Sunday, 25 September 2011
Are the Conservatives Eloi or Morlocks?
Well, if you haven’t or you can’t remember the plot ...
Wells’ Time Traveller journeys far into the future where he meets the Eloi, childlike adults who live in futuristic yet slowly deteriorating buildings, doing no work and lacking any curiosity or discipline. He also encounters the Morlocks who are ape like troglodytes who live underground amongst the machinery and industry that makes the above-ground ‘paradise’ possible. More sinister the Traveller learns the Morlock feed on the Eloi.
They are two tribes into which man has evolved. They now fulfil an almost ritualistic role based on something that happened in the nuclear wars of the dim and distant past but is now forgotten. They have both lost the intelligence and character of Man at its peak.
So it is with the Conservatives in Scotland sometimes I think. They are evil and socially unacceptable, this is a given. To support them in an election is not allowed. The need to marginalise them is paramount and the first rule of Scottish politics is to vote tactically to ensure they achieve no representation. To ally yourself with them in any way attracts instant vilification and ensures the perpetrator is too cast out into darkness. So the Scottish Liberal Democrats have discovered over the last year.
We have maybe forgotten precisely why this is the case – or if we remember we soon will have forgotten.
At this point in time the Conservatives in Scotland have just kicked off their leadership campaign. At the time of writing it looks like a close contest between Ruth Davidson and Murdo Fraser. Ruth was meant to be the young fresh faced, counter intuitive Tory who would modernise them. She has been slightly outflanked by Murdo who has proposed that they become independent of the party down south, change their name and embrace a more hard core version of devolution than ever before.
Kenny Farquharson writes very interestingly about this in Scotland on Sunday today where he suggests if the Tories vote for Ruth or one of the others, then Scotland will be Independent by 2016. If they vote for Murdo, Scotland will remain part of the UK. I have no idea if he is right or wrong.
The Conservatives clearly need to change their brand and their perception in Scotland. I also think they need to do something so that more Scots can relate to them and vice versa – you only have to look at a gaggle of Tories on Newsnicht to see what I mean. This is partly image and partly their policies and outlook on life – both need to change. However, to be a hated tribe for memories buried deep in folk memory is not healthy.
Firstly, there is a place for the case to be made for low taxes and small government, for a socially conservative vision of society and family, and for respect and value in some of our institutions. They will also argue for certain right wing economic theories or perhaps the case against Europe.
I have never been a Conservative and don’t expect to ever be one, but these are all legitimate positions and in a healthy and effective democracy someone needs to argue the case for these ideas.
Secondly, in a political system based on pluralism as ours is in Scotland much more so than in England, we need to be tolerant and understanding of the politics of coalition. It is a reality in council chambers up and down the land, it is more than likely as the outcome of a Holyrood election, and even at Westminster our current electoral system is more likely to bring about coalitions than before. This means that the Conservatives may need to play their role in one and we need political debate that is more adult and less tribal as a consequence.
Interestingly, there was almost a command and supply relationship between the SNP and the Conservatives after 2007. But this was a relationship that dared not speak its name. It’s time to allow the Conservatives out of the closet.
Finally, I have noticed that some Nationalists argue they want to defeat poverty and bring about social justice in the modern Scotland - but the only way this can be done is in an Independent Scotland. How can this be so? The reason it can be so is that England keeps on imposing alien Conservative regimes on Scotland who are against such left of centre agendas. Indeed, making sure we do not have a Conservative regime enforced on us period, is a key driver for having Independence.
This strikes me as most unhealthy reasoning. There is absolutely no reason why we should not achieve these laudable aims as part of the UK. This reasoning is getting dangerously close to a basic anti-English sentiment which never lies far beneath the surface with some nationalists. This reasoning also exposes that everything the nationalists argue must be seen through the prism of achieving Independence. This is their raison d’etre. Everything is capable of being manipulated to drive a wedge between Scotland and the rest of the UK so the Scots turn to Independence.
Now, perhaps more than at any other time, political conditions are near perfect for Nationalists. A different party in charge north and south of the border; a party that they can present as universally bad as well as alien; and they are in alliance with the LibDems off and gain enough votes to match or even overhaul Labour.
This alliance is nothing of course to do with two parties taking responsibility to form a government when none was chosen, and taking responsibility to deal with the unprecedented set of circumstances in front of them! This of course makes no serious or reasonable attempt to understand the things the LibDems bring to government and the things they may temper in the Tories.
No, the arguments are tribal, and the Tories have to play the role of an exiled tribe like the Eloi and the Morlocks.
This is all good politics – just as long as voters realise that this is what is going on. However, it is bad for reasoned debate or any serious attempt to get to grips with our problems and work out solutions in a dangerous and difficult world.