In any given online discussion about Tory policy towards the Union, it is an iron law of the internet that someone will eventually pop up with a reminder that the official name of the Conservative Party is the Conservative and Unionist Party.
That’s true, of course, but it isn’t a determinist fact that a party’s name dictates what its members – or indeed its leadership – actually think. Plenty of working people feel that Labour has become a parody rather than a fulfilment of its brand, for example.
Conservative attitudes to the Union are increasingly complex, and subject to various ebbing and flowing events and tides of opinion. Hence we sought in our most recent survey of Party members to gauge at least the headline calculation: how important is the maintenance of the Union?
The good news for Unionists is that 55 per cent of respondents were unequivocal that the maintenance of the Union is of paramount political importance. (It isn’t directly equivalent, but it is interesting to look back at the question we asked back in 2017 about how Party members would feel were Scotland to leave the Union, when the same share – 55 per cent – expressed varying degrees of concern about the damage such a separation would do.)
At the other end of the spectrum, only four per cent answered that maintaining the Union is “not of political importance to me at all”.
In the starkest terms, this is still very much a Unionist Party membership, therefore.
Between the two poles are some shades of grey, albeit still with a strong lean in a pro-Union direction. A small minority – seven per cent of those surveyed – felt that the Union is “fairly unimportant to me, and less so than other political aims and objectives”. A much larger minority – over a third of respondents – answered that the Union is “fairly important…but not as much as other political aims and objectives”.
Together, that is 40 per cent who might in some circumstances be wobbly on the Union, were they forced into a choice.
The interesting question for Unionists and would-be separatists alike is what other political aims outweigh the Union for that subset of Tories, and what risk (or chance, depending on your view) is there of the two coming into conflict?