The Conservatives are a toxic brand in Scotland

Debating Chamber Scottish Parliament

The Conservatives have failed in Scotland at successive general elections, but if the Scottish Conservatives are to ever be successful again, they need to disband and let a new centre-right party take over.

One of the things overlooked in the recent Scottish constituency polls is how the Conservatives have sunk even lower in Scotland. They currently have one MP in Scotland, who represents the Southern seat of Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale, and in May 2015 this is expected to be lost to the SNP.

In every general election since 1997 the Conservatives have failed to gain more than 1 MP out of a possible 59. In Scottish parliament elections they do just as badly, rarely getting more than 15% of the vote. Even in local council and European elections the Conservatives fail in Scotland.

But electoral failure doesn’t fully illustrate the toxicity of the Tory brand in Scotland. As David Cameron himself acknowledges, the Tories “used Scotland as a laboratory for experimentation” over the poll tax, while they continuously opposed devolution throughout the 1990s despite a clear demand from the Scottish people.

The cries of “end Tory rule forever” from the ‘Yes Scotland’ campaign in the independence referendum demonstrates the true vitriol towards the Conservative party in Scotland.

It’s a myth peddled by many, including the SNP and the Scottish Labour party, however, that Scotland has no need of a centre-right party. Historically the Conservatives have been a success in Scotland. In 1951 the Conservatives won more votes than Labour, and in 1964 it was considered a disaster for the Conservative party when they only secured 41% of the vote and 24 seats in Scotland.

Since devolution, Scotland has spent a block grant from Westminster and raised virtually no tax itself. This has led Scottish parties to compete in a public spending arms race, something that does not suit a centre-right party. This is set to change no matter who wins in May 2015. The Scottish parliament is going to be responsible for almost all of the money that it raises, and given vast tax raising powers.

And where there are taxes, there is a demand for a centre-right party. In Scotland, this party cannot, and will not, be the Conservative party. The Conservatives need to disband completely in Scotland, and let a new centre-right party emerge. This party would be completely independent from London and have its own unique Scottish identity. It could fight for lower taxes and public spending in the Scottish parliament.

There will be Conservatives in both Scotland and England not keen on this idea, but there are clear benefits for Tory supporters North and South of the border. For Conservatives in Scotland, they would have a chance to see real electoral success for a party that embraces similar values as them, but without the toxicity of the current Conservative party. For the rest of the Conservative party outside of Scotland, it would be very likely this new centre-right Scottish party would support them in Westminster, although as a completely independent party they would be under no obligation to do so.

The disbanding of the Conservatives and the creation of a new centre-right party would also be good for Scottish politics and Scotland itself. Currently the choice in Scottish elections is between two centre-left parties, one nationalist and the other unionist. A new centre-right party would give Scottish voters a genuine choice at the ballot box. It may also ensure spending and tax promises made by the SNP and Labour are kept in check.

The Scottish Conservative party is dead; it will never be an electoral success again. Conservative supporters in all parts of the UK need to accept this, and support the creation of a new party in Scotland.