Alex Massie

Yes, there really has been a Tory revival in Scotland. Only a fool can deny that.

Yes, there really has been a Tory revival in Scotland. Only a fool can deny that.
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For people who profess to be utterly uninterested in the fortunes of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist party, SNP parliamentarians and the usual ragbag collection of independence supporters seem terribly keen to demonstrate that the so-called Tory revival witnessed on Thursday is no such thing.

Hence this entertaining poster that's been doing the rounds on social media today. And it is true what it says: Margaret Thatcher was much more popular in Scotland than popular imagination - especially in Scotland - cares to remember. She and her party were certainly always more popular than the Scottish National Party.

Why, even after eight years of her government  - after Linwood, after Gartcosh, after Singer in Clydebank, after the miners' strike - almost a quarter of those Scots who chose to vote in 1987 supported the Iron Lady and her party. True, the Scottish Tories lost half their seats that year but their result, as measured in terms of a share of the vote, was no different to what it had been in the second 1974 general election. Margaret Thatcher actually boosted Tory fortunes in Scotland. For a while, anyway.

Even the Poll Tax, introduced in Scotland in 1989 a year ahead of its implementation elsewhere in the UK (because of an impending rates revaluation in Scotland, not because Scotland was a useful 'guinea pig') did not immediately damn the Tories north of the border. Their vote actually went up (a little) in 1992, a year in which - much to the horror of so-called 'Civic Scotland' - the Tories actually left the election with one more seat than they had started it.

The full reckoning would have to wait. It would, history and hindsight now make clear, have been vastly better for the Scottish Tories if Labour had in fact won the 1992 election. It might have been better for Scotland too. Such is life. Such is politics.

1997 was the first time since October 1974 that the SNP actually won more votes than the Tories. Well, we know what has happened since. The Tories were sunk by many things, not the least of which was their opposition to any form of home rule and they then spent more than a decade in a kind of blue funk, forever asking the electorate to stop hating them but rarely giving them any very good reason for doing so.

The nadir came five years ago when, in elections to the fourth Scottish parliament, the SNP won a surprise majority and just 250,000 Scots were persuaded to endorse Conservative candidates. Last year's Westminster election was little, if at all, better though a higher turnout at least meant more Scots voted Tory than had been the case in 2011.

Last Thursday however, half a million people endorsed Conservative candidates. The Tory vote doubled. In percentage terms - by way of comparison - this was a significantly greater increase than that enjoyed by the SNP between the 2007 and 2011 Holyrood elections. That SNP success in 2011 was remarkable and stunning and a real thing and so it seems reasonable to grant that the increase in the Tory vote in 2016 is also a remarkable, stunning, and real thing.

Ah, but, you see not all these people were Tories! And besides, Ruth Davidson wouldn't have won Edinburgh Central if it weren't for the disgraceful effrontery of the Green party which, by choosing to stand in that constituency, robbed the SNP of a seat that was theirs. Theirs damnit.

Well, indeed. But good luck to the Greens, I say, not least because they have earned their increased representation in the new parliament and deserve something better than the sneering patronisation of their erstwhile allies in the joyous Yes movement.

And of course Ruth Davidson has cheerfully admitted that not everyone who voted for her is a Hayekian or a Friedmanite or even an Oakeshottian. Some of them may not even be Thatcherite and not just because the old girl left office two weeks after Ms Davidson celebrated her 11th birthday. But what of it? You dance with them that brung ya.

Just as there has been a realignment on the independence-supporting side of Scottish politics so we saw last week the fledgling signs of a smaller but still significant realignment on the Union-supporting side of Scottish politics. Sometimes this produced surprise victories for Labour (in Edinburgh Southern, East Lothian and Dumbarton) and sometimes for the Liberal Democrats (in Edinburgh West and North-East Fife) but most of the time it worked to the advantage of the Conservatives. That was enough to deprive the SNP of constituency seats even though the SNP vote went up (by a point) compared to 2011.

It would be silly and over-dramatic to claim the SNP has lost small-town, rural, Scotland where it made its first breakthroughs. But there is just enough truth in the statement for it not to be wholly unrealistic. Even where the SNP retained rural seats - such as in Moray and Perthshire - it did so with sharply reduced majorities. When John Swinney's majority is cut from 10,000 votes to 3,000 you know something is happening.

Now of course that something needs to be set beside the reality that the SNP still had a very fine election even if it were not quite so fine as all its supporters expected at sunrise on Thursday morning. A third term was expected and a third term has been delivered.

Nevertheless, the SNP's momentum - a vague but important political commodity - was checked. Not necessarily forever - the talk of "peak SNP" having been reached strikes me as being premature - but undoubtedly. The SNP's result, while still very good, was worse than almost all its supporters expected.

By contrast, the Tory result was better than all the party's supporters dared even hope. Direction of travel matters. Which is why Labour coming third is a humiliation for poor Kezia Dugdale and the Tories coming second is a vindication for Ruth Davidson.

No-one I have spoken to in Tory circles is getting carried away. Everyone accepts this could one day be seen as a one-off and the gains made in this election could easily be lost at the next. Much work still needs to be done and Davidson must now grapple with something none of her Tory predecessors at Holyrood have had to deal with: expectations.

But when you double your vote and double your seats in a single election you have achieved something and made some kind of breakthrough. You'd have to be a fat-headed and blinkered partisan to deny that obvious reality. Which is why so many people are so determined to pretend none of this matters or means anything.

It's almost as though it's a form of psychological displacement, allowing the wilder kind of nationalist to avoid asking why their own party fell short of its own stated goals. Then again, as the failure and aftermath of the Yes campaign demonstrated, they have form in this area.

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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