“In an independent Scotland, we’ll never have to worry about Tory governments again”, said the man on my doorstep, his YES badge gleaming in the sunshine.
“I am a Tory,” said I, watching with some amusement as the man’s jaw dropped.
“But I’ll still be voting Yes,” I added.
The above exchange was an all too common experience for me during the independence referendum. The idea that you could be a Tory, and be a supporter of Scottish Independence, was met with the same kind of looks you’d expect if you urinated on somebody’s coffin at a funeral.
From the outset, the Yes campaign realised they would need to win the Labour vote to get over the finishing line. To do so, they had to paint it as Scotland against the cruel Tories. I understand the reasoning behind this – there are, after all, more Labour voters than Tory ones, and the high water mark of 1950s Scottish Conservatism is long gone, but at a stroke we alienated a hell of a lot of voters.
Not every Tory was a unionist. The Tories I know were tempted at the fiscal opportunities an independent Scotland presented: a cut in corporation tax, cutting red tape for business, creating more jobs, rolling back the state, turning Scotland into a northern version of Switzerland etc. etc.
Instead, the Yes side painted an independent Scotland as a socialist free for all, and for some people, socialism set all kinds of alarm bells ringing. Months on, we’re still making the same mistakes. Partly, this is due to the SNP’s success, and of course, we have a Conservative party with the keys to number 10, which is laying waste to swathes of Britain.
But going forward, we can’t paint Scottish Tories as the ‘enemy’ within. We will need some of them on board. Only multi-party support will win us the vote in a second referendum. The following is something I’ve been meaning to get off my chest since last September.
I don’t like the SNP. Their minimum pricing plan for alcohol smacks of the nanny state at its worst, and the hagiography surrounding Nicola Sturgeon from certain sections of SNP supporters is off putting at times. While the blame for the feebleness of the Holyrood opposition cannot be laid at the SNP’s door, I do worry about the lack of democratic accountability of the SNP government, especially in areas such as education, health, and the shambles that is Police Scotland.
None the less, it does present a dilemma for right-wing, independence supporters such as myself, because I recognise that the SNP are the best vehicle for bringing about an independent Scotland.
I long gave up on voting for the Conservatives in General elections (seeing it as the political wing of a racket that was primarily concerned with the city of London and the South East of England) and of course, living in a part of Scotland that sent monkey’s with red rosettes to Westminster for decades, means that a vote for the Tories was the equivalent of a vote down the drain.
The Holyrood elections, despite its PR system, is another vote down the drain, as Scottish Tories will forever have their strings pulled by CCHQ down south. If only Murdo Fraser had been in a position to make good his promise to establish an independent Conservative party in Scotland…
I loved the meetings that sprang up everywhere during the independence campaign, I loved the energy, and I loved the town hall democracy that emerged, and yet, these meetings hamstrung us. We surrounded ourselves with people who agreed with us and we led ourselves to believe that everybody was voting yes.
I don’t doubt that many undecided voters attended these meetings, but by the campaign’s end, Yes meetings seemed to be stuffed with Yes supporters. We needed to spend more time out and about talking to undecided voters.
(In no way is this a slur on those who spent hours pounding the streets for two years, but I hope everybody grasps the point, here, because wherever I go on Yes-supporting sites, it seems to be the same people banging the same drum.)
Nothing wrong with that, but the big tent needs to get bigger. What do I mean by that? Well the same meetings were stuffed with the same people. Radical Independence, Common Weal, Greens, ex-Labour party members, and of course, SNP supporters. I wish we’d heard more from the likes of Business for Scotland and Wealthy Nation, and I wish the alternative, right-wing case had been made.
My side of the political spectrum was practically non-existent, and the absence of that voice on the Yes side is unfortunate. It’s also likely to be repeated in future referendums unless people like me get off our backsides and do something about it.
I understand why the SNP wanted to use the pound, and why they wanted to retain Lizzy as head of state. Perhaps they thought the shock of independence was just too great for one step, and by gradually phasing it in more people would be won over and fewer horses would be panicked.
But taking that approach allowed BT to set the narrative, and gave them an easy stick to bash us with, by creating uncertainty with their refusal to commit to a currency union. Basing your strategy on your opponent publicly agreeing to your plans (even if they would have in reality), was, with hindsight, sheer insanity.
Naturally of course, criticising the SNP strategy is all very well, but what would I like to see in an independent Scotland? Firstly, I’d like to say to my fellow right-wingers, that an indy Scotland presents a world of opportunities for Conservatism, and that resisting these opportunities is an incredible act of short sightedness.
An independent Scotland is not the preserve, nor the property, of the left-wingers of this world. It does not have to be a socialist free-for-all. This is a unique opportunity to roll back the state’s involvement in people’s lives, to enshrine the rights of the individual with a written constitution, and to make Scotland a success story along the lines of the Norways and Switzerlands of this world.
We can be one of the most open and democratic nations on earth. We can start from scratch and design a tax system that helps business, not hinder it. We can balance the books and operate a system of fiscal prudence that will shame Westminster. All of this, coupled with a low tax regime to give people more money in their pockets, will make an independent Scotland a great place for business and investment.
Ally the above to world-class universities, natural resources, and of course, the skills and talents of this great land, and we could have a nation to be proud of.
Soapbox is a weekend column designed to provoke debate on non-party-political issues. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Wings Over Scotland, except when we write them ourselves, obviously.
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