Project Ruth and the People’s Vote

The Scottish Tories are about to back a Peoples Vote according to the New Statesman’s Chris Deerin.

Except they’re not, according to Jackson Carlaw their stand-in leader.

In a forthright rebuttal the Eastwood MSP said: “Complete & utter bollocks! On behalf of , I can confirm that neither of us has ever supported an EU “people’s vote”. This remains our unambiguous position (as even a cursory inquiry would have made clear).

With un-named sources Deerin had claimed that the Scottish party would back a second referendum and this, in turn, “could lead to a formal breach, with the Scottish party choosing to break the link with the UK party and become independent.”

Deerin writes, in a fit of premature hagiography:

“If Ruth Davidson weren’t on maternity leave, it’s tempting to believe the former Territorial Army Signaller would by now have commandeered a tank and be rumbling down the M6 with the gun pointed firmly in the direction of the ERG. Davidson’s contempt for Boris Johnson and his cohorts is absolute and withering. Her no-nonsense, pragmatic Conservatism does not allow for the preening self-indulgence of the Tory far-right.”

It seems quite likely that the Scottish Conservatives are exasperated by the Brexit fiasco, which exposes them as powerless opportunistic hypocrites. But the idea that they are going to do something about their status seems at best far-fetched and at worst a massive projection by a political journalist dabbling in fantasy.

The problems with his assessment are multiple. Take five:

  1. There is no substantive evidence of the Scottish Conservatives developing distinct policy formulations despite ample opportunity to do so. For them to now catapult themselves into autonomy would be uncharacteristic, to say the least.
  2. Ruth Davidson’s electoral success, such as it is, has been based on three factors: the extraordinary decline of the Scottish Labour Party into a shadow of its former self; the repeat ad nauseam of a mantra about the constitution: “We said no and we meant it”, successfully capturing the Unionist vote in one party; thirdly the pliant unquestioning nature of large sections of Scottish media who focus relentlessly on ‘lifestyle journalism’ over substance and dutifully nurture the fiction that the Scottish party are distinct from their English counterparts.
  3. Having established that independence is a terrible thing in all respects it would be a feat of some political acrobatics to then declare that the Scottish Conservatives needed autonomy from London for all of the logical reasons they have been opposing for the country with such vehemence.
  4. The Scottish Conservatives thrive on having connection to – but no power over – their British colleagues. The pretence of power whilst yielding no influence is a delicate balancing act for Ruth Davidson and David Mundell, but striking out on their own would drive a wedge between their own political base and the diehard Tories who crave British rule red in tooth and claw.
  5. Finally if the Scottish Conservatives were to back a second Brexit vote it would leave their opposition to a second independence referendum in shreds.

It is against the DNA of the Scottish Conservatives to act independently.

On the rape clause, on Universal Credit, and repeatedly on Brexit, the Scottish Conservatives have had multiple opportunities to express distinct policy and failed every single time. Mundell’s red lines have been broached so many times, his resignation revoked so many times he seems an unlikely standard-bearer for brave bold political action.

This isn’t just a partisan party political observation. James Mitchell, Professor of Public Policy at the University of Edinburgh, has noted: “The Conservatives seem to me to be utterly opportunistic. It all seems to be opposing. They haven’t a clue about policy. I’m not even sure they are interested.”

Despite Deerin’s story you would be hard-pushed to find anyone in Scotland able to articulate a single policy developed by Ruth Davidson during her tenure as head of the party.

Orphaned Centrism

But Deerin’s wildly imaginative take is part of a pattern.

Deerin, previously Director of External Relations at the Blavatnik School of Government, (founded following a £75 million donation from Leo Blavatnik, a Russian oligarch being investigated in the Mueller inquiry), has a track record of cultivating a distinct political “centrism”.

Over a period of six months Deerin wrote and re-wrote the same article making the case for a new political party. Who nows if he did this independently? It seems unlikely.

Deerin has described himself as an ‘orphaned centrist’ and seems to have difficulty adjusting to changing political realities. His relentless cause has been a new party based on Macron’s success in France.

Here he is in the Herald arguing for a new party:

Dec 2017: “We in Britain desperately need a new political party in the Emmanuel Macron mould”.

“When you think about it, there will be a new party. Its lack is unsustainable. If you’re not sure whether it’s for you, here are the sort of people it should include: David Miliband, John Major, Ruth Davidson, Tony Blair, David Cameron, Yvette Cooper, Nick Clegg, Anna Soubry, George Osborne, Nicky Morgan, Ken Clarke, Peter Mandelson, Paddy Ashdown, Chuka Umunna, Jack McConnell, Alistair Darling, David Willetts, Dominic Grieve, Amber Rudd. If you look at this list, appreciate the connections, share the sensibility and the desire to pull our politics back from the edge, you’re in.”

Here he is Unherd arguing for a new political party:

October 2017: “Is it time to break up the old political parties?”

“Anyone who’s dug around a little knows that the money is there to fund a new muscular, liberal, centrist movement. We know a large proportion of the electorate sits somewhere in the middle of politics, and that the younger generation tends towards a more liberal, internationalist outlook than its predecessors.”

Here he is in the New Statesman arguing for a new political party:

February 2018: “Andrew Adonis should ditch the pessimism and start a centrist party”.

