Alex Massie

The Caledonian Campaign Next Year

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In a risky break from blogging orthodoxy, I'm actually attending a political event today (and tomorrow!) and have travelled north to Perth for the Scottish Conservative and Unionist party's annual conference. Next year's election - assuming we have to wait until then - will be a strange one in Scotland since, for the first time, the electorate will have two parties against which to cast protest votes. That is, voters may choose to vote against either Labour or the SNP. Or both. Add the complexities of a four-party system in a first-past-the-post election and the picture rapidly becomes somewhat murky.

That the Caledonian campaign is something of a sideshow that will not be where the battle is won and lost does not, however, mean that it's irrelevent to the national picture. For one thing, the prevailing view inside the SNP remains that a Tory victory is the result most likely to boost the nationalist movement. I'm not persuaded that this is actually the case, nor that the electorate will necesarily like the notion of being "bounced" into an independence referendum simply because the Tories have won a Westminster election. Such a campaign risks being run on purely negative grounds, whereas it's long seemed more likely (to me anyway) that the nationalists can only prevail - and certainly only deserve to prevail - if they make a positive, rather than chippy, case for independence/freedom/seperatism/divorce/call it what you will.

For that reason, if for no other, an improved Tory performance is of some importance. A Unionist government in London that only held, as the Conservatives currently do, a single seat in Scotland would be in a weak position indeed. Equally, the nationalists and Labour will  argue that a vote for the Conservatives is, on the one hand, a vote "against" Scotland and on the other a vote that will embolden the nationalists and, consequently, undermine the Union.

So the Scottish Tories have plenty of skin in this game after all. I'd also suggest that, 12 years on from being wiped out in 1997, they need to make significant gains to remind English conservatives that Scotland - and the Union - remains worth fighting for. The party leadership seems to think so - Fox, Gove, Osbourne and Cameron are all speaking here this week - but the English grassroots are not so sure. That being so, it would be useful if the Scottish Tories were able to do more to pull their weight...

The Scottish campaign may be a sideshow, but that doesn't mean it's of no relevance...

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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