leadership actually have? Before the May election Davidson was asked if the Tories would block a second referendum and was unable to say more than it had been discussed with Cameron but she could not foresee the circumstances in which that would happen. She later said it would be a mistake to block indyref2. Cameron has now decisively ruled out support for another referendum. I suppose she can argue she is putting Scotland first. The truth would appear to be that in Scotland Tories can be as independent as they like – nobody in London takes a blind bit of notice.

There is a heavy Tory focus on benefits for the aged which directly reflects the people who vote Conservative and as long as SNP policy lures the aspirational with a vision of a prosperous and equitable independent Scotland, the profile of Tories will fail to deliver the stream of younger voters and talent needed for success. The GE showing was the worst since the creation of the modern party in the mid-Sixties.

I’m not a Conservative – they remain the only party I have never voted for in nearly 50 years of voting. But I deprecate the Left’s neglect of business development and understanding of economic activity which opens it to the accusation of myopia. Business, from barter onwards, has been a bedrock of society not only for the revenues in taxes its profits generate but for the welfare benefits that work and earning bring to millions. Work is – or should be – a purpose for life, a place to interact, a centre for our self-expression and achievement. (I know it’s not like that at Amazon).

There is a wide field here for policy generation which embraces work as a key driver of a happy society, the creator of revenue for both individual and state and the means by which we create a more balanced society capable of eradicating poverty. It could be hypothecating certain taxes for anti-poverty programmes, championing oil industry decommissioning as a Scottish economic flag-bearer instead of braying about the oil price fall as if it were a super idea. Is there a Scottish entrepreneur culture to be rekindled among the working class kids they complain can’t get into college any more? Why aren’t Tories in Scotland the natural home of business sentiment? An organisation which constantly produced new ways of thinking about business and showcased them online and in public presentations would be the first political destination for innovators. Business is changing so fast – even the definition of what business is – yet the Tory model still seems to be silver-haired men in suits and ties linked to the financial sector.

Davidson’s success as a party spokesman may be masking a decline more profound than we realise. She is merely shoring up the façade of a listed institution with nothing behind it. The analysis of Murdo Fraser’s bold plan that it was just a rebranding need not have been true, although he makes that case himself with his jeering noises about Scottish economic dependency because of the oil price. That plan should have opened the way to a new party of business embracing the digital sector, one where anyone below 60 would feel comfortable. Ending the clammy embrace of London Central Office would free up policy – and allow the influx of those with the talent to create it – and even release the bird of real right-wing thinking, independence. The Right is about freedom, responsibility, the role of the individual and nothing encapsulates that better than national independence. It is after all favoured by half the population and you’d expect Tories to spot a market.

Opening up a sensible internal debate on what that might mean would centre the Tories in the Scottish mainstream instead of casting them as absolutists. That would at least display what McLetchie talked about 16 years ago – a party that’s listening and a party that puts Scotland first. But I’m wasting my time just as the Tories are. The intelligent Right is dead in Scotland. (Good luck to Rise, by the way).

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30 thoughts on “Rise! Rise!

  1. Steve Asaneilean

    I was thinking about this today before I saw this post Derek.

    I grew up in industrial central belt Scotland in the 1970s and early 80s. I saw first hand the devastating consequences visited on families and communities by Thatcherism. And I heard how it was cheered to the rafters by hundreds of braying MPs and Tory party conference goers.

    I can’t forget or forgive.

    But there are voters out there who believe in these values and have a right to have politicians who will express these views on their behalf. It’s all part of the democratic process.

    And we need politicians to express these views in public fora so that we can oppose them just as publicly.

    And if we’re comparing leaders I have to say I think Ruth offers Nicola more effective opposition than Kezia even if that’s not saying much. She is certainly more articulate than Kezia who still sounds like a 1st at the high school debating society.

  2. All the Unionist parties are the same, they are Unionist first and second, in addition, and the real kicker, none of them believe in Federalism and all this has been clearly demonstrated in the last two years.

