Sunday, 16 March 2014

Cometh the hour, cometh the woman.

I was out today. I went down the coast and had a fish tea (actually a fish lunch) in Nardini's at Largs. I cannot praise that experience too highly.

And it got me thinking. Who are the Nardini? (no "s", that's the correct usage. Look it up.)

They are Italian immigrants. They came here from Barga, in the province of Lucca in Tuscany. And they worked hard. Very hard. All hours in chip shops and ice cream parlours until they could acquire the jewel in their crown. The art deco cafe that famously bears their name on the esplanade at Largs.

Now, I don't want to attribute to them political views but I will. For, with due modesty, I know many Scots Italians and all of them respect hard work and none of them want to pay any more taxes than they absolutely have to. They are business people.  They want their children to do better than them and if they or these self same children succeed then they so no reason that the sweat of their labours should be siphoned off to support those"unprepared to make that effort".

And for the Italians of the twenties and thirties and beyond, you could just as easily substitute the Jews who had come before; the Pakistanis and Indians who came after; the Poles and Latvians who are coming now and indeed, I suspect, the Bulgarians and Romanians who are yet to come.

Certainly there will be those who fall by the wayside, by reason of illness or simply wider economic factors. Those who will be grateful, in time, for the British Welfare State. But many of those who succeed will inevitably fall back on the old saw "The Lord helps those who help themselves", whichever Lord they have in mind in that process.

And so these people should either be natural Tories or at least willing to consider that option.

It was the great, electoral, achievement, of Margaret Thatcher to appreciate that. Not for nothing was it observed that she transformed the fortunes of the Conservative Party by making it a Party as much for Estonians as it was for Etonians.

Yet somehow in Scotland that didn't happen. And, when you look back, the reason for that was that it lacked....diversity. The Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party remained a  Party of middle aged white men. And their wives. Certainly often self made but most commonly self made going back several generations. Golfers, Freemasons, Kirk Elders. Whether there were even fewer Catholics than there were women would have made an interesting thesis.

And the element of diversity they were most almost unthinkingly hostile to was "the cause of Scotland". They were conservatives with both a small and capital "c". So the need for a devolved parliament was as difficult to sell to them as it would have been difficult to sell to Metternich in 1847 that perhaps Catholic Absolutism was an idea which had had its day. Thus we ended up with a situation where a man of such impeccable Tory credentials as Alick Buchanan-Smith was regarded as politically suspect by reason of believing in a Scottish Parliament and Malcolm Rifkind having to recant his earlier devolutionist views in order to prosper.

It has taken the Scottish Tories a long time to recover from that legacy. Indeed to the extent that they still have little ethnic minority support they still haven't recovered. How many of those in the, primarily anti-Labour, "Scots Asians for Independence" might be in Tory ranks had they played their earlier cards better.


Sometimes Parties just get lucky. Labour got lucky when in 1983 particular local factors delivered the safe north-east seat of Sedgefield to a little known London Barrister with no previous connection to the seat. The Tories got lucky (although perhaps the lady made some of her own luck) when the indecision of their grandees saw Thatcher succeed Heath.

And I'm increasingly thinking the Scottish Tories might have got lucky in the aftermath of the 2011 Scottish election. All justice should have handed the succession to Murdo Fraser. His policy pitch was exactly right: that far from remaining implicitly hostile to devolution the Tories should positively advance it to go further and deeper. Only then could the Parliament have the financial accountability that would allow the centre right to prosper.

And Murdo had also done his time. An accomplished debater and public speaker, no one would be hiding behind the settee when he went head to head with Salmond or Johann. Of those time served in the Parliament, with no disrespect to the personable Jackson Carlaw, he was the only possible choice.

But there was another option. A complete leap in the dark. A young, gay, woman who had literally come from nowhere and who might conceivably have returned there. Sure, Murdo is entitled to feel aggrieved as to the "line in the sand" message that got her there but sometimes politics isn't fair. FDR was elected President of the USA on a promise to balance the Federal Budget! Who cares now?

Today, Ruth Davidson spoke to her Party Conference. And, afterwards, who would doubt that it is now truly her Party? And a Party about which you know where it stands and what it's priorities are.

Now I could pick holes in her message. For example, it is simply impossible to offer educational choice in much of rural Scotland. The task is not to make some schools better but all schools better. As it should be in urban Scotland as well. And as for her endorsement of Universal Credit! That's not really the point. She'll never get my vote. But I can see the attraction to others of the message. Not all of them Italian.

And it is a message with increasing traction. For buried in the small print of the speech is the fact that in eleven consecutive Scottish Parliamentary or local government by-elections the Tory percentage share has increased

In the end however the messenger was more important than the message. Oddly, Ruth is I think a Kirk Elder. She might even play golf. Although I doubt she is a Freemason. But she doesn't come across like that. She comes across as somebody who is living in the twenty-first century. Who just happens to be a Tory.

So I conclude with two observations. Firstly, there is a big election within eight months of 18th September. And while I don't doubt the ability of the Nats to put up a last ditch fight in May 2016, particularly if they hold back money from the referendum lost cause, it is difficult to see what their pitch will be the year before.That choice will be Cameron or Miliband. And, in its pursuit, from a Tory perspective, might I respectfully suggest Business for Scotland have already have provided a useful contact list?

And secondly? The most likely outcome in May '16 remains a nationalist victory but without an overall majority. In the end their people are more motivated to vote in a Scottish Parliamentary Election than ours. But if our Parties are agreed on much that needs to change in Scotland do we really need to sit about in collective opposition letting the Nationalists blame four more years of complacent inaction on the constitution? Couldn't we perhaps sort something out? Dare I say it, I suspect Murdo Fraser would make a formidable Finance Minister. Well to the left of John Swinney.


  1. And Ruth may be well to the left of Johann.
    Why are they in different parties?

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