It has taken the Scottish Conservatives a long time to adjust to life in post-devolution Scotland. In particular, one question has overshadowed and constrained the party’s thinking: what is the appropriate Conservative response to the Scottish Parliament? The Scottish Conservatives arrived at a definitive answer only in 2014. Having been anti-devolutionists (until 1999), willing participants (1999-2009) and then half-hearted supporters of further powers (2009-2014), the party finally put the issue to rest by proposing significant further powers for the Scottish Parliament through the Strathclyde Commission. It even managed to outflank the Labour Party to become the most radical proponent of a fiscally accountable Scottish Parliament.
The duration of the Conservatives’ journey has had two consequences. First, the party has lacked the space for original thinking about policy. It has tended to prefer familiar and comfortable themes, rather than experimenting with new ideas. Second, it has not thought seriously enough about being in government in Scotland. This might still seem like a fanciful prospect, but the idea of changing in order to regain power is a central theme of the twentieth century Conservative Party. It has a disciplining and guiding effect. The party needs to think about how it could be a credible coalition partner in a future Scottish Government and about a programme that would sustain it across all policy areas for four years.
In short, the Scottish Conservatives have rarely taken the time to ask themselves what they are for. Because they have been distracted by the devolution question, the party has not gone through the same difficult debates about modernisation that have dominated the UK Conservatives. Where are the Scottish Cameroons, for instance? Or where is the Scottish critique of Cameronism? This edited collection is an attempt to prompt questions about what the Scottish Conservatives should stand for in 2016. Most of the contributors are not Conservatives. These essays present a set of ideas that attempt to push the boundaries of Scottish Conservative thought. They are not intended as a coherent manifesto; rather, they are the beginnings of a debate about Scottish Tory modernisation.
Ruth Davidson’s signal achievement as leader has been to finally place the party on an explicitly pro-devolution footing. She is reaching out to new voters and offering a confident vision for the Conservatives. The party goes into the 2016 elections in a better mood than for many years. In her own words, she is attempting to get ‘back to proper, old-fashioned, blue-collar Toryism that somehow, somewhere, half our party forgot.’1 This is the time to think about what modernisation means in Scotland. Above all, it is time for the Scottish Conservatives to start parking their tanks on unexpected lawns.
Alan Convery, 2016
1 Ruth Davidson, Speech to Adam Smith Institute, London, 25 August 2015. Available at: http://www.scottishconservatives.com/2015/08/ruth-davidson-speech-to- adam-smith-institute/