    The Tories, Labour and the Lib-Dems can say whatever they want about being distinctly Scottish but it holds no water, it is empty and hollow rhetoric and completely see through. We all know they don’t put our country first, the old adage of ‘taking one for the team’ is the line they punt and there is no getting away from that.

    As such a deadlock is reached for them.

  3. Thatcher set about ripping the guts out of Industrial Scotland and with it her working class vote. No attempt was ever made to re-connect with it, instead they kept driving it away into the arms of Labour. They poured fuel on the flames by playing the subsidy junkie card to the hilt. Promised to make us choke on Thatcherism…and generally behaved like yahoos. If the collapse of their vote in 1987 had been a few more points to the left, then the tories would have been removed from power in Scotland, a full 10 years before the wipe out in 97. They slowly but surely lost the middle class vote and eventually a lot of the upper class vote…the poll tax did them no favours in trying to win them back. John Major had the opportunity to reverse the damage but decided instead to keep on hacking away.

    From that day on the Tories in Scotland have been on the naughty step. What they’re selling we don’t want. whether it’s privatising our water or kicking our 14 year olds out of school. They just don’t seem to be aware that there are areas with regards to public services and utilities that Scots regard as deal breakers. We pay into these services, we are not subsidy junkies and we consider them vital. That they don’t get it and seem incapable of getting it was demonstrated when Ruth Davidson condemned 8/10 Scots households as having contributed nothing of value to the UK. This was again picked up by Osborne when he claimed in his “sermon on the pound” that the whole of Scotland had contributed nothing to the success of the UK in over 300 years.

    Alex Massie once wrote of them as “being on the wrong side of history and content to stay there”. Nothing could be more true. Conservative politics has never really been popular in Scotland. It died out in the 1860s and it took the Scottish Unionist party almost a 100 years to detox right wing politics in Scotland. They threw that away in 1965 have been on the decline ever since. There has not been a single election in Scotland were their vote has not been in decline. Yet every election cycle they turn up like an unwanted guest thumping the same old tubs and trying to get us to buy the same hoary old bromides.

    Its ironic really that Scottish labour which dined out on anti tory sentiment for the last 50 years, thought that adopting the failed and in some areas despised politics of Thatcher would be a vote winner…and find themselves losing their votes to the SNP.

    A new right wing politics in Scotland would have to be a 100% completely independent party, with no connections to the conservative party in England. it would also take generations to remove the bad taste in the mouth that right wing politics leaves in the mouth for most Scots.

  4. Hi Derek et al; I cannot help but be more than concerned about the ‘noise’ and difficulties of ‘too many groups on the left’.

    The enemy – the Unionists with all their state-centric elitist structures and those who would wish to crush democracy and the ongoing tide towards Independence – will be thinking that we may be doing their work for them; i.e., splitting the Yes vote.

    After such a superb, collective and synergistic Yes movement and campaign, we could actually end up reducing the overall effectiveness of having a singular voice. Not singular ideas, aspirations, or political thinking etc, but in terms of the main – and primary mechanism – for political leverage, standing in elections. With any fragmentation of the left with SNP, Greens, RISE etc., we really risk slipping back – and at a pace we may not recover from.

    We are winning – through the SNP for now – the Westminster, Scottish and increasingly at Local level for Scottish independence and democracy. Should we fragment, before that enabling step has been secured, then we do something that our enemies could never do, divide and conquer and all that. They have done that for some time, and we are doing it now.

    I for one am troubled with this.

  5. I’d say the other parties are Neo-Liberal first and Unionist second. It’s just that the Westminster system is the best tool for protecting the privilege and wealth of the Establishment. If it wasn’t they would change it. A more democratic system would be a threat.

    If only the SNP were anarchists. That would shake up politics in Scotland and the UK!

  6. One right wing party is enough,especially when they are not elected to power by us.
    I hope that the soft No voters now realise that their vote was for continued right wing policies being foisted on us from London with little or no say in how these policies are formed and implemented.
    Perhaps they are happy for others to make decisions on their behalf which is a sure way to allow dictatorships to form

  7. Shouldn’t that be Arise Arise?

  8. The Tories are no longer the Conservative Party of the post-war years, of RAB, Macmillan or even Heath, a party which more or less accepted the socialist policies of the Attlee government – the “one nation” conservatism, paternalistic though it may have been. Thatcher buried it, just as Blair & co buried socialism.

