Scottish Conservative Party

Scottish Conservative Party
"Scottish Tories" redirects here; for the pre-1965 Tory political parties, see Unionist Party (Scotland) and Tory (British political party).
Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party
Pàrtaidh Tòraidheachd na h-Alba
Scots Conservative an Unionist Pairty
Leader Ruth Davidson MSP
Chairman David Mundell MP (interim) [1]
Founded 1965
Headquarters 67 Northumberland Street
Youth wing Conservative Future Scotland
Membership  (2011) 8,500[2]
Ideology British Conservatism,
British Unionism
Political position Centre-right
International affiliation International Democrat Union
European affiliation Movement for European Reform
European Parliament Group European Conservatives and Reformists
Official colours Blue, Green
House of Commons
Scottish Parliament
European Parliament
Local government in Scotland
Politics of Scotland
Political parties

The Scottish Conservative & Unionist Party (usually shortened to the Scottish Conservative Party or the Scottish Tories) (Scottish Gaelic: Pàrtaidh Tòraidheachd na h-Alba) is the part of the British Conservative Party that operates in Scotland. Like the UK party, it has a centre-right political philosophy which promotes conservatism and strong British Unionism. Its leader in the Scottish Parliament is Ruth Davidson MSP, who has held the post since 2011

It was established in 1965, when the previously separate Unionist Party was merged into the Conservative Party of England and Wales, to form the basis of the modern UK Conservative Party. The Unionist Party (unionist in the sense of preserving the British Empire), in alliance with a small number of Liberal Unionist and National Liberal politicians, had always taken the Conservative whip at Westminster and had been the dominant force in Scottish politics from the 1930s to the late 1950s.[3] The last time that the Conservatives won the most seats in Scotland, was in the general election of 1955. From the early 1960s that role was taken by the Labour Party and the Scottish Conservatives went into a state of decline, which culminated in the loss of all Scottish Conservative seats in 1997.

The Scottish Conservatives have yet to see a revival of fortunes following the 1997 wipeout; only one Conservative MP was returned to Westminster for a Scottish constituency at the general elections of 2001, 2005 and 2010. In the Scottish Parliament, the Scottish Conservatives currently control 16 of the 129 seats, although 12 of these seats were won through the system of proportional representation. The party has one of the six Scottish seats in the European Parliament. In March 2006, the party was thought to have around 16,500 members in Scotland.[4] By mid-2011, party membership fell to 8,500.[5]




Electoral defeat in the 1959 general election led to the reforms of 1965, which brought an end to the Unionist Party as an independent force. It was renamed the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party and constitutionally came under the control of the UK party. These, and further reforms in 1977, saw the Scottish Conservatives being viewed as a regional unit, with its personnel, finance, and political offices under the control of a leadership in London.

These changes had serious implications for the Conservatives' Scottish identity. Set alongside the end of Empire and the emergence of many independent states it witnessed the rise of the Scottish National Party (SNP) as sections of the old Unionist vote swung to the SNP along with former Labour voters who supported Scottish independence. This may seem paradoxical, but the Unionist Party had benefited greatly from its projection as an independent Scottish party opposing the London-based British Labour Party. In addition the name "Conservative" was identified with the English party; and there was a strong unionist-nationalist tradition, represented by the likes of John Buchan (who said "I believe every Scotsman should be a Scottish nationalist."[6]) and those who had founded the Scottish Party (which later merged with the National Party of Scotland to found the Scottish National Party).

Consequences of merger

As the British Empire came to an end so too did the primacy of Protestant associations as secularism and ecumenicalism rose. The erosion of the Unionist vote accompanied this along with the loss of its working-class base. Though many Conservatives would still identify with the Kirk, most Church of Scotland identifiers were not conservatives. As the national and largest Church it had adapted to a more secular post-imperial world by advocating ecumenicalism.

Support from working class Protestants was also eroded. With the Daily Record newspaper switching from the Unionists to Labour, the Conservatives in the 1960s were mercilessly portrayed as a party of the Anglicised aristocracy. Combined with the new name, this helped switch previous Unionist voters to the Labour party and the SNP which advanced considerably in the elections of February and October 1974.

