Monday, 10 March 2014

Are Scottish Tories truly Thatcher's Children?

Thatcherism leaves everything to market forces - even public services - as is seen in the current, expensive rush by Cameron and his cohorts to privatise as many of Whitehall's public service and backroom functions as quickly as possible.; So quickly are these privatisations  happening no consideration is being given to whether it is either cost effective or cost efficient to actually do so. Duncan-Smith's socially calamitous rush to drive 'scroungers' from state benefits by marketisation of benefits has seen  DWP costs rise by an estimated £612 million for little if any cost benefit or cost efficiency. In the real business world the Welfare Reform Bill 2012 would be deemed a flop, given its over £0.5 billion cost (and rising) with no cost reduction in sight in the next three years and ditched before it swallowed even more money.

This leaves me pondering a question - just how happy are Scottish Tories with the extreme Thatcherism seen for example, in action, in the works of Mr Duncan-Smith. I have been chatting to a few I know, some pretty high up in the Scottish Tory circles of power and most are finding their party loyalties being stretched pretty taught over Better Together's current strategy. Many find their London bosses sit and flit appearances in Scotland and ever more ludicrous scare stories increasingly embarrassing and are saying they can, personally, no longer defend them. I was left with a sense many I spoke to think a Yes vote is now very likely (they still do not like the idea, mostly for ideological reasons) and they are now waiting to rebuild a 'Scottish Tory Party' they feel comfortable with and can live with - I am left with a sense it will be an old fashioned, 'One Nation' style of Tory Party.

What are my grounds for thinking this is the case?

Scotland has a 500 year tradition of welfare run at first by the Church of Scotland, funded by the parishes on whom its provision was a legally binding contract. Some 'Scottish Tory' parishes may have resented this obligation, a few are recorded as trying to avoid this obligation; until fined in the Court of Session and threatened with 'reset' if they failed to maintain the Parish fund at the correct levels.

Deep in the Lowland Scottish psyche lurks this Calvinistic imperative that we are our brother's keeper - even among traditional Scottish Tories. In the Highland's it was a fundamental part of the Clan system prior to the land enclosures and clearances of the 18th and 19th Century. Even then most of the big landowners not only provided free passage to emigrants to Canada, the Caribbean or Australia but, as in the case of the 'Tory' Lord Selkirk, also supported the families until they could stand on their own two feet in projects like his Red River Settlement, in what is now Manitoba. There are a few exceptions the worst being the benighted Duke of Sutherland who had his men burn the roof poles and drive his tenants out onto the shore's edge a more Thatcherite approach of sink or swim. So Toryism in Scotland had a patrician edge where the people were still looked after up to a point. In modern political terms many of Scotland's old 'Tory' landowners would now be seen as social democrats / liberals.

The slide of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party parallels the rise and rise of Thatcherism / neo-liberalism and its rejection in Scotland when Scots voted to have their parliament returned. The rise of Holyrood brought a rapid decline in respect for the UK Parliament at Westminster, as predicted by the last Scottish Viceroy - Lord Forsyth - and his further contention that Scottish devolution meant the end of the UK Union and a further rejection of the UK wide Tory Party seems to be playing out.

Scottish Tories, I know, have sympathy with a less strident Toryism. It is a more social democratic Toryism which saw them support the SNP minority government at Holyrood on many occasions between 2007 and 2011. Even now this 'Scottish Toryism' raises its head within the party splits over Ruth Davidson's leadership style. Elder Scottish Tory statesmen have gone as far as joining with the Libdems and more sane Labour MSPs to try and change what they see as Cameron's suicidal refusal to consider a well defined devo-max proposal. Long standing, big Scottish Tory donors have jumped ship to the Yes side and are now seen behind the pro-independence group - Business for Scotland.

Yes, Scotland has Tories but they are more Alex Douglas-Hume / Harold MacMillan style Tories than Thatcherites. Scottish Tories are increasingly uneasy about the drift from 'One Nation' Toryism, for full on 'Thatcherism'. While Scottish Tories may well loathe the idea of independence, on long standing political grounds,  a large majority of their support will vote 'NO' in September, I would suggest they will gain more credibility during the negotiating the process of dissolution of the UK Parliament, on a Yes vote, than Labour or the Libdems will.

At least they will have taken an honest position as opposed to a clearly, self interested position manifest in the other two Westminster Parties - most Scots will forgive them for that.


  1. Was the Duke of Sutherland not an English Settler who took the name and lands from his wife and others from other wives.

    He is also known as the 2nd Marquess of Stafford

  2. Inner you are spot on - he married into the title as Lord Stafford. He was amongst the largest land owners in the UK at one point as he also got hold of the Bridgewater title.

    His wife was a 'local' but who would listen to a 'wife' in the early 1800's and by then she had been shipped down to Trentham Hall.

  3. "The greatest difficulty is, how to describe a Scots Tory: Of old, when I knew them first, Tory was an honest hearted comradish Fellow, who provided he was maintained and protected in his Benefices, Titles and Dignities by the State, he was the less anxious who had the Government and Management of the Church: But now what he is since jure Divino came in fashion; and that Christianity, and, by consequence, Salvation comes to depend upon Episcopal Ordination, I profess I know not what to make of him; only this I must say for him, that he endeavours to do by Opposition, that which his Brother in England endeavours by a more prudent and less scrupulous Method."
    From Lord Belhaven's speech against the Union ( scottish parliament 1707)