    The right-wing party we now have is a truly nasty creation, one that believes in inequality, believes the rich should be made richer due to their brilliance, and the poor made poorer due to their own stupidity; believes that the State should get out the way to allow business to reap its profits, that safety nets should be removed to discourage idleness and fecklessness, that demonises the “other”, such as immigrants, (and Scots), that believes in (unearned) privilege, that believes in State surveillance and rails against Human Rights where it interferes with business or government’s right to do as it likes, that has no interest in democratic reforms, such as getting rid of the HoL, that postures as a “World Power” etc etc. It is a British Nationalist Party of the worst sort, in all but name.

    I cannot square the Ruth Davidson I hear on radio who can, at times, talk sense with her belonging to a vile party, containing some of the vilest people I can think of this side of the Pond and which is inexorably dismantling the social state, a party utterly devoid of any saving grace.

    • “…believes that the State should get out the way to allow business to reap its profits”

      They do go on and on about the state and how bad it is, however, what they say and what they do are worlds apart. Neoliberalism can’t exist without an authoritarian state imposing its vision of market relationships on all and sundry and favouring its friends (or rescuing them, as was the case during the banking crisis). Thatcher criticized the nanny state but she was the nanny from hell, the one that locks one child in the basement with bread and water while spoon-feeding the favoured child caviar. Laissez faire? If only the nannies with all their self-righteous moralizing and master plans for the perfect society would leave us alone.

  9. Well said! I have been awaiting the arise of a centre right independence friendly party for some time. The only party that has come near to breaking through is the SDA but they struggle to be heard, unlike anti SNP parties.

  10. Interesting article – it got me thinking – It seems to me that the 3 unionist parties in Scotland could be heading into VERY dark waters. Labour and the Lib Dems have no influential Scots visible in the party at UK level.

    The Conservatives are ironically better placed with Michael Gove giving some visibly Scottish input at the top level (whether or not you agree with his input).

    The 3 Scottish unionist MPs are irrelevances to their party – they have no significant influence at their party’s UK level – either because they are too junior or they’ve blotted their copy book.

    So we could see a position where the 3 unionist parties become increasingly irrelevant to Scotland, getting into a viscous circle of irrelevance leading to reduced votes, leading to deeper irrelevance.

    The only way out i can see for them is to allow the creation of break away Scottish parties which don’t need to completely follow the westminster party lines.

    I also agree with the positive comments on Ruth Davidson – I would never vote Conservative – but i admire her speaking ability and some of what she has to say – I find myself felling somewhat disappointed when she toes the UK Conservative line.

  11. Derek, how about doing an item on the SDA, you may be surprised.

  12. Somewhat amused to read this post Derek. Surely the (Not) Labour party is the party of the Right? Or do you think that there is so little support for them that they do not count any more in Scotland?

  13. “There is a wide field here for policy generation which embraces work as a key driver of a happy society, the creator of revenue for both individual and state and the means by which we create a more balanced society capable of eradicating poverty.”

    The irony of course is that work no longer pays, wage rates are low and getting eroded by inflation. Ever larger parts of the economy have their pay rates based on minimum wage. White collar jobs are disappearing into technology. If you are the manager of say a Costa branch you are on not much more than minimum wage, a pound an hour, maybe £1.50 more than the entry level staff. You have a tablet that is linked to head office and the tills which makes doing the orders and assessing sales and rostering staff something that can be done on the move as you pitch in with everyone else, no office needed. Just a different name badge and job description. The head office of Costa is tiny. Welcome to the modern world.

    Except: who is expected to be able to afford the dishwater they peddle as coffee?

    When parents are working two or three jobs on poverty wages just to stand still, both of them often, how will the kids turn out? And what will all the army of new graduates do for a decent paying job? You may have noticed that problem. Few of our politicians have and of those that have even fewer have any solution.

