The Scots Tories' crisis of image
Writing: Adam Losekoot
Further to the current crisis, the Scottish Conservative and Unionist party is suffering its own crisis. One which has hung over it for a long time. A crisis of image.
Time and time again the Scottish tories have been forced to backpedal on their policies and goals. To divert their attention away from their own interests. All so that they can instead act as yet another buffer between criticism directed at their mother party. They are frequently called in to distract from the blunders and scandals caused by their masters in London and it looks like they are finally beginning to realise how much damage this is doing.
The Scottish tories of course have their own faults, some would argue there are many. Just in recent history these include their support of the rape clause and the bedroom tax amongst other policies which have gone down about as well as spoiled milk. Nevertheless, this has not daunted their - not insignificant - number of loyal supporters. Much of their success has come from styling themselves as the saviours of the union and the only coherent opposition to the Scottish National Party. They have not suffered the same electoral damage as Scottish Labour because Labour voters can see many of their own interests reflected in the policies of the SNP. Thus, disgruntled supporters of the former could find a comfortable new home in the latter. Tory voters do not share this overlap in ideology. Conservatism in Scotland survives in the borders and the northeast and has received much of its recent electoral support from ardent unionists across the political spectrum. This therefore carries a similar concern to one which political commentators attribute to the SNP: that many who vote for them do so due to their stance on the constitutional question and potentially disregard their numerous other policies.
For a time, it appeared that the Scottish Conservatives might have a path back to success. During her time as leader, Ruth Davidson was the darling of the British media and signalled a potentially more progressive wing of the party when compared to high profile tories like Jacob Rees-Mogg and those in his ERG – yet this was not to be. She presided over limited successes, particularly in taking a few seats from high profile figures in the SNP such as former Westminster Leader Angus Robertson. Though she remains almost as visible from the backbenches as she was then, her successor has not received quite so much adulation from the press.
Jackson Carlaw is in the exceedingly unenviable position of being the Conservative’s man in Scotland during one of the most shambolic and inept Conservative Governments in the history of the United Kingdom. He is expected to defend his leaders in London despite having no real sway over UK policy or even influence within the larger tory party itself. The Prime Minister has made it clear that his interests come before the interests of his party, which come before the interests of the country - the Scottish branch office doesn’t even rank in his top ten. This leaves Carlaw in a tight spot. He has little influence or power in Edinburgh and less in London. He is Scotland’s lead apologist for a callous and cruel regime, yet his performances in Holyrood do suggest a disconnect between the interests of the PM and the interests of Carlaw’s party.
We have seen this recently with the resignation of Douglass Ross MP from the post of undersecretary for Scotland over the Dominic Cummings scandal and his subsequent backing by Adam Tomkins MSP. Yet Downing Street referred to the significant resignation of a Junior cabinet minister over a national scandal as the actions of a “nobody”.
Carlaw himself has been wary of making any definitive statement regarding Cummings’ position and the normally active twitter accounts of senior Scottish tories were silent for up to two days. Representatives were not sent on panel shows and they failed to send a single MSP or MP to Question time on the 28th March when it was due to be in Glasgow, instead allowing an English Tory MP, Hannah Whately, to answer the questions and face the scrutiny they were too afraid of.
Whether their reluctance to stand (virtually) in front of the public comes from cowardice or whether it comes from a fear of criticising their real leaders in London, enough is enough. This party is defending the interests of Johnson and his team instead of focusing on the concerns of their constituents. It is slowly becoming more evident that this party which never supported Boris Johnson is now little more than a mouthpiece for the cabal of extremists squatting in Downing Street. The Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party pride themselves on their aversion to separatism, indeed it is their most consistent and aggressively argued policy, yet perhaps it is time they listened to the calls for separatism within their own party and drew a line in the sand between themselves and the charlatans in number ten.
There is a place for conservatism in Scotland, but not like this. We deserve better than just another mouthpiece.