Scot Free Tories

It looks increasingly likely that a new Tory Prime Minister shall be kissing the Queen's hand in early May next year. It's much less likely that as the fresh-faced MP for Witney moves into Number 10 there shall be a skirl of pipes and drums and much waving and cheering at Edinburgh's Market Cross when the traditional announcement is made three days afterwards.

Scot Free Tories
Scot Free Tories

It looks increasingly likely that a new Tory Prime Minister shall be kissing the Queen's hand in early May next year. It's much less likely that as the fresh-faced MP for Witney moves into Number 10 there shall be a skirl of pipes and drums and much waving and cheering at Edinburgh's Market Cross when the traditional announcement is made three days afterwards. 

The incoming Conservative administration shall inherit a country much changed since they were unceremoniously turfed from office in 1997. We now have a minimum wage across the UK, we have forces under fire overseas and independent central bank and of course there is devolved government in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland.

When London-born and Eton-educated David Cameron takes over from Govan-born and Kirkcaldy-educated Gordon Brown, there will be a significant shift in the focus and powerbase of British politics. True, Cameron has Scottish blood but the new party of government will be free from the strong direct Scottish influence that has been present round the cabinet table for the past twelve years.

Even when Mrs Thatcher swept to power in 1979 she had a troop of twenty two Scottish MPs. Thatcher's deputy was her loyal "Willie" - Willie Whitelaw - who was a highlander and erstwhile Scots Guard. Also in the first cabinet was the late "Gentleman George" Younger the Secretary of State for Scotland. Another Scot Malcolm Rifkind eventually secured his place as did Shetlander Norman Lamont. Lord Mackay of Clashfern was the Lord Advocate and the flamboyant Nicolas Fairbairn who sported colourful tartan trews was the Solicitor General.

John Major's governments, which by then returned depleted ranks of Scottish Tory MPs, enjoyed the service of four Scottish MPs in the Cabinet and like Mrs Thatcher relied upon the wise counsel of Lord Mackay as his Lord Chancellor.

When last the UK was governed by the Tories they had three Scottish MPs in the cabinet - Ian Lang; Malcolm Rifkind and Michael Forsyth. At the 1997 election they were left without a single Scottish seat. Scotland, like Wales, on the morning of 2 May 1997 was a Tory free-zone.

Glasgow-born and Edinburgh-educated Tony Blair's first cabinet had five Scottish MPs and a Scottish Lord Chancellor. His Scots successor also has a Scottish Chancellor, a Scottish Overseas Development Secretary, a Secretary of State for Scotland representing a seat once viewed as one of Scotland's safest for the Tories and a Scottish Minister for Business.

The massive influence of Scots in government at present is highly significant but that is almost certainly set to erode in nine months' time if pollsters are accurate.

But, even the rosiest forecaster would not expect that Cameron's Conservatives will have much of a revival in electoral fortunes north of Hadrian's wall. The "Cameron Effect" has so far failed to materialise.

The most optimistic prediction would give the Tories a carload of MPs but most commentators expect that their sole Scottish Westminster parliamentarian David Mundell may be joined by only one colleague to share a taxi to the House of Commons.

Does it even matter that there will only be one Scottish MP in cabinet and only one other Scots voice round the table? [Liam Fox who hails from East Kilbride but represents Woodspring]. Perhaps some would argue this is reflective of a party that will also focus its attention on the south of the UK and leave Scotland to its own devices. That said, the Tory leader in Scotland does attend some Shadow Cabinet meetings and is expected to be part of a more inclusive Cameron approach. 

Certainly it is the Scottish Parliament that is the focus of political power here but recent events in the economy have demonstrated that having good relations between UK and Scottish Government is crucial.

Perhaps not having a Scottish Prime Minister with a lot of political baggage who lives in the shadow of the Forth Bridge and is as Presbyterian as John Knox could actually be a good thing for Scotland. It could force a grown-up approach and not relying so heavily on familiar ties - effectively allowing a "reset" button to be pressed between the two governments.

SNP First Minister Alex Salmond does enjoy a good relationship with the Scottish Tory leader and there is no apparent sign of the personal enmity with David Cameron that has been evident in relations with Labour's Prime Ministers.

At the same time, the Tories in the Scottish Parliament have been accused of effectively propping up the minority SNP Government and being in informal coalition: so the challenge will be for the Tories to be in government at the UK and seen to be in "constructive" opposition in Holyrood and vice versa for the SNP.

What does assist is that there is no electoral threat from the Tories to the minority SNP, which may well influence the dynamic of things - with Labour and SNP neck and neck in the Scottish Parliament the Tories are a distant third place.

Just how the new Cameron government will deal with Scotland will be anticipated keenly by all here. And as the spending belt is tightened from Westminster it is how the Scottish Government will rise to the challenge and not hit out for its own sake but seek to be engaged in a mature debate that will focus attention.

There also remains further "unfinished business" in moving devolution forward - particularly if the aspects of constitutional reform signed up to by the Conservatives through the Calman Commission are ever to be realised. 

There is no doubt the election of 2010 will yield results for the anticipated winning UK party very different from their hay day in 1955 when they had a majority of Scottish seats. It will bring about a new era in cross-border relations with some challenging times ahead and should Cameron succeed in making devolution work better he may even revive electoral fortunes for his party and lead to him being heralded by pipes and drums in the land of his fore bearers...

Craig Harrow

MD of Mandate Scotland

 

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