Manifestos 2021: The Scottish Conservatives
The policies referred to in this article can be found here. Unlike other parties, the Conservatives have not made their manifesto readily available in large print, easy read or Gaelic.
There is one thing that you must understand about Tory manifestos: they don’t contain the most important policies. The Poll Tax did not appear in a Tory manifesto. Increasing tuition fees to £9,000 per year did not appear in a Tory manifesto. Forcing people to starve because they were late to a Job Centre did not appear in a Tory manifesto.
The Green manifesto put the economy first. The SNP manifesto began with their response to Coronavirus, the Liberal Democrats, education. The Tories are the only party to put independence front and centre. The only Holyrood party with “an obsession with another divisive independence referendum” is the party in blue.
The Tories know that their revival in Scotland has nothing to do with their policies and everything to do with British Nationalism. Where New Labour had Mondeo Man, the Tories know that they have £10 giro boy and the passionate Highlander to thank for their upturn in fortunes.
The false dichotomy between independence and recovery is as tedious as it is repeated. With all the persistence of a racist who just won’t shut up about the travellers in view of his farm, the Tories appeal to the uncaring and the unhinged. But those searching this manifesto for a proper explanation of why independence and recovery are diametrically opposed are going to find “You just can’t, Colin”.
This is nationalism alright. Just with a different flag and a lot, lot more of it than the SNP.
The manifesto is titled “Rebuild Scotland”. The need to do just that is clear. In Scotland, 43 children become homeless every day. Over 15,000 people are homeless. Entire families live in cramped B&B accommodation. Thousands of people hand over half of their income to landlords every month.
What’s the Tory solution? More of the same. They propose continuing the Help to Buy scheme that even the Adam Smith Institute has described as “petrol on a bonfire”. This “Help” sometimes only provides for those who can already help themselves. This is not the only bonfire the Tories will douse in petrol: they are “opposed to the SNP’s plans to introduce a tourist tax” and “a one-size-fits-all approach to managing short term lets”. In short, they plan to do absolutely nothing about over-tourism, the harms of which Bella Caledonia has reported on extensively.
The manifesto says, “We need to stay on the road to recovery and prevent coronavirus resulting in a generation of lost Scots.”
Right enough. I remember the last time we had a generation of lost Scots in the 80s and 90s when Tory ideologues decimated entire communities in the name of a free market utopia. The dullard heirs to this creed have devised something that will probably be even more ineffectual than the YTS. A £500 retraining grant will feel like a slap in the pus to the workers who have lost their jobs during this pandemic. That would not even cover a term at the Open University.
When the SNP proposed scrapping dental charges, the first question that followed was ‘How are you going to pay for it?’. Yet, no one asks how the Tories will pay for their tax cuts. Will abolishing the Education Maintenance Allowance pay for their proposed cut in Land and Buildings Transaction Tax? Will cutting the Scottish Child Payment fund business rates relief? Why should someone who hasn’t seen a dentist in years because they were feart of the cost, pay for tax cuts on property deals worth over £250,000? The Tories don’t tell voters these things, so we have to guess.
The climate change section is the definition of green washing. In the same column it moves from wishing for Scotland to be “a world leader in tackling climate change” to declaring, “We believe North Sea Oil and Gas has a long future”. It seems that support for the UK government’s North Sea Transition Deal is the centre of this effort in “tackling climate change”. Greenpeace have criticised the deal as a “colossal failure” of leadership while Friends of the Earth called it “outrageous hypocrisy”. There is more oil in the Earth than we can safely burn. This is death worship.
Their transport policy continues in this vein; just in case you worried there was not enough CO2 in the atmosphere. The Tories want to put three lanes on the M8, dual the whole of the A1 and build a road around Dundee. A pledge to “provide full funding to councils to scrap parking charges” is a typical example of Tory hypocrisy. Free stuff is bad when the SNP hand it out, but good when you hand it to people who can already afford thousands of pounds for a car.
A lot of Tory policy revolves around cleaning up mess that the Tories themselves made. The manifesto has the audacity to shed crocodile tears for Grenfell as preamble for a policy to “ban the use of combustible cladding in Scotland”. There is also a suggested move to reverse some of the Beeching cuts. In parts, this manifesto feels more like locking the stable door after the horse has died, let alone bolted.
No one will be surprised to find a commitment to free ports, something you can read about in more detail here: https://bellacaledonia.org.uk/2020/02/01/free-ports-a-modern-pirate-tortuga/
The education section can be dismissed at the point in which we encounter the phrase “knowledge-rich curriculum”. This is a right-wing euphemism for rote learning (as opposed to encouraging young people to think). It is the philosophy of Mr Gradgrind. A fund for recruiting rural teachers sounds promising and even the Tories realise that Education Scotland needs to be reformed. Sadly, that reform will be an extension of the culture wars as the new inspectorate will be required to “keep schools politically neutral”. We have to suspect that the “neutrality” the Tories have in mind will involve censoring anti-capitalist material as they do in England.
The health section feels dishonest. The “new multi-year pay deal” for NHS staff does not specify if it will be as much as that currently offered by the Scottish Government. The Tories’ additional NHS funding of £2 billion would, over the course of the next Parliament, amount to less than is proposed by the SNP. It is not clear why clinicians need to manage £600 million of it either. Why should people with medical skills spend their time on management tasks?
While the SNP manifesto has a section for each region, the Tories focus on just one: The North East. That might just have something to do with a certain multi-job linesman, MP and Tory leader from Elgin. Or it might just have something to do with the number of marginals the Tories are contesting there? Either way this manifesto offers workers in the North East less than the oft-demonised SNP and Greens. If I had just lost my job on the rigs, I would rather have a guaranteed job than £500 to retrain and nothing else.
This manifesto promises “full employment” – not traditionally a Tory aim (in the 80s we were told inflation was more important). For a Tory manifesto, it is light on tax cuts instead saying, “funding our recovery must come first”. They also propose “60,000 new homes, two-thirds of which will be social housing”. This manifesto, in places, feels more like the party of Harold McMillan or Anthony Eden than Margaret Thatcher. But, given that the Tories’ most important policies are never in their manifestos, how would we even know?
Best Policy: When even the Tories favour free school breakfasts and lunches that is good for Scotland. They even support continued provision during the holidays. The Scottish Tories appear to have learned the Marcus Rashford lesson.
Worst Policy: Commitments to repeal the Hate Crime Bill for it to be replaced by a “Protection of Free Speech Bill” should just be called the Gammon’s Charter. I can almost hear the discussion in the Tory strategy room now, as a certain linesman blusters, “You just can’t say anything about Gypsies these days, can you?”
Weirdest Policy: A STEM teacher in every primary school. I mean, why? Primary teachers have the skills to teach all subjects at that level. What they lack is the staff and time to support pupils in huge classes, especially those with additional support needs. Why not just employ more primary teachers? Will the policy not also exacerbate the shortage of STEM teachers in secondary schools?