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  • Introduction

    The Scottish Conservative & Unionist Party (informally, the Scottish Conservative Party and often referred to as the Scottish Tories) is the part of the British Conservative Party that operates in Scotland. It was established in 1965, when the previously separate Unionist Party was merged into the Conservative Party of England and Wales, to form the basis of the modern UK Conservative Party (which at that time did not organise independently in Northern Ireland). The Unionist Party, in alliance with a small number of Liberal Unionist and National Liberal politicians, had been the dominant force in Scottish politics until the late 1950s. From the early 1960s that role was taken by the Labour Party.

    The Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party has 16 of 129 seats in the Scottish Parliament, 1 of 59 Scottish seats in the Parliament of the United Kingdom, and 1 of 6 Scottish seats in the European Parliament. The party has never produced official membership figures, but in March 2006 it was thought to have approximately 16,500 members.


    Electoral defeat in the 1959 general election led to the reforms of 1965, which brought an end to the Unionist Party as an independent force. It was renamed the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party and constitutionally came under the control of the UK party. These, and further reforms in 1977, saw the Scottish Conservatives being viewed as a regional unit, with its personnel, finance, and political offices under the control of a leadership in London.

    These changes had serious implications for the Conservatives' Scottish identity. Set alongside the end of Empire and the emergence of many independent states it witnessed the rise of the Scottish National Party (SNP) as sections of the old Unionist vote swung to the SNP along with former Labour voters who supported Scottish independence. This may seem paradoxical, but the Unionist Party had benefited greatly from its projection as an independent Scottish party opposing the London-based British Labour Party. In addition the name "Conservative" was identified with the English party; and there was a strong unionist-nationalist tradition, represented by the likes of John Buchan (who said "I believe every Scotsman should be a Scottish nationalist."[3]) and those who had founded the Scottish Party (which later merged with the National Party of Scotland to found the Scottish National Party).

    Consequences of merger

    As the British Empire came to an end so too did the primacy of Protestant associations as secularism and ecumenicalism rose. The erosion of the Unionist vote accompanied this along with the loss of its working class base. Though many Conservatives would still identify with the Kirk, most Church of Scotland identifiers were not conservatives. As the national and largest Church it had adapted to a secular post-imperial world by advocating ecumenicalism.

    Support from working class Protestants was also eroded. With the Daily Record newspaper switching from the Unionists to Labour, the Conservatives in the 1960s were mercilessly portrayed as a party of the Anglicised aristocracy. Combined with the new name, this helped switch previous Unionist voters to the Labour party and the SNP which advanced considerably in the elections of February and October 1974.

    The associations with the largely working class Orange Order also became problematic because of this aristocratic connection, but it was the Troubles in Northern Ireland that created further problems. On one level, there was the residual perception of a connection that many mainstream Protestant voters associated with the sectarian violence in Northern Ireland a perception that is unfair to a large extent since the Scottish Orange Order has dealt more stringently with members associating with Northern Irish paramilitaries than its Irish equivalent. However, the ramifications of this perception also led to the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party downplaying and ignoring past associations, which further widened the gap with the Orange Order. Any links that lingered were ultimately broken when Margaret Thatcher signed the Anglo-Irish Agreement. Notably this witnessed the Orange Lodge (amongst other supporters) set up their own Scottish Unionist Party.
    [edit]The Thatcher-Major years.

    The election of Margaret Thatcher in the 1979 general election revived the Party's support and returned more MPs, but this was squandered in the two subsequent elections of 1983 and 1987. These elections witnessed the rise of the SDP-Liberal Alliance, which ate into traditional Unionist Party support, along with increased support for Labour and SNP in 1987.

    This anti-Conservative position reminiscent of the pre-1886 electoral position has been attributed to Margaret Thatcher's perceived rejection of society and advocacy of American monetarist policies that were leading to the closure of traditional Scottish industries. This was at odds with the past Scottish Unionist position of "service to others and to the community" and was graphically illustrated by the cool reception she received at the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland when she made her "Sermon on the Mound".

    By then advocating the introduction of the poll tax a year early in Scotland (where they had minority support) they further exacerbated the image of being anti-Scottish. Ironically the Scottish Conservatives had been amongst the fiercest advocates of introducing the poll tax to replace the system of local government rates.

