Leaders debates in Scotland are underway. Early noise on them is what you’d expect: Nicola Sturgeon dominant, Kezia trying hard to make Labour still sound relevant to Scots, but not quite making it; the Lib Dems and Greens struggling for relevance as well; Ruth Davidson looking like she should be the leader of the opposition in a few weeks time, while being weighed down by her party over and over again.
The Tories are screwed as a brand in Scotland. Everyone who knows anything about UK politics has known that for a long time – it seemed weird to even have to type something so obvious. The collapse in the 1980s and then another in the 1990s that essentially removed them as even a minority voice in Scottish politics made that clear. In fact, you’re seeing it now in the form of Ruth Davidson’s leadership of the Scottish Conservative Party: lots of unionists or Scots who aren’t that keen on the SNP for other non-Indy related reasons quite like her. Many more of them would vote for her party – if that party was anything other than the Tories. So why do the Scottish Conservatives persist with a link to a party in England that can only cost them votes?
Even back in the days when the Tories mopped up their fair share of seats in Scotland (until the late 1950s, lest we forget, the Tories vied consistently with Labour for most seats there), they were actually two parties in Scotland that shared the whip: the Unionists and the National Liberal and Conservatives. The Unionists always got most of the Tory seats back then (although it should be noted, usually needed the NL&C votes for the Tories to be considered the “biggest party” in Scotland). Why not ditch the Tories altogether, say they won’t take the whip from them even, and start a new Unionist Party unencumbered by a Thatcher related past?
I have been trying to think of what they have to lose, but to paraphrase Karl Marx, I can come up with nothing but their chains to a brand that will always be negatively perceived in Scotland. Seriously, what’s stopping them? Money, I suppose, but surely there would be wealthy Scots willing to prop up a party fully dedicated to unionism. It seems to me that all that is needed is a little bit of moxie – although, given the rough ride new political parties get in Britain, I suppose there has to be some empathy with the hesitation. But only some.
As it stands, Kezia Dugdale will probably be the leader of the opposition in the Scottish parliament still after the May elections, if one was being honest (I have predicted the Tories coming in second in Scotland previously; now I’m not so sure). Even in a era when Scottish Labour appears to be on a path of irreversible decline and the Scottish Conservatives have a leader most Scots like and who doesn’t come across as anything like a stereotypical Tory, the Blues still probably won’t breakthrough. Should that come to pass, the Tories in Scotland should seriously think about what their next move will be.