Craig Hoy is a former Westminster lobby journalist.
As the SNP departs Glasgow, the drumbeat for Scottish independence is growing more menacing by the day. And as the threat of Indyref 2 increases, we should take a moment to remember an essential ingredient of success: to get into the heads of our opponents.
We need to remember that the SNP want to reduce our politics and national identity into a single, indivisible issue. And that issue is grievance – not hope, as Nicola Sturgeon proclaimed in her speech to her party’s conference yesterday.
In the misguided eyes of the Scots nationalists, to support Brexit and restore the fortunes our fishing industry is “anti-Scottish”. That’s despite the fact that one third of their own voters did precisely that: back Brexit. To want to balance the country’s books – and erase a deficit which eats away at our future prosperity and competitiveness – is, again, presented as an affront to our Scottish identity. That’s despite the fact that thrift is a Scottish value. And, worse still, the SNP’s own Growth Commission recommends a hard austerity, way beyond that implemented in recent years.
Furthermore, in the eyes of the SNP, to want to retain our nuclear defence – at a time when the world appears to be reverting back to the bad old ways – is, yes, you guessed it, “anti-Scottish”. That’s despite the fact that we are all undoubtedly safer with Trident than without. But we are where we are: living in a topsy-turvy Scotland. A Scotland in which the “English Tories” are still bizarrely blamed for 12 years of SNP failure in our schools and hospitals . Now more than ever it’s vital that the Scottish Tories – as our country’s only real opposition – redouble our efforts.
It’s time we celebrated the unique combination of values the party possesses: being Scottish, Conservative and Unionist. In the art world, the three parts of any triptych are intended to be appreciated together. We stand to offer more, and gain more, by remembering this.
To win, we need to promote the positive case for the union – something Ruth Davidson has done deftly during her time as leader. This will yield electoral dividends so long as the threat of Indyref 2 remains. But electoral success rests on more than this – and Ruth Davidson and the new breed of bright and ambitious Scots Tories get this fact. Success at the ballot box in 2021 requires us to develop a unique set of centre-ground Scots policies. Token Tartan Toryism won’t work. You can’t wrap a random policy in a tartan shawl and expect Scots to buy it.
So we need to use the period between now and 2021 to develop a uniquely Scottish and mainstream Conservative policy agenda. It needs to be patriotic, but it also practical and realistic – setting our policy apart from socialist separatism and the narrow minded nationalism of our opponents.
But being “small c” conservative should not require us to blunt the radical edge of our politics. We need to think out of the box, to look beyond our borders, to move out from our comfort zone. Having spent the last decade in South East Asia I am bewildered by the way we focus so much on rights and not enough on responsibilities. Scots are a fair nation, but we have allowed that focus on rights to eclipse responsibility.
I spend a lot of time in Singapore – a nation state which revels in its clean-cut, law-abiding reputation. Looking back from there to Scotland I am at a complete loss to understand why extreme anti-social behaviour is tolerated. It’s as if we’ve given up. Gangs of teenagers causing havoc on our high streets are seen as undesirable – but, at the same time, unavoidable. The actions of a small number in society, which leaves our elderly feeling vulnerable and afraid, isn’t undesirable – it’s unacceptable. And it falls to the Tories to say call time on this kind of social ill.
That’s why safe injection zones for drug users, which at first might look like a pragmatic policy, should be rejected. We shouldn’t be trying to find ways of making hard drug use safer or more mainstream: we should be finding ways of eradicating it. Because only by doing this will we break the destructive cycle of drug abuse, whereby the child of a drug user is far more likely themselves to fall into a world of abuse, despair and impoverishment than the other kids in their classroom. If this sort of social inequality isn’t tolerated in countries such as Singapore then it shouldn’t be tolerated in Scotland either.
But we should not focus just on solving Scotland’s ills. We need to be the party of real hope, not the false hope which barely masked the grievance of Sturgeon in her conference speech. We need to explain how we will embrace change, setting individuals and business free to compete on the world stage. Scotland’s SME sector should be the lifeblood of our economy. In Germany, it’s called the Mittelstand – with SMEs making up 99 per cent of all the country’s economy, many of these firms being worldwide market leaders. We should be throwing everything we have at building our own SME sector, call it a McMittelstand if you like.
In education and healthcare, we should be looking to other developed economies to see how we can reform our systems to ensure both lead the world – while, of course, remaining 100 per cent publicly funded. In truth, it would be all too easy to engage in constant political combat with the SNP on the constitutional future of our country. But we need to be more, to offer more, and to achieve more than simply being the party of the union. When Ruth Davidson becomes First Minister, which I hope and believe she will, we will have a government which truly takes decisions in Scotland’s national interest – and not in the narrow interests of the SNP. That should give each and every Scot hope. But before that there is a lot of hard work to do.