When launching the Scottish National Party’s election campaign, Nicola Sturgeon said the word ‘Tory’ 20 times in 20 minutes. For much of her political lifetime, it has been used by the SNP as the dirtiest word in Scottish politics. Nationalists have long liked to portray the Conservatives as the successors to Edward Longshanks: an occupying army with little affinity for the people they were trying to govern.
But things are changing fast in Scotland. Amid the other political dramas of the past few months, the revival of Tory support north of the border has gone relatively unnoticed. They had only one MP after the last election, but a poll this week puts them on 33 per cent in Scotland — enough to win 12 seats. There is a similar story in Wales, where one poll suggests that the Tories might take a majority of the seats in the principality for the first time since the 1850s. The idea that the Conservatives would become an England-only party, reviled in the Celtic fringe, is now out of date.
The truth is that this narrative was always false. It suits the Welsh and Scottish nationalists to pretend that their countrymen’s values are different, even inimical, to those of the English. But the people of these islands are united not only by a common culture, language, even a second language (Polish) but also by a worldview.
The British Social Attitudes survey, the gold standard for measuring public opinion, shows that what gaps there are in regional approaches to politics are small, and narrowing. For example, when asked ‘are most people on the dole fiddling?’ the fewest people answer ‘yes’ in London and the southeast, and the most in Wales, with Scotland in the middle. It is party-political disputes that explain the difference in policies between England and Scotland.