    The replacement of Margaret Thatcher with John Major did see a very small increase in their vote in the 1992 election when they campaigned on a "Save the Union" ticket against a resurgent SNP. However the marginality of the increase the SNP's vote increased substantially but success was limited by First Past The Post combined with Conservative Party divisions, Black Wednesday, the rise of New Labour, the increased willingness of the electorate to resort to tactical voting and the Conservatives' uncompromising opposition to any form of devolved legislative assembly for Scotland contrived to see the Conservative Party wiped out at the 1997 election.

    Devolution and pre-1965 considerations

    It was the establishment of a Scottish Parliament, an institution they had opposed vehemently, that gave the Scottish Conservatives a modicum of Parliamentary respectability. However, this was only because of the Parliament's proportional representation electoral system, and the level of national support they received in 1999 and 2003 hardly moved. Nevertheless, they did manage to pick up three constituency seats in 2003, Edinburgh Pentlands, Galloway & Upper Nithsdale and Ayr.

    In subsequent Westminster elections, their vote has been equally sluggish or static. In the 2001 election, they won a seat from the SNP, but the sitting MP subsequently lost against Labour in the 2005 election in a redrawn seat (which had a notional Labour majority). However they did gain the Dumfriess-shire, Clydesdale & Tweeddale seat from notional Labour control.

    In the 2007 Scottish Parliament elections, the party gained their fourth constituency seat in Roxburgh & Berwickshire

    The 1997 wipe out and subsequent lack of movement has resulted in debate about how the party should change to revive its fortunes. Echoing their pre-1965 position, one suggestion has been to drop the name "Conservative". However, the Strathclyde Commission ruled out a return to the "Scottish Unionist Party" name because of sensitivity to Northern Irish sectarian connotations. Besides, this would now be impossible under the new Electoral Commission as the small Scottish Unionist Party is already registered.

    The deputy leader of the party, Murdo Fraser MSP, has suggested that the party become independent, like the pre-1965 Unionist Party, and adopt a relationship with the English Conservatives analogous to the relationship which the Christian Social Union in Bavaria has with the Christian Democratic Union in Germany.[4] Brian Monteith, an MSP, who has since left the party, proposed that the Scottish Conservatives support fiscal autonomy for Scotland as a means to appear more "Scottish" than the Labour party who oppose it.[5] A resonance with John Buchan was struck when an ex-MP said the party should support Scottish independence because it would produce a clearer and more co-operative relationship with England than what he felt was the latent conflicts and resentments devolution would create. Allan Stewart, former MP for Eastwood, said: "'I've always believed that the English perception of what independence would do to them has always been unnecessarily worried. There is a major issue about defence, but I don't think other issues are a real worry.'" (Herald, 02/05/2005).

    However, it remains to be seen if the Scottish Conservatives will return to a model that reflects the previous Unionist Party. Fiscal autonomy has not been rejected but it still remains unclear if the party will adopt it. As for an independent party or independence, the party leadership and Parliamentarians face a membership who have grown into using the name 'Conservative' and take pride in it, despite the decline it heralded. Many members are also ideologically opposed to any notion of Scottish autonomy, whether it be for Scotland or their party, even though this was a feature of the party when it had a larger membership. With such obstacles to overcome, the present party may take the route of hoping for a fillip from new Conservative leader David Cameron, but on the past electoral experiences with Margaret Thatcher and John Major, this has often been followed with poll disasters such as the 1987 and 1997 elections. However, the decline of the Scottish Conservatives has not been constant - in the 1992 General Election, the Scottish Conservatives gained a seat in Scotland to become Scotland's second party, with 11 seats north of the border, and the party is currently second in several Scottish seats that could provide a basis for long-term recovery.

    Policy platform

    The Scottish Conservatives have adopted several policy positions which differ from their colleagues in the rest of the United Kingdom, for example support for the Scottish Executive policy of free state care for the elderly, and their backing of the decision to abandon university tuition fees in Scotland. There is also a difference in approach on tax, with the Scottish party likely to propose the full 3% reduction in income tax (the so-called Tartan Tax) in their manifesto for the Scottish Parliament election in 2007, while the UK party has committed itself to putting economic stability ahead of tax cuts.

    In August 2006, the leader of the UK Conservative Party, David Cameron, said that the party should recognise "that the policies of Conservatives in Scotland and Wales will not always be the same as our policies in England" and that the "West Lothian question must be answered from a Unionist perspective".[6] A spokesman for the leader said that Cameron would continue to consider adopting a policy of "English votes for English laws", banning Scottish MPs from voting on English-only legislation.

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