A main preoccupation of this site is the structural hurdles that the Conservatives must clear at general elections – two of the highest being the resistance among ethnic minority voters to the Tory brand, and the favourable distribution of the vote for Labour. The biggest obstacle to a Conservative victory is neither image nor message but the slant of the battlefield on which these elections are fought.
The departure of Scotland from the United Kingdom would level the contest at a stroke. In 2010, Labour would have won 217 seats rather than 258 and the Liberal Democrats 46 rather than 57: the SNP, with its six seats, would not have been present at all. David Cameron would have become leader of a Tory Government with a majority of 18. The Conservatives would have won in 1964 and in the first 1974 election.
It is thus in the selfish and strategic interest – though not perhaps in the economic one – of the Conservative Party for Scotland to vote Yes on Thursday. All at once, the Scots quitting the Union would solve the problem that has so preoccupied this site first under Tim Montgomerie’s editorship and then under mine. ConservativeHome none the less hopes that Scotland votes No.
Our reasons for doing so are not head-led. As those Commons figures suggest, the “effing Tories” would not gain from a No vote this week – and the economies of Scotland and the rest of the UK would not permanently lose from a Yes one. Admittedly, it is true that if the Scots really are more supportive of EU membership than the English, an independent Scotland could not rely on easy admission – or indeed on admission at all – any more than they can depend upon a new, Scotland-shorn UK sharing the pound. Alex Salmond has produced no convincing answer to the currency question. A Yes vote would shed investment, wealth and jobs in the short-term – with knock-on effects on England and the rest of the UK. Nor can the Scots be certain, to put it mildly, of new reserves of North Sea Oil gushing to the rescue. Most likely, they would have no choice but to cut their cloth according to their purse in the aftermath of independence. This would mean a scaling-back in public services for this week’s swing voters in Greater Glasgow. There will be a deep irony if Scotland votes Yes. It will escape “the Tories”, but not “Tory austerity” – delivered by the very man who is promising to free the Scots from it.
But if “Project Fear” is credible in the short and perhaps the medium-term, there is no inherent reason why it should be so in the long. In the first and last resort, Scotland’s prosperity depends no more or less than England’s on the brains and energy of its people. Since they have both in plenty, there is no intrinsic reason why an independent Scotland should not thrive – even if prosperity comes later rather than sooner – and England and the rest of the UK thrive with it. It is grossly insulting to the Scots to caricature their country as the national equivalent of a welfare junkie. Even more to the point, it is wrong. Scotland is the third most successful economic region in the UK.
No, our reasons for wanting Scotland to stay come not so much from the head as the heart. It is often hard to explain why this is so. Unlike some contributors to the referendum debate on this site, my family origins are not to be found in Scotland. (That this is so is perhaps rather obvious: Mrs Goodman has taken to referring sarcastically to “the Goodman family tartan”.) Although I like the parts of it that I’ve visited very much, I have no special feeling for the country. But there are wider attachments that can bind as tightly than personal ones. Very simply, the English and the Scots have added up to more together, with the rest of the United Kingdom, than the sum of their parts – and still do so today. The great tale of the journey south of James VI, of the Scottish Enlightenment, of Empire and Unionism, of the “devils in skirts” who died for their country in two world wars, of David Hume and Adam Smith, of Chariots of Fire and Whisky Galore, of Alec Douglas-Home and John Smith…all this and more is part of a shared and not a separate story. It didn’t start with the Act of Union or even the Union of the Crowns. It began and goes on with a history of mingled marriages and children – north and south of the border.
As I say, a Yes vote on Thursday would bring big electoral benefits to the Conservative Party. Ed Miliband is ahead in the polls, but with nothing like a Blair-style landslide lead. And as Peter Franklin has argued on this site, the end of the Union would be likely to render any Labour election victory next year meaningless.
Miliband could thus win on paper next spring, but lose in practice – finding himself in a position that would make Cameron’s troubled hold on office look, in retrospect, like a model of stress-free governance. He would be the most broken-backed Prime Minister in modern times. The new Tory leader of the Opposition would be smacking his lips at the prospect of the election of 2020 (if, that is, the Fixed Terms Parliament Act were to survive).
But this seductive scenario, and the glittering prospect of stuffing the Labour Party well and truly (not to mention the Liberal Democrats and – yes! – UKIP) is there to be resisted. The future of the Union matters more than the fortunes of the Conservative Party – and more, for that matter, than those of ConservativeHome. We hope that Scotland votes No.