The long decline and fall of the Tory party in Scotland

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By Peter Rowberry and Newsroom

Peter is a regular correspondent with his Member of Parliament for Berwickshire, Roxburgh & Selkirk, John Lamont, and was disappointed that he hasn’t received a reply to his letter of 26th September. Writing to MPs you disagree with can be a dispiriting activity but they need to know when constituents are concerned about the policies and actions of the government they represent. Widespread concern since the ‘installation’ of the Truss government, has reached incredible levels seldom seen at normal times.

The headline Newsnet graphic tracks the decline in the number of Scottish Tory MPs since 1955. More below.

Peter wrote to Lamont: My disappointment is compounded by the support you have given to Liz Truss’s fatally flawed economic agenda. I have two major criticisms. The first is that the measures she introduced are in direct conflict with promises and commitments made during the 2019 election and in the party’s manifesto. The following are some examples:

i) There was no mention in the manifesto of cuts to the 45p tax rate.

There was only a pledge not to raise taxes

ii) There was no mention of the significant cuts in public spending

There was a major focus on “levelling up” and “a programme of investment in education, infrastructure and technology”. Now, departments are being asked to find “efficiency savings”, which is a synonym for expenditure cuts

iii) There was a refusal to say whether benefits will rise with inflation

The government’s fiscal policy and the resulting reduction in the value of the £ against most currencies, most notably the dollar, is directly inflationary, increasing the cost of our imports of raw materials and finished goods. It also significantly increases the cost of government borrowing, as well as making a direct hit on the costs for those with mortgages or other borrowing. It is not a surprise that no promise could be made, but this is a position of the government’s own making.

iv) No mention of allowing fracking or how to achieve the net zero greenhouse gases commitment

Liz Truss has offered 100 new licences for oil and gas exploration in the North Sea without addressing the additional pollution that will result. She has refused to address the safety issues associated with fracking while stating that she would grant more licences.

v) No idea how investment in the NHS will support previous commitments, including 20 hospital upgrades and 40 new hospitals, 50,000 more nurses and 6,000 more doctors

The 1% increase in National Insurance has been scrapped. No measures to fund these changes, which were already unlikely to be achieved, were announced.

My other issue is whether any of the “drive for growth” was going to increase our wealth, even in the long term.

Most independent economists are sceptical. The Economist’s leader (1st to 7th October edition) was entitled “No Way to Run a Country”. It said that the mini-budget saw investors take fright and the yields of gilts surge, which forced the Bank of England to intervene. They commented that the policy was “wholesale abandonment of the Tory attachment to sound public finances”. The Economist leader warned that any delay in announcing new rules for fiscal stability until late November would be unwise and the government should move faster than that.

If we are to have a working democracy, the most significant commitments made during a general election must not be overturned on the appointment of a new leader. The country does not have any confidence in Liz Truss. I hope that Parliament will support that position and call a General Election.

The decline of the Conservative Party in Scotland

The headline graphic plots the steady decline of the number of Tory MPs returned to Westminster from Scotland. In the election of 1997 all 11 Tory MPs lost their seats in a major wipeout. At the 2001 election Peter Duncan of the Conservative Party gained Galloway and Upper Nithsdale from Alisdair Morgan of the SNP, by just 74 votes. He failed to win the new Dumfries and Galloway seat in 2005. David Mundell won Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale seat to provide the single Scottish Tory seat at the 2005 general election. He remained the only Scottish Tory MP until the 2015.

At the 2017 election Tory fortunes in Scotland improved seeing them almost double their vote share to 28.6% and picking up a total of 13 seats. Theresa May was Prime Minister but most of the credit is probably down to Ruth Davidson who was Scottish Tory leader from 2011 to 2019 and Tory leader in the Scottish Parliament from 2020 – 2021. She had been a strong supporter of EU membership and was totally opposed to Johnson becoming PM. In July 2021 Davidson entered the House of Lords as Baroness Davidson of Lundin Links. Our September 2021 ratings chart indicates a relatively poor rating for Davidson.

In July 2019 Boris Johnson became Prime Minister. Despite winning an 80 seat majority at the December 2019 election the Tories lost 7 seats in Scotland where Johnson had the lowest rating of any elected politician. See chart below from our September 2021 analysis of an Opinium poll

Much as there was concern about Johnson as PM it is not unusual for commentators, in contrast with Liz Truss in whom distrust is off the scale, to think slightly more kindly of Johnson’s premiership. After all he didn’t crash markets, face pension funds with insolvency or force the Bank of England to cover Kwerteng’s arse with a £65 billion intervention to stabilise sterling and calm markets.

Opinium Trust. Don’t Trust table Sept 2021 Newsnet Scotland