As was so boringly predictable, the narrative that our no-really-we’re-not-biased media are promoting since the results of Thursday’s election became clear is that the Tories have been detoxified in Scotland. It’s a strange definition of detoxified, there is still more of a chance that Murdo Fraser might discover he’s a Celtic fan and a republican than there is of the Scottish Tories having any realistic expectation that they could ever form a government at Holyrood. In terms of the percentage of votes it received, at 22% the party isn’t even back to where it was in the UK General Election of 1992 when it had already been battered by the voters for imposing Thatcherism on a reluctant nation and turning a deaf ear to demands for devolution. They managed to get 25% of the vote in that election.
Still, it’s churlish not to concede that the Tories made gains under Tank Girl, but then Churlish is my middle name. Scotland has still not welcomed the Tories back into our hearts, by an overwhelming majority Scots have still not forgiven them and we’ve not forgotten what they’re like. They might have won more seats, they might have garnered some votes from the better off and the diehard unionists, they might have benefited from Unionist tactical voting, but the Tories are still toxic in Scotland. When the best you can possibly do is to manage to secure just 22% of the vote, you’re still a minor party. You’re still to be held at arm’s length like a foul smelling privatised sock.
The Tories fought the Holyrood election on a platform of pretending that they’re not Tories at all, that the dastardly deeds of Iain Duncan Smith and George Osborne and the sneer of Davie Cameron were nothing to do with them, but they’re going to have to spend the next five years in the Scottish parliament defending their Westminster colleagues.
Having successfully rebranded themselves as the Ruth Davidson No More Referendums Except EU Ones Ruth Davidson Holding the SNP to Account by Being Ruth Davidson We Don’t Like to Admit We’re Tories Ruth Davidson Party, Vote Ruth Davidson, the buffalo girl’s merry band of tub thumpers for the Union are about to discover that being held to account cuts both ways. They’re going to be held to account for everything their pals at Westminster do. They’re going to be asked if they support the way in which their colleague Jeremy Hunt is rampaging through the English NHS, they’re going to have to defend their party’s assault on the disabled, they’re going to have answer for Osborne’s refusal to go after corporate tax evaders with the same zeal that his government assails benefits claimants. The Tories are still toxic.
They’re going to have to do all this without having sufficient clout in the Scottish Parliament to get any traction for their agenda of privatisations, resisting land reform, punishing the poor while rewarding the rich, and displaying their traditional spectacular ignorance of and direspect for Scottish culture and linguistic history.
I was a bit down about the result of the election on Friday, but having had a few days to consider it I’m a whole lot happier now. Parties which support independence were returned with a greater share of the vote, even if the SNP lost its overall majority. And now Unionism is revealed in all its ugly conservative gory. And no, that’s not a typo. The main party supporting the Union in Scotland stands for austerity, for slashing public services, for handing over what remains to private companies, for glorifying the military and indulging in convenient foreign wars, and they’ve got a nasty xenophobic strain in them an imperial mile wide. The dog whistle racism that characterised the Conservative campaign for the mayor of London came from number 10, and their campaign in Scotland was every bit as cynical and every bit as servile to the goals of our Etonian masters. With the Tories as the main voice of the Union in Scotland, Unionism is now going to be unable to escape the ugly taint of reaction, of subordinating Scotland to goals that few here share. There’s no longer a vital Labour party to put a progressive gloss on the corpse of Westminster.
It has been argued that a second independence referendum is now off the table for the foreseeable future. That’s probably true, unless something dramatic happens like the UK voting to leave the EU next month but Scotland voting to stay, there probably won’t be another independence referendum for a while. However I’m not going to lose sleep over that, and neither should you. There’s only one thing that I want more than another independence referendum, and that’s that we win the next independence referendum. What the election has shown us is that in terms of persuading a secure majority of the people of Scotland of the independence cause, we’re not quite there yet. We still have work to do. Rushing into a second independence referendum and then losing it would really knock the prospect of independence off the table for the foreseeable future.
Instead of arguing with the Labour party for the soul of Scotland, the independence movement now needs to focus its fire on the Tories. They’re going to be a much easier target. It’s now going to be easier to persuade people that the choice facing Scotland is between an independent nation that values public services, a national health service, and prioritises skilled and secure jobs, or a Union that’s in thrall to the doctrines of austerity, privatisation, and low paying insecure jobs. A Tory Scotland is not the kind of Scotland most of us want to live in, but that’s what the Union offers.
Over the coming months and years, Ruth Davidson is going to have to put some substance to her photo calls. She says she’s going to hold the SNP to account, but few are going to be impressed if holding them to account means putting forward policies that are only going to benefit the better off and the privileged, that are only going to entrench the social divisions that already scar this land. The only practical difference her victory is going to make is that she’ll be called on first to ask questions at Furst Meenister’s Questions, and she’s going to be the first to have her arse handed to her on a plate as she attempts to defend the policies of her pals down south.
The Tories are still toxic, and all the photo-opportunities in the world aren’t going to change that. We still have to persuade a secure majority of Scots that independence is the way ahead, Ruthie’s gains have made that task much easier.
BARKING UP THE RIGHT TREE Barking Up the Right Tree has now been published and is an anthology of my articles for The National newspaper. You can submit an advance order for the book on the Vagabond Voices website at http://vagabondvoices.co.uk/?page_id=1993
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