“For all the naysaying, there are several untested arguments for a new party. Nature abhors a vacuum, and the centre must, one way or another, be represented. For all the votes cast last year for Labour and the Tories, voters may not behave in the same way if presented with different options (let’s set the Lib Dems aside as having little more than junk value). Meanwhile, 2018 is not 1981, and this Britain is not that Britain: our lives and our expectations are different now, the political tensions fresh, the demographics changed, the world of communication transformed. The possibility of the new is all around us at all times – so why not in politics?”

“And then there’s the SDP’s success, rather than its failure. New Labour emerged in its intellectual wake to become an extraordinary election-winning machine and a government that was given the space to modernise the country. A new centrist party might fail to displace the big two, but it would probably ensure that John McDonnell and Seumas Milne never get their grubby hands on the levers of power, and it would probably drag the debate back from the centre. It’s worth doing for those reasons alone. But who knows what might happen?”

“The thing is, the money’s there.”

That last sentence may be the most telling of the whole story so far.


Comments (8)

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  1. Alasdair Macdonald says:

    Since the current editor of the New Statesman took up post, there has been a marked increase in the number of articles about Conservative MPs and politicians, probably as many as for Labour MPs and,in tone, they have been generally warm. Ms Ruth Davidsonhas been a particular favourite of the NS, with three articles about her in one edition earlier this year. In 2017, it stopped short of explicitly advising readers to vote for Mrs May ( ‘she has splendid redistributive views’), after continuallymonstering Mr Corbyn since his ascension. Like the rest of the ‘progressive’ metropolitan media, it has almost consistently rubbishe the SNP and Scottish independence.

    Since Mr Andrew Wison’s Growth Commission Report, which Mr Deerin, endorsed, he has written a few articles in the NS, which have been relatively complimentary about the SNP.

    In my more optimistic phases, I wondered if he were shifting to a pro independence stance, but, given his background, I suspect, as you are hinting at, that he has another goal of perhaps a new ‘centrist’ ( excuse me while I laugh up my sleeve) Party. I think like many he sees the Conservatives riven for a generation. However, like you, I am puzzled about this article regarding the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party. The MSPs seem, as you indicate, to be pretty set in their ways, but some of the newer MPs have certainly not been Ruth Davidson’s Conservative Party. So, perhaps, in the clubs where Tories socialise, perhaps, even in Scotland, something is stirring in the Tory ranks.

  2. John Cawley says:

    Chris Deerin, formerly of Charlotte Street Partners, now director of Reform Scotland where he rubs shoulders with Tom ‘Zelig’ Harris of Vote Leave fame. Tom Harris who now works for Peter ‘Dark Money’ Duncan at Message Matters who handle Reform Scotland’s PR? All together now, “It’s a small world after all…”
    Next year, we will be looking at twenty years of devolved government in Scotland. Is anyone interested in having a look at the corporate capture of Scottish politics by Deerin, Harris, Andrew Wilson and their mates? Since when were guys like Harris and Moray (Raytheon) McDonald and Deerin respected commentators rather than being pursued by Panorama investigators or door-stepped by Mark Daly? Where is the Pacific Quay equivalent of BBC Northern Ireland’s Spotlight programme? BBC Scotland’s complicity in the corporate capture of Scottish democracy should be a national scandal. Instead, we have grifters, liars, mouthpieces for arms dealers and wrong uns getting the Pacific Quay red carpet. Where’s the outrage? Where’s the scrutiny? Where’s The Ferret or Mark Daly. Dark Money, The DUP Vote Leave money originating in Glasgow, Charlotte Street Partners’ toxic influence in every aspect of Scottish public life, Brexit lies and everything else going on, and Gordon Brewer, Shereen, Tom, Chris and Moray are all Best Friends Forever, complacently rubbing shoulders, secure in the knowledge that Scottish democracy belongs to them. Pacific Quay – where Scottish democracy dies a little bit more every day.

    1. Graeme Purves says:

      Spot on, John! You should work this up as an article.

      Message Matters’ leading political chuggers Peter Duncan and Tom ‘Zelig’ Harris now feature all too regularly amongst the select band of Pacific Quay cronies BBC Radio Scotland chooses to present as ‘expert’ pundits and panelists on Weekend Good Morning Scotland.

  3. Raymond Connell says:

    The other thing missing from this is the fiction Ruth Davidson has the slightest influence over the MPs. They think they outrank her and even if she did want to form a breakaway party (given she defeated Murdo Fraser in the leadership election precisely because he proposed this unpopular idea), they’d not listen to her.

  4. Me Bungo Pony says:

    If their was such an appetite for a “centrist” party, would the Lib Dems not be doing an awful lot better than they are?

    1. Me Bungo Pony says:

      I hate typos. “Their” should be “there”.

  5. Ronald AlexanderMcDonald says:

    Hardly credible considering their membership appears to consist of hang ’em high Brit Nat senile buggers with an average age of about 95.

    1. Willie says:

      North British Tories. The home for the same type of people who assisted the British fight the Dirty War in Northern Ireland.

      And they’d do exactly the same here if the democratic path to independence was looking likely.

      Dark money, and if needed dark guns. It’s all the same, it’s the Brit way, and it’s in play.

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