  14. Kind of agree with other comments.

    When Blair moved Labour to the right. The soft Tories in Scotland went to Labour. They didn’t become left wing. The Labour party became right wing.

    Forget the theoretical position of the Urban Myth that is called Scottish Labour. They are an English party and that’s what people vote for in elections. The English manifesto which is Tory lite.

    The hardline Brits in Scotland have the Tories. So there are two right wing parties in Scotland already. One left leaning party the SNP and the jump on any bus Liberals.

    Had your narrative explored the policies of Labour, rather than old Labour values. Then your conclusion would have been different.

  15. What remains of the Labour Party’s Scottish branch has been the voice of the right in Scotland since the demise of the Tories. Did you miss that descent into neoliberalism, Derek?

  16. Agree with the other poster concerning Ruth Davidson.

    She comes across in a reasonable manner. A bit like Gordon Brown taking pensioners life savings while playing the caring son.

    She is in an anti Scottish, elitist,selfish nasty party. I don’t care what she says, she represents a dangerous right wing elite. End of.

    Good people don’t stay in bad clubs.

  17. I wrote a letter to the National on this very subject this morning, only to have came across this article. For indie to happen we need the broad church of Scotland to support it. At the moment there are people who could become indie supporters if they did not fear the left running amok and trying to make Scotland a socialist utopia. Yes we need a stable and fair social system to protect those in need, however we need people to work for a fair wage and pay taxes to pay for this. Scotland is being turned into a wasteland and unless we have pro business indie representation we will remain the basket case of the UK until our resources are spent or stolen.

  18. When Blair became leader of the Labour Party, the outcome was simply that the Tories expanded their party, membership and supporters. There is one party of the right at both the UK level and within Scotland. It’s called the Tory/Labour Party AKA The UK-Nationalist/Westminster/London Party (it used to have a longer name but they erased the former LibDem bit).

  19. One of the big gaps in the political spectrum now is a party standing for individual freedoms. Of course, it’s more difficult to do that without a written constitution and/or bill of rights, and the Liberals have gone down with the LibDem ship. Meanwhile, the trend among both Unionist and Nationalist parties is towards greater corporatism – if not literally, then at least demanding greater loyalty to the party line.

  20. The thing is though Derek, there were several grassroots organisations that took part in the Referendum campaign who are right of centre (Scottish Democratic Alliance, Wealthy Nation) and who doubtless have members who would support such a party (Business for Scotland). The problem is, Blair Jenkins, Dennis Canavan et al who ran YES Scotland decided to marginalise – or even exclude – them all, in favour of a coalition of the Left.

    Not only was this a failure of strategy, it was bad for democracy. We were not taking part in an election, we were trying to pitch the idea of a fledgling state, with a fully functioning democracy, where all views were represented. It’s no wonder we lost the middle-class vote, when all the YES Scotland official campaign did was bleat Left-ist slogans!

  21. The Tory vote in Scotland does appear to have reached bedock and seems steady at around 15% – so double what the Lib Dems are now at and far ahead of the Scottish Greens, socialists, etc. Quite an achievement after Michael Forsyth.

    The article does ignore the other beneficiary of departing Tory voters – the SNP. The SNP has pursued a generally centre right economic agenda under Salmond, with great success. That doesn’t leave the Scottish Tories with much space.

    But as the Scottish Parliament gets more powers over tax and spend, it leaves Sturgeon in an awkward spot. Increase tax to spend more and satisfy the formerly Labour seats, or disappoint them and keep constituents in places like Perth and North Perthshire happy.

    It’s a similar dilemma to her Another Referendum (satisfying Yes voters) or No Referendum (satisfying No voters) for the next SNP manifesto.

  22. We have three right-wing parties in Scotland, which I should have thought is quite enough to be going on with. The SNP make some leftish gestures, but seriously leftist politics in Scotland is still an untenanted area. Labour hasn’t been a party of the left since it cannibalised the old ILP, long time ago.

