The Tories have been portrayed as ‘anti-Scottish’ since Thatcher, and one wonders what they have learned

Written by Mandy Rhodes on 6 July 2015 in Editor's note

As EVEL gets pushed through Westminster, the anti-Scottish narrative will not be difficult to shape ahead of next year’s Scottish Parliament election

Holyrood magazine and Coca Cola hosted a drinks reception in the House of Commons last week for Scottish MPs.

It was a jolly affair with proceedings only interrupted by MPs having to nip out every now and again to go vote on amendments made to the Scotland Bill, which was getting its full airing in the chamber at the same time.

Up on the TV screen, we could see the name of Scotland’s only Labour MP, Ian Murray, almost as a permanent fixture in the chamber.

He was present to hear all of Labour’s many amendments to the Bill. The SNP MPs, strengthened by their swollen numbers and the fact that these were, ironically, Labour’s amendments and not theirs, could take it in turns.

But as he left the soiree, David Mundell, the Secretary of State for Scotland and our only Tory MP, grinned broadly at the SNP group leader Angus Robertson and told him as he waved ‘goodbye’ to just stay where he was because the Bill would be voted through anyway. It was a joke… I think.

But given the Tories have now basically taken a wrecking ball to the so-called respect agenda, with the proposal for English votes for English laws, I’m not so certain.

With the party’s disregard for amendments to the Scotland Bill and now a decision, in effect, to create an English Parliament within Westminster done without the need for a campaign, never mind legislation, and before even the Scotland Bill becomes law, I am reminded of the famous quote from Talleyrand.

The French diplomat opined of the Bourbons who, when restored to power in France in 1814 after the fall of Napoleon, behaved with exactly the same disregard that they had shown a quarter of a century earlier.

“They learned nothing and forgot nothing,” he said. The same now seems true of the Tories.

The Conservatives have been portrayed as ‘anti-Scottish’ since the days of Margaret Thatcher. And one wonders after the events of recent days what indeed they have learned. This was a party all but wiped-out in Scotland in 1997 when they were left with just one MP. And nothing much has changed.

Devolution, which they were against, ironically gave them an opportunity to rebuild. But even in the Scottish Parliament, the Scottish Conservatives currently control just 15 of the 129 seats, with 12 of those won on the list.

The party has just one of the six Scottish seats in the European Parliament and, for a large section of the Scottish electorate, they remain categorised as ‘others’ when it comes to political opinion polls.

For decades, it has been standard for Labour and the SNP to compete to define themselves as more anti-Tory than the other.

And in May this year that worked spectacularly well for the SNP, who took full advantage of Labour struggling to identify what it stood for and also captured the anti-austerity ground.

The SNP won 56 of Scotland’s 59 constituencies on 50 per cent of the vote. With 1,454,436 votes, the SNP won more votes than any party in Scotland since mass enfranchisement. Turnout in Scotland was 71.7 per cent, up from 63.8 per cent in 2010.

But it was the scale of Labour’s defeat – its share of the vote was lower than at any election since 1918 – that has managed to help hide the weakness of the Scottish Conservatives. The Tories retained their only seat but with their lowest ever share of the vote – down from 16.7 per cent in 2010 to 14.9 per cent.

And so despite the best efforts by Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson to raise her party’s popularity, she achieved little more than spectacular photo opportunities – of which there were many. And with commentators all focused on Labour’s collapse, the fact that the Tories lost ground in Scotland even from an abysmal low while advancing elsewhere in the UK has been overlooked.

Davidson’s failure to make gains has been spun amid a disingenuous argument about the number of votes cast while ignoring the exceptionally high turnout. There is even talk of her party becoming the main party of opposition in Holyrood.

It is possible to spin almost any result but if the Scottish Conservatives persist in believing their own spin then there are problems coming in 2016.

Energy and stridency, as Jim Murphy discovered to his cost, should not be confused with effective leadership.

And given Mundell has so far rejected all amendments to the Scotland Bill, including one on the permanence of the Scottish Parliament, while his Prime Minister presses ahead, prematurely, with EVEL – creating, de facto, an English Parliament that hasn’t even been voted for – there is a feeling that despite the claim by former SNP leader Alex Salmond that the Scottish lion has roared, the Tories just aren’t listening.

The 56 SNP MPs may now be realising what Ian Murray already knows, namely, the impotence of their situation as a majority within a Scottish minority within a Tory majority in a UK Government.

However, the anti-Scottish narrative will not be difficult to shape ahead of next year’s Scottish Parliament election, particularly as the cries of ‘we was robbed’ are already being heard.

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