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Can the Scottish Tories go Gay?

In future the Scottish Tories are going to have to learn to love homosexuals. Well, that’s surely the implications of the historic meeting between the Conservative party chairman, Francis Maude, and the gay pressure-group “Stonewall” on Friday.

I wonder what plans they to follow up the rapprochement with Scotland’s gay community? Will Annabel Goldie be piloting a phone in the Strathclyde Gay and Lesbian Switchboard? Or writing a column on ScotsGay magazine? Might MSP Phil Gallie be offering his services as a mentor to the the Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Youth Scotland, which promotes homosexual awareness among young people? Maude made a point of visiting them too to show that Conservatives really have changed – in England at least.

For, most Scottish Tories still believe that introducing young people to gay ideas is practically paedophilia. They used to say that groups like LGBT groomed young people into homosexual ways, which is one reason Tories were so keen on Section 2A, the notorious clause which outlawed the teaching of homosexuality in schools.

The row over Keep the Clause seems like ancient history , but that’s the problem – in their attitudes the Scottish Tories are still living in ancient history. Just look at them: I’m told there are more Tory students these days but the public face is middle aged, middle class and generally male. Crusty lawyers, businessmen and masons, waxing nostalgic for the glory days of Thatcherism over a G and T in the golf club bar.

The “Dave” revolution has left the Scottish Tories cold – in deep freeze even. There’s no way they are going to start going around sympathising with single mothers, gays and greens. They want to get back to the old virtues of tax cuts, family values and law and order, which they see being ripped off them by Labour.

Indeed, I suspect a lot of Tory MSPs secretly yearn to be on Jack McConnell’s side of the Scottish Parliament these days rather than their own touchy-feely compassionate Conservative benches. If they were Labour they could still do macho things like cheer asbos, war on drugs, war on neds, war in Iraq.

Cameron has even deprived the Scottish Tories of their traditional platform as the war party. The Tory leader used his 9/11 address last week to attack American foreign policy, and Britain’s “slavish” pursuit of it. What defeatism! Tories used to have an absolute rule that you don’t question any war while ‘our boys’ are still fighting it – and dying in Afghanistan. It’s the kind of thing that Neil Kinnock used to do!

This is a living nightmare for your average Scottish Tory – an identity crisis, a collective nervous breakdown. Some console themselves with hopes that David Cameron is all front, a walking PR campaign, and that in a couple of years, the mask will slip and the “Liberal Conservative” will reveal himself as a true blue “Neo-Conservative”. But I wouldn’t bank on it. As another Tory leader once put it: there is no alternative.

The Cameronians don’t even support cuts in public services any more. It leaves the Scottish Tories little distinctive to say apart from opposition to Scottish Enterprise and cutting Scottish MPs voting rights in Westminster.

OK, the policy of “English votes for English laws” is supposedly under review right now, but the chairman of the the Tory Democracy Commission looking into the West Lothian Question, Kenneth Clarke, has repeatedly said that Scottish MPs should be stopped from voting on English bills in Westminster. In July, David Cameron said he agreed, and that the Speaker should rule certain bills “English only”.

Similarly, Cameron is committed to reviewing the Barnett Formula on Scottish public spending. He promised in his speech in Glasgow that “we wouldn’t fall out about money”, but that remains to be seen. Labour will be able to accuse the Tories of offering Scots nothing but spending cuts and less say in Westminster.

Which doesn’t sound like an election-winning formula to me, or even a survival strategy. The Scottish Tories are already falling into the margins of Scottish politics, with some opinion polls showing them as low as 14%. There is a serious risk that the party could now be on a permanent decline, and that – rather like the Arctic ice cap – they may be gone forever in a generation. Something has to be done and done soon.

The Tories problem – as “Dave” conceded in his Glasgow speech on Friday – is bound up with the “blunders” they made in the 1980s. It was Thatcher’s failure on the Scottish question, plus her introduction of the poll tax to Scotland, that turned Scotland – which, remember, was a Tory country in living memory – forever against them. “Tory” became a four-letter word – it still is. Tories are the pantomime villains of Scottish politics.

They had a chance of a clean break in 1997 after the referendum result resolved the devolution issue once and for all. The Tories could have changed their name to the Peoples Party, or some such phrase, and ridden back to reality as a natural centre-right regional party. They didn’t, and despite insisting that they accepted the new constitutional arrangement, they didn’t change their political character.

Now, new Labour has swept in and taken law and order populism from them. David Cameron is washing his hands of them – unless they turn themselves into liberals, which they won’t. Many English nationalists in the Tory party want rid of Scotland altogether because in England the Conservatives have a majority of votes.

The Scottish Tories now have one chance and once chance only to get back in the race. They should accept the logic of devolution – as the former Scottish Secretary, Michael Forsyth saw it – and opt for independence. Many Conservatives in Westminster continue to believe that independence is the rational option for Scotland and preferable to the present half way house.

It wouldn’t necessarily mean they cease to be unionists. The Scottish Tories could call it “Independence in the UK” – maintaining the Crown, flag, currency and armed forces, but giving the Scottish parliament responsibility for its own affairs, across the entire range of domestic policy, and raising its own revenues.

Standing on your own feet, spending only what you earn, loving your country and uniting under the flag – these are enduring Tory virtues. If the Scottish Conservatives turned into the Scottish National Conservatives they could tap into the groundswell of support in Scotland, which now includes much of the business community, calling for a Scottish parliament with full tax powers.

The alternative is oblivion. Only something as radical as what David Cameron is doing in England will work in Scotland. By adopting civic nationalism, the Tories could remove forever the taint that they are “the English Party”. And Scottish Conservatism could finally come in from the cold.

About @iainmacwhirter

I'm a columnist for the Herald. Author of "Road to Referendum" and "Disunited Kingdom". Was a BBC TV and radio presenter for 25 years - "Westminster Live" and "Holyrood Live" mainly. Spent time as columnist for The Observer, Guardian, New Statesman. Former Rector of Edinburgh University. Live in Edinburgh and spend a lot of time in the French Pyrenees. Will that do?


One thought on “Can the Scottish Tories go Gay?

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