    That said, I somewhat agree with you that there isn’t *really* a right-wing party here, in the sense of a party that guards against the tendency of socialism to encroach upon personal freedoms (and I speak as a socialist). The Lib Dems, Tories and Labour are merely extensions of the corporate state – citizen liberties are very far from their mind, they are not ‘conservative’ in the positive sense of the term (yes, I think it has a positive sense, long lost).

    I recommend this as a read.


  23. Anne & Bill Halliday

    Ferdinand Mount. the head of Thatcher’s first Downing Street Policy Unit, in his book “The New Few – a Great British Oligarchy” details how first Thatcher then Blair “hollowed out” their Parties to Centralise control and prevent the Membership at a local level from having any influence over Policy. Think back to the ‘Conservative Club’ in every Town, where Businessmen and Worthies would meet. But these were real Tories. Granted they were governed by the three P’s, Patronage, Privilege and Prejudice but they appeared to have one value, that with Privilege came responsibility, the old “Ask not what your Country can do for you —“. There is no Tory or Labour Party, the inner circle of Tory and Labour answer only to the Oligarchs who fund (own) them.
    We know the SNP still have the process of allowing “input” from a Local Level at Conference all be it with nothing binding for inclusion in a Manifesto but if large well articulated ground swells are ignored then that amazing ‘Local SNP Election Machine’ will quickly run short of Activists, just like Labour and the ConDems.

  24. The support for the Scottish Tories almost exactly mirrors the percentage of the population which thinks that Scotland shouldn’t exist. How could they break out of their present stance without alienating this bedrock support?

    They’re stuffed, period.

  25. I haven’t had two coppers to rub together most of my life. Worked in every kind of low paid job you care to mention and took whatever was on offer just to stay in work. Cleared land, scrubbed filth of toilets, dug ditches, worked in kitchens. Schooled myself by getting adult courses at college. You did what you had to do to put a roof over your head and a tin of kwik save beans on a plate. I couldn’t do that now and frankly the thought of being out of work at my age gives me nightmares with today’s government.

    Knock on wood, I’ve managed to stay in near continuous work for over thirty years. I was one of Maggie’s four million club back in the day and watched hard working communities become sink estates. I saw dole queues lengthen over her term in politics and grown men cry in shear frustration and shame as they were made redundant. Lifelong skills were lost, a world renowned manufacturing base crippled and debased, greed became God and profit a scripture. Business and workforce became divided by the politics and ideology of the quick buck and trickledown economics, but successful business doesn’t work like that and never did. Successful business is all about investment and time. More importantly about investment in people and from the ground up. It invests the communities where they are based with a sense of purpose,pride and common cause. Ask any Clydesider, any person who worked at Ravenscraig or the central belt pits. The business and the community became one, became synonymous.

    Thatcher’s ideology and that of the two tone tories who followed her (red and blue) does not seek successful business, but successful acquisition of profit for little or no investment and certainly not investment in communities or workforce. They were and are wreckers of lives, communities… countries.

    I’ll have no truck with today’s rightward politics.

    Not ever.

  26. dennis mclaughlin

    Wee Ruthie has no authority to make policy decisions in Scotland….she’s the local branch manager just like Kez….
    Mundell is her boss!.

  27. dennis mclaughlin

    Chris you’ve nailed it in one!…YES were our biggest boat anchor in the referendum!.
    Their suicide note was demanding independent groupings under the YES umbrella divorce themselves from Stuart Campbell’s Wings Over Scotland…??.

  28. It is still not listening. It is still taking its orders from London. They don’t even want to be Scots, they should just disband as they are getting squeezed from one direction by the equally Unionist Brit Labour Party and from another direction by the phoney Liberals and from the right by the rancid UKIP. Is there any point to them any more?

    The Cult of Thatcherism and its unrestrained greed dominates them more than ever. She doesn’t so much haunt them from grave but still runs them and she is more virulent than ever.

    Those Conservatives that did break from them over the Referendum I fancy are no longer members or donors to the Brit Tory Party, there hasn’t been in my view a Scots Tory Party since Ted Heath Brit Nationalised it decades ago.

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