Whatever Happened to the Tories, Ma?
All the way through the referendum, I could feel my Tory ancestors tugging away at my insides somewhere. As I watched the various intimidating manoeuvres of the Better Together campaign, I could hear their ghosts muttering, “Jesus! Can’t we do better than this? Has the Britain of the Empire and the Welfare State really got nothing more elevated to say for itself? ”
And since the result, since the very morning of the Union’s victory of fear over aspiration, it does seem that the mean but professional campaign that was run by Scottish Labour on behalf of Past Glory really did mask something much more tawdry and diminished than any of my forebears from the left or the right would have recognised. It was Scottish Labour that paid the price of course. But May’s election result has revealed something decadent and terminal in the Tory soul as well.
They are so delighted with themselves, so stunned that they won so decisively. They are empty shirts…they know it. They’re a weird agglomeration of sock puppet creatures of the Masters of the Universe, and whiny, provincial Daily Mail readers whose sense of victimhood shrieks from every appalled and hateful headline. The UK electorate have been, apparently, sold on the idea that suffering should only trickle down one way as, free of the social responsibility of even pretending to give a stuff for collective welfare, those who already have far more than they need loot the nation and the planet as a shore against the economic and environmental ruin their cupidity is bringing down on us like a hammer. They are free to pursue an agenda made up in equal parts of pure resentment and pure class interest.
To bomb Syria in revenge for an attack planned in Libya on British tourists in Tunisia! To redefine child poverty out of existence! To turn teachers into the thought police! To destroy the BBC and flog off the remainder of welfare state to their chums!
And they owe it all to Scotland.
That’s how they feel. That’s why they cheered like they did in the Commons when they rubbed our noses in our numerical irrelevance. That’s why they’re trying to smuggle the constitutional monstrosity of English Votes for English Laws through by a hole in the corner Standing Order. They are not trying to solve the West lothian Question. They’re trying to exacerbate it. They’re rubbing salt in the wound. Because they think that’s how they won the election. They turned their whole campaign around when they stumbled so decisively onto “Scotophobia”as a way of shoring up their base. Remember, the Tories might swagger around like suited and booted Lords of all they survey, but their electoral base is made up of people stoked into ever deeper anxiety about clinging on to their little bit of England in the face of bloody Europe and bloody immigrants and bloody paupers and bloody Jocks….
If it ever did, the Tory Party no longer represents a settled, conservative Britain. Instead, it lives entirely by exploiting fear of the other, including the other within. And just as the presence of 56 SNP MPs is dramatising so clearly and decisively for the Scots electorate the sheer hopelessness of trying to continue as if the flag still flew over a quarter of the globe and as if there was any such thing as a UK National Duty of Mutual Care, so for the Tories, in the short term, the more we can look like marginalised, irritating little tykes, the better they like it.
In short there is going to be a row about what defines “English only” legislation every single time there’s a finance bill, then that’s not a problem. The Tories think will work for them. As in the election, they will trap Labour into looking if not anti-English, then dependent on the Scots. It worked for this last election, it will work for the next one. This isn’t so much grubby English nationalism as squalid realpolitik. They’re doing this because they think it will work for them.
It is not just my British Ancestors who I can feel rotating in their graves.
Even at its best, politics is a myopic, short term business. We are unfortunately well acquainted in Scotland with the sterile territorialism that seems to hobble the very considerable talent we have in our political parties. We glimpsed, I think on all sides, in all parties, a rather more interesting and enlightened civil society in some of the arguments that we traded during the campaign. Still, it is rather a shock to my Unionist DNA to see what has become of the Conservative and Unionist Party of Great Britain. Daily they shrink into nasty little parochialist monkeys dancing to the tune of powers that they ape but don’t seem capable of understanding.
Last year, we hesitated to end the Union that has played so large and complex a role in the world for the last three hundred years. But then, breaking that Union was always too big a job for Scotland. Now we feel that we can only watch in shocked, mournful silence as the big boys next door blunder so inanely into doing it for us.