Lord Sanderson’s review into the revival of the Scottish Conservatives made for uncomfortable reading. It identified some of the key challenges facing the Scottish Conservatives, including faulty internal structures, confused policy development, falling membership and a lack of links to Scotland’s business community. It was established in response to the party’s woeful performance in this year’s general election, in which only one Scottish Conservative MP, yet again, was elected.
As a Scot currently living in London, the continued lack of success of the Scottish Conservatives is deeply troubling. What we must first accept is that whatever has been tried over the last decade, it has not worked. The figures are stark. The Conservatives in Scotland won a smaller proportion of the vote in 2010 than in the electoral annihilation of 1997. Opinion polls suggest we are unlikely to make much progress at next year's Scottish Parliamentary elections. Our performance compares especially poorly when compared to the Welsh Tories, who won 27.1% of the Welsh vote this year, up from 19.6% in 1997.
There have been some successes. John Lamont bucked the trend in the 2007 Scottish Parliamentary election by winning the Roxburgh and Berwickshire seat with a 9% swing from the Lib Dems. The Conservatives have staged something of a recovery in rural south Scotland, particularly in Borders and Dumfries and Galloway. Winning four constituencies in 2007 was some comfort, although the party nevertheless lost support overall in that election.
To blame the current travails on the Scottish leadership is to miss the point. Lord Sanderson was correct in that respect. The history of the Conservative Party in Scotland is one of long and slow decline: the easy explanation is to assume that Scots are intrinsically Left-wing supporters of unreformed welfarism, therefore creating hostile territory for any Right-leaning political movement. However, even if that were the case - and the evidence on that is far from conclusive - other European countries which could be classed as predominantly 'social democratic' nevertheless have vibrant conservative parties. In Sweden the Moderates lead a government of the centre-Right. Despite Sweden traditionally being manna from Polly Toynbee's heaven, the centre-Right has always polled better than the Scottish Conservatives' recent performance. All Western European democracies, regardless of where their political centre-ground is held to be, have parties of the Right far more successful than the Scottish Conservatives.