Colin Clark was MP for Gordon from 2017 until 2019.
This health crisis, as never before, has demonstrated within the British Isles that we are all in it together. Fifty five per cent of Scotland’s voters chose to remain part of the Union in 2014. In 2016, 38 per cent of voters in Scotland backed Brexit.
So why are the Scottish Conservative and Unionists currently stuck at 23 per cent in the polls for next year’s Holyrood election?
Studies have also shown that attitudes to immigration north of the border are broadly in line with those in England. We have a Calvinist work ethic, a strong independent streak and an aversion to heavy-handed state interference – as evidenced by the SNP’s failed Named Person scheme.
In England, the so-called ‘red wall’ in the north was smashed by a pugnacious Churchillian leader who appeals to working class voters. Who is committed to spending more on our essential services.
In Scotland, Labour and the Liberal Democrats struggle for relevance. There is no challenger for the right-of-centre vote. Based on the above, I would suggest there is the potential to win up to 40 per cent of the vote.
This happened in the December 2019 general election in the north-east region of Scotland. The party polled at 40 per cent-plus in five out of the seven seats in the area, even in some of those that were lost. But national polling is showing no sign of the party being anywhere near that level.
One thing is for sure: if the party continues to stand in the middle of the road (missing the obvious opportunity on the right) we will be run over.
In the 2019 election we drew a target on our back claiming that only the Conservatives could stop the SNP. The contrary was signposted – if you want to stop Boris Johnson and the Tories, vote SNP. The Covid-19 crisis has made us all social democrats. Scared witless, we look for the state to protect us and hold our hands. Our belief in free trade, private business or individual responsibly is consumed with a loss of confidence and control.
This is not lost on Nicola Sturgeon, who is already maximising the contrived differences between Scotland and England. The Scottish Conservatives must not fall into the trap: “we are different, more caring, we have higher morals.”
We have a popular Conservative Prime Minister in Downing Street with a comfortable majority – the Scottish wing of the party should be exploiting that, rather than shying away from it.
Without a clear contrast on offer in 2021, is there a danger that Scottish swing voters see the UK Government’s refusal to concede a second referendum as a licence to safely vote SNP? Will they inevitably see the MacMillan-esque paternal state supporting wounded industries and protecting jobs as a quasi-socialist saviour? Our very own Angela Merkel ‘mutti’ character in Nicola Sturgeon?
Consider a real alternative. An offer of a dynamic government that will turbo-charge the economy. Scotland as the best and most open place to start a business. A competitive tax destination which will attract back top rate payers and expanding businesses, with Edinburgh as a financial centre naturally linked to the City of London.
With an expanding tax base, we could afford a laser-focused approach in our schools and further education establishments, emulating the Asian Tigers of South Korea and Singapore. We can create a twenty-first century healthcare system by learning the lessons of the lockdown, exploiting technology to allow more virtual appointments and recognising the need to properly fund care.
We should roll back the state in favour of a more informal society where people develop local solutions for the common good. The last few months have exposed how an unwieldy state can struggle to move quickly enough. Individuals have taken up the responsibility to help their community, support the NHS, and fill in the gaps.
We should have confidence in our abilities to maximise the use of technology to drive a greener growth free of the clunking fist of a strategic state. We are at the forefront of international debate and unlike our Celtic cousins, Ireland, we are no longer subservient to the contrived international common interest of the EU 27 which has unravelled under the microscope of Covid-19.
The case for Unionism needs meat on the bones. I believe 40 per cent of the vote is achievable for a post-EU Conservative and Unionist party. Only if we get out of the middle of the road, embrace the dynamism of Johnson, the opportunities of Brexit and the strength of the United Kingdom.
To achieve that, there must be a clear choice. This is time to be bold. In 1945, people wanted a change – they wanted hope not more of the same. When this war is over, Scotland can make that choice.