Along with a number of others (including, I suspect, Murdo Fraser), I found yesterday’s “Let’s Get Started” speech from new Tory leader Ruth Davidson something of a disappointment. Nothing wrong with the delivery, made with youthful energy and, indeed, there were parts of it I would commend, such as:
“We must not only state what we want to achieve, but why we want to achieve it.”
“Our policy soundings will involve wider consultation and input than we’ve had in years.”
Laudable stuff and, if acted upon sincerely, may pull them back from the kind of obliteration that has long been forecast and that the Lib-Dems are currently facing. And, in theory, firm policy statements were made.
But the speech included “Conservatives are wedded to the cause of a smaller state, sound public finances, enterprise, opportunity, endeavour, and – yes – to the success and growth of a private sector which offers opportunity to individuals and benefit to the whole country.” Most people with an interest in politics could have written this for her—it’s straight Tory cant and brings debate (and her party’s fortunes) no further on.
While, by definition, we could not have expected anything as radical as the defeated Murdo had proposed, this was business as usual; this was what a 32-year-old Annabelle might have said. Have they simply jumped down a generation in leader and the Torytanic steams on? A 55%/45% victory, while clear, is hardly a ringing endorsement and little by way of a sop, other than a promise to listen, has been thrown to that 45% who were so alarmed that they would consider ditching the whole party name and starting over.
Perhaps alone among nationalists, I see a point to Tories in Scotland. Behind the Hooray Henries, residual peers and proto-colonists who give the Scottish Tories its English patina, there is a genuine body of decent bourgeois types (not, despite appearances, an oxymoron) who need a party to represent them, especially when Cameron eventually cuts them loose in an independent Scotland. Can the present party do that?
I always thought the now-defunct Progressives, who used to have numerous council seats, especially in Scottish cities, struck the right pose. Shopkeepers, office managers, the generally underrepresented, modestly ambitious white-collar workers, together with joiners, plumbers, etc who ran their own business provided a fairly rich recruiting ground. Most of them experimented with New Labour but many now vote SNP.
Ms Davidson’s speech, I recognise, was the start of a consultation and so was never going to provide enough answers at this point. But the problem is that I don’t see that it provided any, certainly not anything new/radical/appealing enough so that any consultation will sustain enough profile to be relevant and therefore helpful. Parties in power are able to do that. At this point and with this material, the Scottish Tories can’t.
Allow me to encapsulate Ms Davidson’s problem in two dates and four numbers
1955: 1,273,942 12,112
2011: 276,652 902,915
Unless she can seriously appeal to the 1m (4 in 5) voters the Tories have lost in Scotland over the last half-century, she and any other leader is on a hiding to nothing. That there are now 85 SNP voters for every one back then won’t help. But she needs to face this.
Because, if yesterday was the Ruth, the whole Ruth and nothing but the Ruth, she can’t.