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Who are the Tartan Tories?

Posted on April 18, 2011 by

It’s been called the “me-too” election. The Scottish media is full of the widely-repeated wisdom that three of the four main parties contesting the imminent Holyrood poll (the other being the Tories, who nobody votes for in Scotland anyway) have triangulated (ie stolen each other’s policies) to such an extent that there’s almost nothing left to choose between them on ideology, and the election is now just a personality contest.

(Which is tough on at least two of the parties concerned, since their leaders in Scotland have no detectable personalities.)

But is it true?

Labour politicians and activists are fond of labelling the SNP with the tag “Tartan Tories“. This is because Labour’s primary strategy in most Scottish elections (whether for Westminster or Holyrood) is to paint themselves as the ideological opposite of the Conservatives, and therefore Scotland’s best protection against them.

It’s a message that plays well in Labour’s heartlands in and around Glasgow, because the Scottish electorate still has a visceral hatred of the Tories – especially if it’s framed around memories of Margaret Thatcher, a figure of near-mythical dread and evil in Scotland even though over 20 years have passed since she last held political office.

But even Labour’s most fervent supporters in the media are now growing tired of the party’s attempts to keep fighting decades-old battles, amid signs that the Scottish voters want Scottish elections to decide what happens in Scotland, rather than have them be used as an ineffectual stick to beat the Westminster coalition with.

(Labour began 2011 with a 15-point lead in the polls and Ladbrokes listing them at 1/12 to form the incoming Scottish Government, but the SNP’s positive and Scottish-focused campaign has been largely credited as the reason for the Nationalists swallowing up that lead in barely a month and now being significantly ahead in both sections of the vote.)

Despite all the coverage about the SNP and Labour having near-identical policies (after the latter experienced sudden road-to-Damascus U-turns on long-standing policies about freezing the council tax and university funding), though, nobody seems to have done any actual research on whether it’s true or not – and if it isn’t, who’s actually closest to who.

As ever, then, it was left to Wings over Scotland to apply some journalistic skills and discover the reality. The independent organisation Scottish Vote Compass has on its website one of those handy polls where you can enter your own personal views on a range of issues and it’ll tell you which party most closely mirrors your opinions overall. The interesting thing, though, is that it provides the data on which that judgement is made – ie, it lists the answers of the various parties to all the questions.

So what would happen, I wondered, if I entered each party’s answers into the questionnaire? The results were quite enlightening.

(Before we start, it’s worth noting an odd quirk of the questionnaire, namely that none of the parties are shown as 100% in agreement with their own listed policy positions. It looks like that’s a result of the policies that are shared with others “diluting” the effect to varying degrees – the Conservatives and Greens are the outliers on the political spectrum in Scotland, so they “compromise” the least in terms of common ground with the others, and therefore get higher marks for self-agreement.)

Scottish National Party

(Click all images to enlarge.)

The SNP, WingsLand viewers won’t be all that surprised to note, are most similar to the Greens, and also fairly close to the Lib Dems, which is no shock as both of those parties are broadly social-democratic and left-of-centre. But in direct contradiction of the media line, they rank as a 0% match for Labour (the policies they do agree on being cancelled out by the ones they don’t), and are most strongly at odds with the Tories.


Feed Labour’s answers into the poll and you discover that for all the party’s anti-Tory rhetoric, they’re the only party in Scotland who score a net positive match with the Conservatives, at a sizeable 15%. Labour’s ideological nemesis is not David Cameron, but the Greens. In line with the SNP result, Labour’s policies show just 1% alignment with the Nationalists.


Sure enough, the numbers generated by entering the Tory manifesto policies into the questionnaire shows that by far their closest political bedfellows in Scotland are Labour (a 16% positive match), they have a neutral relationship with their Westminster coalition partners the Lib Dems, and they’re at the opposite end of the spectrum to the SNP and Greens.

Liberal Democrats

The Lib Dem results back up the others – they’re closest to the SNP and the Greens, neutral with the Tories and Labour.


And finally, running the Green manifesto through the machine confirms the other results – they’re most aligned with the SNP, fairly amenable to the Lib Dems, mostly in conflict with Labour and violently at odds with the Tories.

In short, then? Don’t believe the hype. Contrary to the impression being portrayed in the media, the Scottish election offers voters a real ideological choice – Labour and the Tories on one side, the SNP and the Greens on the other, and the Lib Dems desperately trying to shake off the baggage of the London coalition to join the latter’s broad-church left-of-centre team.

