As the SNP wins a historic third term in government a discernible shift in support from a dying Labour Party to the Scottish Conservatives has been felt. Is this a return in Scotland to Tory ideals, or is there another, more fundamental battle beginning in Scotland? We think this is more like the last gasp of unionism.
It came as something of a shock through the early hours of Friday and into the morning as Ruth Davidson’s Conservative and Unionist Party, previously a party of fifteen seats, slightly more than doubled its share in the Scottish Parliament. When one considers that this is the party that spearheaded the deindustrialisation of Scotland, created intergenerational poverty, and refused the elderly a rise in their fuel allowance on the grounds that the Scots “were used to the cold,” their increase in seats beggars belief. While overall the momentum in Scottish politics is towards the SNP and the independence movement, we have to take seriously what the BBC has manipulatively presented as a Tory surge. Where did this vote come from, and what does it mean?
Well, to frame this question historically, it must be remembered that as late as 1983 – before the re-opening of the Scottish Parliament – the Conservatives had held twenty constituencies and more. We were quite the unionist colony until the true cost of Thatcher was felt. In many respects we have the Iron Lady herself to thank for the demise of Conservativism in Scotland, but with the rampant neoliberalism and neo-Thatcherism of David Cameron in Westminster this drift back to the blue appears, on the face of it, quite inexplicable. Though, and certainly with so many former Labour supporters switching their allegiance to the Tories, it is hard to imagine that this increase in popularity comes down to any affection for the Conservatives per se.
We are in an extraordinary period for politics in Scotland and this all comes down to the question of independence. During the 2014 referendum we saw how easily the machinery of Scottish Labour was co-opted into the cause for union, and how ultimately this process led to the wholesale defection of its membership – exposing the magnitude of the rift between old socialist Labour and the neo-Conservative New Labour infiltrators. What this produced during the Better Together campaign was in effect a reunification, not of Scotland’s true Conservatives, but of its old unionists. Now with what was Labour in Scotland all but completely annihilated, this is not what the BBC spin calls a “Tory surge.” This is the birth of political unionism in Scotland.
God love them, but one suspects those who remained with Labour in this election did so out of a misplaced sense of nostalgia; not fully realising that the left is more yellow than red these days, and as such must be considered future prospects for the independence movement. Admittedly there may well be a few Tory voters who fit this description.
Yet, even if we consider the Tories, Labour, and the Liberal Democrats as a unionist bloc in Edinburgh the signs are pointing to an overall wane in their support. With about 22% shifting from Labour to the Conservatives, and an almost 8% reduction in the LibDem vote, this bloc is down 8.4% in total from the last election. Given that ad hoc deals can be made between the Scottish Greens and the Scottish National Party, the maths points to a majority in favour of independence. At the very worst, this reconfiguration of the Tories and Labour around the totem of British unionism, in a general downward trend, merely gives more time to a surging National Party to continue making the argument for independence.
Ruth Davidson’s claim that the increase in her party’s share of the vote sends a message to the SNP that there is no appetite for another referendum – an item that was not even included in the SNP’s manifesto – is completely meaningless. Any chump with a calculator can see that Scotland’s hunger for an adequate answer to the constitutional question has remained and continued to strengthen. Until this question is resolved Davidson’s party, in terms of numbers, will stay where it is, and only because it has become the de facto Scottish Unionist Party. As the rot at the heart of a diseased Labour Party progresses, its defectors tomorrow will answer the question – and that will not be to the Tories’ benefit.
Scottish election: SNP wins third term at Holyrood