Andrew Thorpe-Apps is a trainee solicitor and Conservative activist from Chelmsford, Essex.
We all know the joke about pandas and Scottish Tory MPs. The latest gag is about Scotland being a one party state, ruled over by Queen Nicola and her court of exuberant MPs.
But the position of the Scottish Conservative Party has been no laughing matter. At the 1997 General Election it was completely wiped out. The party has bumped along since 2001 with a solitary MP, finding itself trapped in a deep, dark pit with no rope or ladder in sight.
Yet things are starting to change.
Scottish Labour were punished for their complacency at the General Election. They thought that Scotland owed them a healthy batch of MPs, and they took their eye off the ball. The SNP, though very much the pre-eminent force in Scottish politics, seem to have reached their peak. With the whip withdrawn from two MPs over financial irregularities, and concerns over how the closure of the Forth Road Bridge has been handled, the nationalists are experiencing light turbulence. Though they show no sign of crashing just yet, the electorate are at least seeing that Sturgeon and her army are as fallible as the rest.
However, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Nicola Sturgeon remains highly popular north of the border. The SNP campaign machine, aided by the party’s membership surge following the independence referendum, will be unrelenting in the upcoming Scottish Parliament elections, with another majority likely.
But with Labour in turmoil, the Conservatives could find themselves the second largest party at Holyrood following the 2016 elections, with Ruth Davidson becoming the official leader of the opposition. An STV/Ipsos MORI poll conducted in mid-November found the SNP on 50 per cent, Labour on 20 per cent, the Conservatives on 18 per cent, the Liberal Democrats on 7 per cent and others on 5 per cent.
The Conservatives should be the party for patriotic Scots who are equally comfortable with their British identity. We must fight as the true guardians of ‘middle Scotland’, opposing the increasingly centralised policies coming out of Holyrood. Most importantly, the case must be made that a vote for the Conservatives is a vote for a Scotland that embraces the world. The SNP are inward-looking, as all nationalists inherently are. It is ambitious internationalism against narrow-minded nationalism; a battle that Scotland cannot afford to lose. That is the mantle that Scottish Conservatives must pick up. Labour are simply incapable of doing so.
Ruth Davidson has shown strong and, crucially, consistent leadership during a period of great flux in Scotland. The independence question may be off the agenda for now, but with the EU referendum on the horizon and all the uncertainties that that will unleash, it is vitally important that an established, unionist voice is there to pick apart the SNP’s crumbling domestic policy platform. In Davidson the Scottish Conservatives have such a voice.
She must cast herself as a Tory radical, prepared to stand up to David Cameron and the UK Conservative Party where necessary. She should push for a final solution to the West Lothian Question, to which the much lauded EVEL is a mere sticking plaster, by calling for a fully federal UK with strong devolved Parliaments. This is the banner under which Scottish Conservatives should campaign, outflanking political rivals whilst at the same time remaining committed to the Union.
With Holyrood soon having to increase the amount of its revenue it raises through taxation, the road ahead for Nicola Sturgeon is set to become more treacherous. The SNP is, as with all political parties, a coalition of different factions who broadly agree on more things than they disagree on. But cracks are beginning to appear, particularly between the left and the centrists within the party. With the right policies in place, the Conservatives could find the votes of many disaffected centrists up for grabs in the run-up to 2020.
The 1955 General Election marked the last occasion that the Conservatives won the most seats in Scotland. No one is predicting that the party can reach those dizzy heights in the foreseeable future. Yet there is a sense that the party is moving forward, finally released from that deep pit which hitherto bore the hallmarks of a political grave. Conservatism is well and truly alive in Scotland. We are on the brink of a great Scottish revival.