As for the matter of who the real “Tartan Tories” are (other than the actual Tories, of course), the numbers seem to speak fairly clearly for themselves.

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13 to “Who are the Tartan Tories?”

  1. Tom K.

    The only choice to make is whether you and your children SPEND MONEY ON THE STATE.

    That’s right – the state that PROVIDES YOU WITH NOTHING. Just more EMPTY PROMISES and WASTED MONEY.

    Let the economy rule your life instead of the state, BECAUSE THE STATE ALWAYS GETS THINGS WRONG. Especially WHEN IT COMES TO THE ECONOMY. Er…

  2. RevStu

    Keep taking the tablets, Tom.

  3. Anonymous X

    It's quite (understatement) depressing that there isn't an non-separatist nation wide version of the SNP to vote for next month. 🙁

  4. cjcarman

    Thanks for posting this – a very clever use of the Vote Compass!


    Hi, thanks for your link.
    Yes, I agree with you, I believe the SNP are looking at a majority vote for May 5th elections, but Labour/Westminster are trying to use tactics to preen this vote to only a win. Thus saving a situation where the SNP can introduce legisl;ation for an indpendence referendum.

  6. Dougie Dubh

    Anonymous X:   Why, whether you support it or not, should there be an aversion to a referendum on independence?
    The whole point is that such choices for Scotland's constitutional future should be made not by London, and not by any government or party, but by the Scottish people themselves: a principle which, to their enduring credit, the SNP holds true and fights for, in the face of continued blanket opposition by the London parties, including the mis-named 'Liberal Democrats'!!

  7. Nixon

    Are the SNP actively fighting for independence?  Not being a Scotch and therefore not in the loop, I thought it was more akin to, say, Labour and militant socialism, or the BNP and racism* – it's part of their history, it's always there in the background, so widely-known that opponents will use it as a comedy stick to beat them with, the lower down the party hierarchy you go the less supporters will deny it and the more supporters will identify with it, but ultimately it's treated by the politicos at the top as a vote winning thing rather than anything backed up by any serious policy commitments, and something the grandees fudge and move away from when asked directly about it by the media.  Am I wrong?

    If the SNP is openly and loudly pro-independence, they should totally put candidates forward in England as well, they'd get loads of votes all over the place.
    *(NB I am not comparing the SNP to Labour or the BNP on any level beyond this analogy)

  8. RevStu

    The SNP currently lack the support in the Scottish Parliament to pass a referendum bill. They tried last time, and I have every confidence they'll try again if they get re-elected. It's very much a real aim rather than an abstract aspiration.

    I'd love them to run in England – I think it'd be a great idea and would break land speed records to get my name down to be a candidate – but I fear the party's finances simply aren't up to the scale of that task.

  9. Anonymous X

    "Anonymous X:   Why, whether you support it or not, should there be an aversion to a referendum on independence?"
    I've got no aversion to a referendum or anything. I just state my preference for a federalist solution (i.e. a federal Britain/UK). As a non-Scot, I prefer the social-democratic aspect of the SNP over the other bits.

  10. Dougie Dubh

    Hi, Anonymous X. I think I get your drift.
    The SNP is indeed rooted in social democracy; however it also combines dynamic and imaginative economic stimuli and initiatives with a massive commitment to green energy, and crucially, a tenacious determination to protect and defend public services in ways wholly unmatched by any other party.
    The right of popular sovereignty, championing the choice of our constitutional future, is at the heart of that value system, and, quite rightly, will never be discarded or traded off.
    Win or lose, the SNP will fight to the wire for the right of our people's sovereignty over their own destiny.

  11. fritzsong

    Tom K. Says:     
    April 18th, 2011 at 6:38 pm
    That’s right – the state that PROVIDES YOU WITH NOTHING.
    What about roads, railways, rail stations, clean water, sewage plants, public parks, swimming pools, schools, colleges, nurseries, mass vaccination, a free health service, free x-rays, free prophylactic smears, training centres, pensions, child benefit, invalidity benefit, maternity leave and EMAs?
    Do they not count?

  12. fritzsong

    Dougie Dubh Says:     
    April 21st, 2011 at 11:42 pm
    'The SNP is indeed rooted in social democracy;'
    I'd allow that SNP is today a centre party. But its roots were by no means left of anything.

  13. Dougie Dubh

    Thanks for allowing that. The political alignments of the nascent SNP were initially dubious, but then they were patently converging from all sections of Scottish life, and united by a deep rooted concern and determination for their country – a country now moving forward to a new and self-confident future. 🙂

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