The Conservative party is the enemy of modern Britain

Written by Henry McLeish on 23 June 2017 in Comment

The 2017 general election only opened up a debate for another one

Henry McLeish - David Anderson/Holyrood

A pointless and cynically opportunistic general election has provided a spectacular outcome. And while the nightmare of another Tory government is now a reality, this may be short-lived because only a political party operating on the margins of credibility would join up with the Democratic Unionist Party.

After the worst election campaign in modern times, Theresa May is the walking dead. She has no credible mandate and during the campaign exhibited the signature features of modern Conservatism: arrogance, complacency, hubris, exceptionalism and exuded that lure of greatness and entitlement of a party born to rule. 

More than that, her shambolic handling of the Tory manifesto and its divisive content spoke volumes about what kind of post-Brexit future she envisaged for Britain.  


Despite the political and press frenzy over the PM’s future, it is the Conservative Party, by their actions and cheap patriotism, that is the enemy of what a modern Britain should be striving for. Personalities may change, but the Conservative Party doesn’t. We ignore, at our peril, that basic fact.        

Labour offered an attractive, progressive and relevant manifesto, an inspired message of hope, and secured, against all the odds, a remarkable share of the vote, which now opens the prospect of a general-election victory, and possibly within the next year. 

The battle for Britain is now in play. The Scottish results hold out the prospect of a different kind of debate in the future. 

The fortunes of the major political parties are changing. The Tories and Labour made gains in terms of seats and the share of the popular vote and the SNP has now to acknowledge that for a variety of reasons, political life will be less straightforward. 

In this regard Scotland – its politics, democracy, and governance – must become less insular, partisan, and open to a wider and more inclusive constitutional debate in which the future of Scotland is no longer debated solely in terms of the SNP, independence, and hard-line unionism.

On 8 June, many Scots embraced unionism in their votes for Labour and the Tories, but the analysis may not be as simple as that. John Curtice, incisive as ever, described in a post-election Herald article why support for independence may not translate to votes for the SNP.

As the volatility of Scottish politics has intensified, so has the complexity of the constitutional question, especially in the context of Brexit. 

The idea that voting for the SNP is the only way of supporting an independent Scotland may be flawed, as is the notion that some of those who vote SNP could not be attracted to a federalist future or that Labour voters won’t vote for independence. 

Labour’s obsession with a narrow form of unionism may have undermined their pursuit of socialism and distorted their appeal. The constitutional question is much more fluid than we think, but in this polarised and at times ill-tempered political environment negativity, intolerance and narrow mindsets prevail. 

Despite the Tories winning second place in Scotland, there is an obvious ceiling to their aspirations. They represent deep-seated unionism, geographical and historical concentrations of electoral support and have benefited from – and been able to hide behind – the more progressive politics of the Scottish Parliament. 

Ruth’s thirteen will now be part of Theresa’s parliamentary group at Westminster and become accountable for what they do under a more aggressive media spotlight. What kind of Conservatism will they be a voice for?

For the longer term, the more significant, and unexpected, result was Labour’s increased share of the vote and the gain of six seats. Boosted by the success of Labour’s manifesto and the UK campaign, the party in Scotland must recognise that progressive policies through the prism of socialism or social democracy may have attracted more support than any opposition to indyref2.

For far too long Labour in Scotland has been a critic but rarely a positive contributor to the constitutional debate. This should end.

Scottish Labour’s challenge is to persuade or possibly demand that, if a Labour government wins power in the next few months or years, there must be a commitment to a written constitution for Britain, removing power from Westminster to the people, a federal UK and, at an appropriate time, a referendum on this constitutional alternative and another referendum on the outcome of the EU negotiations. 

There is an urgency to this. The SNP is at its lowest point in a decade. The Tories are unconditional unionists. And Labour is within reach of victory at Westminster. But circumstances could change. Does Labour think that there is a real and viable alternative between Tory unionism and the SNP’s independence? If yes, why wait?



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