Iain Anderson, Cicero Consulting, was involved in the Scottish party in the 1980s and 1990s and now regularly works and spends time in Scotland. In this Comment piece he analyses the Sanderson Report's recommendations for the future of the Scottish Conservatives, published today.
There is no radical big, bang solution for the party north of the border. Certainly no thumbs up to the idea of dropping ‘brand Conservative’ which has been touted by some in the Scottish commentariat as a way of revitalising the party’s fortunes, but which has little support among the party’s albeit diminished Scottish membership.
I am glad the Commission rejected that idea. It would not have been the immediate panacea to the party’s fortunes that has been proclaimed and merely a synthetic communications exercise.
But the Scottish Conservatives 2010 Commission – Building for Scotland: Strengthening the Scottish Conservatives – may yet turn out to be one of the most radical sets of proposals put on the table within the Conservative Party across the UK.
The most eye-catching idea is to elect a Scottish Leader to have overall responsibility for the party’s Scottish performance. Well that’s clear enough. With responsibility for ‘performance’ there can be no more buck passing between London and Edinburgh on just who is in ‘charge’. Or can there??? Wait a minute. Already commentators are asking how the leader of the MSPs at Holyrood will work with this new Scottish Leader. This question needs to be resolved and quickly if this big idea is to be taken up and made to work.
But the real radicalism in this document lies in the plans to make the election of the Scottish Leader a truly one member one vote process. The candidates for this role might set out a series of policies which provide a very radical platform for right of centre politics in Scotland. Policies which resonate with Scottish people and are not seen as emanating from London – something which has been ‘death’ to the party since the 1980s. Goodness, a new, elected leader might even decide to stand on a policy platform which encourages the Scottish party to ditch that brand ‘Conservative’. All that is to emerge – but there is an real opportunity for a new figure who might just capture public as well as media imagination.
An even truer sense of democracy is set to reign with ‘open debate’ at the Scottish party conference. Wow – now that is something those of us in the wider UK party would love to see again.
Institutionally, the best ideas are to put in place the regional organisational structure and local association network that has been largely moribund outside key seats. However this will take considerable firepower to be effective and an urgent and vital question needs to be asked about just how this will be funded. For it will need real resource and it must make sense of modern e-enabled and viral campaigning. A lot can be done to focus on making the party’s activities in Scotland more nimble and to lay down those grassroots that so effectively been put in place in other parts of the UK since 2005. And this needs to take place ALL across Scotland.
A whole lot more needs to happen to make this work – I have not even mentioned the idea to recruit a new chief policy adviser to develop ideas that genuinely chime with Scots. Another good idea and one which will need to attract top talent and think tank like re-engineering of the policy process to provide the rigour needed.
Sometimes I have feared that the only way back for right of centre politics north of the border is to wait for independence and to see the left:right coalition within the SNP bust apart – unleashing a re-alignment for the right and the ability to re-capture a good deal of Scottish support. But independence is not a prospect I or most Conservatives wish for.
But something radical needs to happen. Played well – Sanderson might just have let the genie out of the bottle!