Time to face up to Unionists’ palpitating fear of Scottish independence


Commentary by Derek Bateman

It’s a Tory surge…they’re going to have more MPs…hunners and hunners o’ them…The bonfires are being lit on the hilltops and the message of despair is sweeping up the length of the country – the Tory Army is coming, led by Mad Dog ‘Fluffy’ Mundell. Bury the silver. Herd the ewes into the forest. Hide the portrait of Chairlie under the boards.

Derek Bateman

The opinion polls may just be having fun with us but I suspect not. The tsunami of 2015 has abated somewhat and the survivors are regrouping. Their dam wall is built around the candidate with the best chance of resisting the next flood and, like all walls, it will have partial success.

There will be scattered remains after the torrent has passed. In places it will be the SNP who will be swept away – Aberdeenshire? Moray? Perthshire? The Borders? MPs will be lost, some of them no doubt pals. It’s a precarious business. Those streams of votes that float some and sink others are the arteries of democracy itself – for better or worse. Just ask Michelle Thomson and Natalie McGarry.


But need we despair? Some argue it is crucial to resist these upstarts and give no succour to the imminent majority down south – one I think we will soon be safe in categorising as a One-Party State…But not me. There are a number of reasons why, strategically, what will be seen and reported in dutiful lapdog Scottish Press mode as a Tory Revival, is good for Yes.

First of all, if it proves correct and a handful of Conservative MPs make it to Westminster, how did they get there? Primarily because of the collapse of Labour is the answer in most cases. The Tories are still bumping along with little more support than they had in Thatcher’s day – it will most likely go higher but it is struggling to reach the levels one expects of a traditional and strong opposition. In other words around 30 per cent.


The Tories are relying on the disaffected from other parties to back them for one last tilt at resistance before the inevitable. People are frightened of what is coming – self-government. We should never underestimate how profound is the contempt of our fellow Scots for what we like to call our nation. The idea that it might be self-governing with no outside help from emotional props they rest on – reassuring Radio 4, Big Ben, public school sang froid and good manners – has them palpitating.

They will vote for the BNP if it will halt the Scot Nats. And even where the Tories don’t lie second, you have to give Ruthie credit for claiming the mantle of No Surrender Unionist-in-Chief. She has claimed the copyright on the Union in spite of performing screeching handbrake turns on everything else.

For the SNP the heart murmur that represents Labour shows how they have successfully taken on and crushed what was only a handful of years ago, a monster rearing above all else on the political landscape. This is an historical triumph. Labour may not be in decline so much as slipping into the grave, to disappear for ever. Now I would in all circumstances always prefer a Labour government in London to a Tory one, even under Jeremy. But I no longer vote for a government in London. It is of secondary importance to me. And I of secondary importance to them.


The key point to recall is that with either no MP at all (1997) or a single MP since, the Tories have only had the moral ability to control Scotland utilising the support of Labour Unionists. If Labour had truly put socialist ideals before party advantage – and their innate hatred of Nationalists – they would have opposed the Tories rigorously and threatened to opt for separation if their demands weren’t met. Instead they became the facilitators of Tory excess in Scotland with the apotheosis coming in the greatest single miscalculation in the history of Labour – the 2014 Better Together campaign. They held Scotland back and were appalled at what the people made of their Holyrood parliament (backing real powers and rejecting the pastiche of Scottish democracy Labour intended).

So the death of Labour removes from the field the one thing that has confused the picture – a left-of-centre pro-devolutionary party directly connected to the seat of power at Westminster. Without Labour, the games board is stark and unequivocal – progressive independence versus doctrinaire, anti-European right-wingery.

This is the ground on which the SNP can fight along with any other progressive independistas like the Greens. The logic is that, once the right-wing Labour voters have scurried off to vote Tory, those that are left have little choice to resist draconian neo-con policies except by voting for independence parties. Or, of course, not voting at all.

And, when taking on the Tories, the one thing you need is to present them as truly difficult enemy. That’s near impossible when they don’t have more than a single MP in Scotland – like trying to demonise Corbyn, it’s not easy when nobody takes him seriously. However, if there are 10 or a Dirty Dozen popping up on telly and making a noise, on a screen near you, the scare factor is palpable. They become an identifiable opponent that demands to be opposed, rather than something that happens far away in England.


The other advantage is that they will finally face the kind of scrutiny that they avoid today because the media is happy to connive at the idea that Davidson is somehow not responsible for policy-making at Westminster so can body-swerve awkward questions. Just see how uncomfortable she is over the rape clause. With a small platoon of MPs, no studio can be avoided, no question dismissed. Accountability returns.

Those of you who remember the 80’s and early nineties will recall the dwindling band of Tory MPs who held on in the last redoubts of Britnat loyalty in Scotland. Some were eccentric, some were stark raving bonkers and the grotesque image they presented deeply damaged the brand. Something similar could happen again judging by the standard of recruitment evident in their MSP selection. It doesn’t take the public long to realise they are being sold a pup.

All this, remember, against the background of an overwhelming SNP majority of, proportionately, four to one. Whatever the actual number of Tories returned, it will be marginal, leaving yet again a massive number of SNP members representing a massive mandate for independence – one that will be heard loud and clear in Brussels even if it is again ignored in London.


And doesn’t that then open up the idea laid out in our podcast on Newsnet Radio this week.

It is that, instead of waiting for a request for a referendum to be met, the Scottish government calls a general election when we know the outcome of the Brexit talks, in under two years time. It says to the Scots: This is your chance. Either you follow the mad Tories down the road to ruin or you stay in Europe by voting for our independence. And that is our mandate.

With a clutch of Tory MPs making that dread future all too real for us, enough Scots will open their eyes to the trap the Union has become and finally trust themselves to run their own country.

A Tory revival? Bring it on.