The BBC’s newly appointed political editor Chris Mason recently wrote an article for the Corporation’s news website under the headline ‘Political landscape being re-shaped before our eyes’. And indeed it is. As we spectate, the ‘re-shaping’ is once more BEING DONE TO Scotland: before our eyes is the suppression of our democracy.
From the sideline that is North Britain, the internal machinations of the Tory Party are selecting the UK’s Prime Minister from candidates lining up to flaunt their ‘Muscular Unionism’. In TV interviews they pluck, seemingly casually, numbers from the air regarding when a Westminster government might deign to ‘allow’ Scotland another independence referendum. However, this (candidly unsurprising) characteristic is all the more serious as the Labour Party is now espousing similar suppressionist policies. If these succeed Scotland will be confined to a constitutional prison cell.
Who’s choosing for Scotland?
There are presently 358 Conservative MPs. There are six Conservative MPs representing Scottish constituencies i.e. 1.7% of the MPs with a vote to select the next PM. I understand each candidate will need 20 backers from the parliamentary party just to enter the fray: it puts in perspective the Scottish Tory bunch of just six.
Perhaps the graphic below (modified from one in a House of Commons Library briefing) makes the point even more forcefully: each dot is an MP, each blue dot a Tory MP. The choice of next leader of the Tory Party; the next Prime Minister of the UK; the next individual intent on exerting power over Scotland and its future – will be made with minuscule influence from six MPs elected in Scotland.
As presently arranged, once Tory MPs whittle down their choice of Leader and therefore next PM to two candidates, the final selection will be made by the Party membership. However, it’s not inconceivable this step will be missed out in favour of a ‘coronation’.
In a briefing paper published by the House of Commons Library (HoCL) on 9 August 2019 entitled ‘Membership of UK Political Parties’ (Source: https://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/SN05125/SN05125.pdf), we learn this about Tory Party members:
– the Conservative Party had 180,000 members at July 2019 – but there have been several references on BBC TV News programmes in recent days to the Tory Party having around 100,000 members
– the HoCL’s 2019 briefing reports that 10% of Tory members live in Scotland. By contrast, 54% live in the South of England including London
– the HoCL reports that overall just 29% of Conservative Party members are women – by far the lowest proportion of any of the main political parties represented in Westminster
– it reports that 53% of Conservative party members are over 60 years old, by far the oldest membership profile of any of the main parties represented in Westminster.
Moreover, THIS is the electoral record of the political party that claims the right to decide on Scotland’s behalf:
– the party which claims to be the most successful electorally in the world but which has FAILED TO WIN A MAJORITY IN SCOTLAND at a General Election since the mid 1950s – and perhaps much earlier depending on how strictly one defines the party
– it is the party of government which at the 2019 General Election – hailed as one of its greatest triumphs – saw its number of MPs in Scotland drop from 13 TO JUST SIX
– it is the party of government that in 2019 – to repeat, supposedly one of its greatest triumphs – suffered a 3.5% DROP IN VOTE SHARE in Scotland, a fall on a scale not seen in any other UK nation or English region
– also in 2019, the TORY PARTY IN SCOTLAND WON 693,000 VOTES, JUST 25.1% OF VOTES CAST: in England its share of the vote was 47.2%
– and the reason behind the Tory win in England in 2019 was Brexit: it was its success in increasing vote share in constituencies that had voted Leave in the 2016 EU referendum – a referendum Scotland didn’t need or want, with an outcome a majority in Scotland rejected.
So members of a political party that Scotland consistently rejects, dominated by MPs from England – many elected because of their support for Brexit – and dominated by an elderly, male membership living in the South of England will choose a Prime Minister on Scotland’s behalf. Because of every one of the above factors, the installation of the next Tory PM will not reflect Scotland – not its needs, not its wants. Plus ça change!
The charts of electoral statistics below also come from the House of Commons Library. There are many things that could be said about these data from a Scotland perspective: I’d like to focus mostly on the 2015 General Election result. This gave the Tories under David Cameron the authority to instigate the EU referendum held in 2016. We now know the significance of that action!
The first chart gives the share of the UK vote won by political parties at General Elections. The last time any party gained 50% or more of the popular vote was the Tories in 1935. In the 2015 General Election – the election which enabled Cameron to hold the EU referendum – the Tories won just 38.6% of the popular vote. Even in England, the Tory share of the vote in that General Election was just 40.9% according to the HoCL.
As shown in the next chart, the share of the vote in Scotland won by the Tory Party has not exceeded 30% since 1979. In the 2015 General Election, when the Tories under Cameron won in England and then proceeded to hold an EU referendum, the Tory Party in Scotland had just 14.9% of the popular vote. By contrast, the SNP had a remarkable 50%.
In that 2015 election, the Tories, Lib Dems and Labour each won one seat: the latter two parties were pro-EU and with no wish for an EU referendum in 2016. The SNP returned 56 MPs – also pro-EU and with no wish for an EU referendum. Throughout the process of establishing the 2016 referendum, the vast majority of Scotland’s MPs were against it.
And yet despite the fragility of the Tories’ electoral position when it decided to hold an EU referendum (just 38.6% of the UK popular vote), despite its weak position in 2015 in Scotland (just 14.9% of the popular vote), the Cameron government pressed ahead with a referendum to appease a faction of his party in England and its UKIP fellow travellers.
I give you the Old Suppressionists! In media interviews, Tory leadership hopefuls are combining disdain for Scotland – e.g. evidence-free claims of failing this and that – with denial of the SNP/Scottish Government’s multiple mandates from the electorate in Scotland to hold a referendum.
I suppose having the Tory Party’s suppression of Scotland’s democracy copied by the British Labour & Unionist Party is some sort of flattery! Whose ‘Muscular Unionism’ will win the day in middle England? Let’s not be content with watching and waiting on the sideline!