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Rob Leitch: There is trouble ahead for the Union

Robert Leitch is 21 years old and in the third year of a distance-learning politics degree from the LSE, and has been working in Parliament for a Conservative MP. He is also a party activist in Orpington.

As political commentators pore over each and every inch of the freshly drawn up map of parliamentary constituencies, key areas of analysis will be highlighted and discussed in remarkable depth and detail. One fairly obvious yet fundamentally worrying trend, is the absolute failure of our Party to make any breakthrough in Scotland.

Having seen Conservatism drain from each corner of Scotland in 1997, it is disappointing to say the least that our focused and indeed rather expensive campaigns in certain Scottish target seats bore no fruit at a time of supposed Conservative revival. However, there is an ongoing, deeper concern posed by our latest failed attempts to win back trust in Scotland – the future fate of our historic Union.

The subject of Scottish independence is one that divides many in our Party. There are, of course, strong traditional unionists who will fight tooth and nail for the continuation of the United Kingdom. Yet, in truth, an increasing number seem to be quite frankly fed up with either the democratic inequality provoked by the West Lothian Question or the subsidy provided to individual Scottish citizens by the English taxpayer (thought to be in the region of around £4.5 billion per year at present).  Add to this number those Conservatives who believe strongly in the principle of national self-determination and it is perhaps possible to suggest that support for the Union is waning even within our unionist Party.

The Scottish Nationalists, led by the ever slippery Alex Salmond, would have watched Thursday’s results with an element of disappointment. No, not because they failed to add to their rather measly six parliamentary seats, but rather because David Cameron failed to win an outright majority in Westminster. It has long been Alex Salmond’s desire to see a Conservative government in London with little or no mandate from the Scottish people. The fact that we merely managed to cling onto our one solitary seat in Scotland will, however, have been of great comfort to the SNP.

Indeed, despite Mr Salmond’s proposals for a progressive alliance with Labour, Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats, one expects that the First Minister's true yearning is for a minority Conservative government to take shape in London over the coming days. He would, of course, take great enjoyment from arguing that the Scottish cannot be served or represented by a government so fundamentally rejected north of the border.

It goes without saying that calls for independence in Scotland have quietened in recent months, largely as a result of the economic crisis – the Scottish people are wise enough to learn lessons from the nations (Iceland, Ireland and Norway) that once made up the so called ‘Arc of Prosperity’. Yet, a minority Conservative administration that has once again failed to win the respect, trust or backing of any sizeable number of Scottish voters, will undoubtedly re-energise Mr Salmond’s long-term dream of independence.

The Conservative campaign in Scotland will, in due course, be picked over in a rather agonising manner by CCHQ as we attempt to learn lessons for the future. I fear, however, that such a future may simply not exist and in the meantime we are left with an impending risk to the Union. After all, the SNP still hope to push through their referendum about Scottish independence at some point in 2010. Put bluntly, within a few months we could be at the beginning of the end of the Union.

Whilst far more critical issues (starting with the desperate need to cut the budget deficit) will require immediate attention from the new Westminster administration, we should all remember that Scottish nationalists will be salivating at the thought of a weak, potentially divided Conservative-led UK government.

Despite David Cameron’s strong unionist proclamations, even a majority Conservative government would have struggled to hold back the nationalist tide in Scotland. The financial crisis may well have weakened the SNP’s hand for the time being, but our Party’s utterly dismal showing north of the border, coupled with more pressing matters in Westminster, may well provide the perfect recipe for the Union’s death knell.

Regardless of whether we commit to resisting such a scenario is largely beside the point. A messy divorce with serious implications both domestically and internationally make this subject worthy of serious consideration for the new government.  The SNP know that our Party's ability to influence Scottish voters is weak; this could now be their moment to seize.


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