Manchester or the Moon, the debate seems to be just how relevant the Tory Conference can be for Scotland. With ex-Tory Brian Monteith fulminating eloquent as ever about their lost opportunities in the Hootsmon and Iconoclast-in-Chief Murdo Fraser not showing up for lone-Tory-MP Mundell’s speech, the state of the party in Scotland was hardly on everyone’s lips there. But the state of this conference is going even less remarked in Scotland. Why should it?
Major speeches by Osborne, Fox, Hague et al will leave Scots disinterested at best. Far from those dark days when Thatcher ruled all, debate in Scotland revolves around John Swinney’s much more relevant finance settlement. That Cameron said “I want Scotland to stay in the union but accept the decision is one for its people alone” is hardly news.
But over 300 faithful (“more than vote Tory in Scotland”, according to the Grauniad) did pack a conference fringe to hear the four candidates vying for Rab-McNeil-favourite-den-mother Annabel Goldie’s poisoned chalice of a job. Of the 8,500 McMembers left who can choose a new Embalmer-in-Chief, half are over 80, with Jack Carlaw as the grannies’ favourite over Murdoch Fraser, Ruth Davidson and Margaret Mitchell.
Had he stayed conventional, Fraser would have walked it. But being a Tory with some strategic vision (not yet an oxymoron but getting damn close), Murdo questioned just how many elastoplasts it takes to treat a brain haemorrhage and, to his credit, opted for the necessary radical surgery over simply taking his shift at the helm of a political Marie Celeste. For the other three, it is the sheer Britishness of the brand they wish to defend that matters, which illustrates just how deep you have to stick your head in the sand to stay loyal to conventional Toryism in Scotland these days.
For, this is what is scuppering a once-great party—their doughty insistence that all that has passed between our two nations as a mighty empire and beacon of democratic civilisation to the world for 300 years must ipse facto be the template for the next 300. When Tories are not ladling on this paternalism with a spoon, they are lecturing us in the kind of cut glass tones that only a grocer’s-daughter-come-to-her-inheritance would dare articulate. Britishness has never been a clearly distinguished trait because it was just convenient camouflage for ‘making the world England’. It is a form of cultural colonialism that Tories seem to practice whether home in England or elsewhere. A clearly distinct form of Scottish Toryism has never yet manifested itself—but exactly that is what’s needed.
We Scots are no longer the plucky Jocks going over the top at Mons; no longer the phlegmatic chief engineer reassuring the bridge that she’ll make it back to Blighty; no longer the kailyard music hall singer missing granny’s hielan hame and steppin’ wi’ his crummock tae the road. And, now that the song of the Clyde is no longer the sound of us building their empire, perhaps the Tories will hear this whisper of renewables, the now stilled voice of 7:84, Local Hero & Trainspotting, the conversations inhabiting other-than-stone houses that are the voices of 21st century Scotland.
You can’t really hear those voices in the hubbub from Manchester. Murdo has; but, among the faithful, has anyone else?