The end of the Scottish Conservatives?

Leadership favourite Murdo Fraser vows to disband the Scottish Conservatives and set up a new centre

It is the ultimate detoxification strategy. Murdo Fraser, the frontrunner for the leadership of the Scottish Conservatives, has announced that he will disband the party if he wins the contest next month. The Scottish Tories will be replaced by a new centre-right party that will contest all elections north of the border - council, Scottish Parliament and Westminster.

In a relationship analogous to that between the German CDU and the Bavarian CSU, the new party would be affiliated to the Tories and any MPs elected would take the Conservative whip in the Commons. There is also a historical precedent. Until 1965, when they merged with the Conservative Party of England and Wales, the Scottish Tories were a separate party known as the Unionist Party.

It's not hard to see why Fraser believes this dramatic step is necessary. The Tories have not managed to win more than one seat in Scotland for 19 years and have haemorraghed votes to the SNP. Fraser's calculation is that a new party will win the financial support of business leaders reluctant to associate themselves with the Scottish Tories, as well as the electoral support of the country's middle class.

Whether his strategy will succeed is another matter. It may well be dismissed by voters as a cynical rebranding exercise. "Different name, same shit," is one slogan you can imagine doing the rounds. The move also has significant and potentially dangerous implications for the Union. In calling for the creation of a new centre-right party, Fraser has effectively conceded that Scotland is a no-go area for the Conservatives. A separate party for a separate country is the conclusion that some will draw. Michael Forsyth, who served as Scottish Secretary from 1995 to 1997, argued: "I think the strategy is one of appeasement of the nationalists and I think it is one that will fail. Any policy which appeases nationalists is damaging to the union by definition."

But it's worth noting that Fraser enjoys the support of several senior Conservatives at Westminster, including Francis Maude, who has long argued for a breakaway Scottish party. David Cameron was informed of the plan in advance but intends to remain neutral during the contest.

No one doubts Cameron's sincerity when he vows to defend the United Kingdom with "every fibre in my body", but not everyone in his party feels the same way. A 2009 ConservativeHome poll of 144 party candidates found that 46 per cent would not be "uncomfortable about Scotland becoming independent". This laissez faire attitude is hardly surprising. Of the 59 Westminster seats in Scotland that would automatically be lost, 41 are Labour-held but just one is Conservative-held.

But whether Fraser's plan is enacted or not, it's clear that Scottish politics, neglected by Fleet Street for so long, is about to become very interesting indeed.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Getty
Show Hide image

In defence of orientalism, the case against Twenty20, and why Ken should watch Son of Saul

My week, from Age Concern to anti-semitism.

Returning late from a party I never much wanted to go to, I leap up and down in the middle of the Harrow Road in the hope of flagging down a taxi, but the drivers don’t notice me. Either they’re haring down the fast lane or they’re too preoccupied cursing Uber to one another on their mobile phones. My father drove a black cab, so I have a deep loyalty to them. But there’s nothing like being left stranded in NW10 in the dead of night to make one reconsider one’s options. I just wish Uber wasn’t called Uber.

Just not cricket

Tired and irritable, I spend the next day watching sport on television – snooker, darts, cricket, anything I can find. But I won’t be following the Indian Premier League’s Twenty20 cricket again. It’s greedy, cynical, over-sponsored and naff. Whenever somebody hits a boundary, cheerleaders in cast-off gym kit previously worn by fourth-form Roedean girls wave tinsel mops.

Matches go to the final over where they’re decided in a thrashathon of sixes hit by mercenaries wielding bats as wide as shovels. Why, in that case, don’t both teams just play a final over each and dispense with the previous 19? I can’t wait for the elegant ennui of a five-day Test match.

Stop! Culture police!

I go to the Delacroix exhibition at the National Gallery to shake off the sensation of all-consuming kitsch. Immediately I realise I have always confused Delacroix with someone else but I can’t decide who. Maybe Jacques-Louis David. The show convincingly argues that Delacroix influenced every artist who came after him except Jeff Koons, who in that case must have been influenced by David. It’s turbulent, moody work, some of the best of it, again to my surprise, being religious painting with the religion taken out. Christ’s followers lamenting his death don’t appear to be expecting miracles. This is a man they loved, cruelly executed. The colours are the colours of insupportable grief.

I love the show but wish the curators hadn’t felt they must apologise for Delacroix finding the North Africans he painted “exotic”. Cultural studies jargon screams from the wall. You can hear the lecturer inveighing against the “appropriating colonial gaze” – John Berger and Edward Said taking all the fun out of marvelling at what’s foreign and desirable. I find myself wondering where they’d stand on the Roedean cheer-leaders of Mumbai.

Taking leave of the senses

My wife drags me to a play at Age Concern’s headquarters in Bloomsbury. When I see where she’s taking me I wonder if she plans to leave me there. The play is called Don’t Leave Me Now and is written by Brian Daniels. It is, to keep it simple, about the effects of dementia on the families and lovers of sufferers. I am not, in all honesty, expecting a good time. It is a reading only, the actors sitting in a long line like a board of examiners, and the audience hunched forward in the attitude of the professionally caring.  My wife is a therapist so this is her world.

Here, unlike in my study, an educated empathy prevails and no one is furious. I fear that art is going to get lost in good intention. But the play turns out to be subtly powerful, sympathetic and sharp, sad and funny; and hearing it read engages me as seeing it performed might not have done. Spared the spectacle of actors throwing their bodies around and singing about their dreams against a backdrop painted by a lesser, Les Mis version of Delacroix, you can concentrate on the words. And where dementia is the villain, words are priceless.

Mixing with the proles

In Bloomsbury again the next day for a bank holiday design and craft fair at Mary Ward House. I have a soft spot for craft fairs, having helped run a craft shop once, and I feel a kinship with the designers sitting bored behind their stalls, answering inane questions about kilns and receiving empty compliments. But it’s the venue that steals the show, a lovely Arts and Crafts house, founded in the 1890s by the novelist Mary Ward with the intention of enabling the wealthy and educated to live among the poor and introduce them to the consolations of beauty and knowledge. We’d call that patronising. We’re wrong. It’s a high ideal, to ease the burden of poverty and ignorance and, in Ward’s words, save us from “the darker, coarser temptations of our human road”.

An Oscar-winning argument for Zionism

Speaking of which, I am unable to empty my mind of Ken Livingstone and his apologists as I sit in the cinema and watch the just-released Academy Award-winning Son of Saul, a devastating film about one prisoner’s attempt to hold on to a vestige of humanity in a Nazi death camp. If you think you know of hell from Dante or Michelangelo, think again. The inferno bodied forth in Son of Saul is no theological apportioning of justice or deserts. It is the evisceration of meaning, the negation of every grand illusion about itself mankind has ever harboured. There has been a fashion, lately, to invoke Gaza as proof that the Holocaust is a lesson that Jews failed to learn – as though one cruelty drives out another, as though suffering is forfeit, and as though we, the observers, must choose between horrors.

I defy even Livingstone to watch this film, in which the Jews, once gassed, become “pieces” – Stücke – and not grasp the overwhelming case for a Jewish place of refuge. Zionism pre-dated the camps, and its fulfilment, if we can call it that, came too late for those millions reduced to the grey powder mountains the Sonderkommandos were tasked with sweeping away. It diminishes one’s sympathy for the Palestinian cause not a jot to recognise the arguments, in a world of dehumanising hate, for Zionism. Indeed, not to recognise those arguments is to embrace the moral insentience whose murderous consequence Son of Saul confronts with numbed horror. 

This article first appeared in the 06 April 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The longest hatred