The associations with the largely working class Orange Order also became problematic because of this aristocratic connection, but it was the Troubles in Northern Ireland that created further problems. On one level, there was the residual perception of a connection that many mainstream Protestant voters associated with the sectarian violence in Northern Ireland—a perception that is unfair to a large extent since the Scottish Orange Order has dealt more stringently with members associating with Northern Irish paramilitaries than its Irish equivalent. However, the ramifications of this perception also led to the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party downplaying and ignoring past associations, which further widened the gap with the Orange Order. Any links that lingered were ultimately broken when Margaret Thatcher signed the Anglo-Irish Agreement. Notably this witnessed the Orange Lodge (amongst other supporters) set up their own Scottish Unionist Party.

The Thatcher-Major years

The election of Margaret Thatcher in the 1979 general election revived the Party's support and returned more MPs, but this was squandered in the two subsequent elections of 1983 and 1987. These elections witnessed the rise of the SDP-Liberal Alliance, which ate into traditional Unionist Party support, along with increased support for Labour and SNP in 1987.

At the 1987 General Election, the Conservatives had their number of Scottish seats lowered from 21 to 10, their worst performance since before World War I. They lost the seats of Aberdeen South, Angus East, Argyll and Bute, Banff and Buchan, Cunninghame North, Edinburgh Central, Edinburgh South, Fife North East, Moray, Renfrew West and Inverclyde and Strathkelvin and Bearsden.

This anti-Conservative position—reminiscent of the pre-1886 electoral position—has been attributed to Margaret Thatcher's perceived rejection of society and advocacy of American monetarist policies that were leading to the closure of traditional Scottish industries. This was at odds with the past Scottish Unionist position of "service to others and to the community" and was graphically illustrated by the cool reception she received at the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland when she made her "Sermon on the Mound".

By then advocating the introduction of the poll tax a year early in Scotland (where they had minority support) they further exacerbated the image of being anti-Scottish. Ironically the Scottish Conservatives had been amongst the fiercest advocates of introducing the poll tax to replace the system of local government rates.

The replacement of Margaret Thatcher with John Major did see a very small increase in their vote in the 1992 election when they campaigned on a "Save the Union" ticket against a resurgent SNP and took back the Aberdeen South seat. However the marginality of the increase—the SNP's vote increased substantially but success was limited by First Past The Post—combined with Conservative Party divisions, Black Wednesday, the rise of New Labour, the increased willingness of the electorate to resort to tactical voting and the Conservatives' uncompromising opposition to any form of devolved legislative assembly for Scotland contrived to see the Conservative Party wiped out at the 1997 election.

Devolution and pre-1965 considerations

It was the establishment of a Scottish Parliament, an institution they had opposed vehemently, that gave the Scottish Conservatives a modicum of Parliamentary respectability. However, this was only because of the Parliament's proportional representation electoral system, and the level of national support they received in 1999 and 2003 hardly moved. Nevertheless, they did manage to pick up three constituency seats in 2003, Edinburgh Pentlands, Galloway and Upper Nithsdale and Ayr.

In subsequent Westminster elections, their vote has been equally sluggish or static. In the 2001 election, they won a seat from the SNP, but the sitting MP subsequently lost against Labour in the 2005 election in a redrawn seat (which had a notional Labour majority). However they did gain the Dumfriess-shire, Clydesdale & Tweeddale seat from notional Labour control.

In the 2007 Scottish Parliament elections, the party gained their fourth constituency seat in Roxburgh and Berwickshire. Following a boundary review before the 2011 Scottish parliament election, the Conservatives were given 6 constituency seats which they would have won notionally at the 2007 election: Dumfriesshire, Edinburgh Pentlands, Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire, Galloway and West Dumfries, Eastwood and Ayr. The party would have notionally won 14 seats using AMS, giving them 20 seats, which is three more than they actually won in 2007.

The 1997 wipe out and subsequent lack of movement has resulted in debate about how the party should change to revive its fortunes. Echoing their pre-1965 position, one suggestion has been to drop the name "Conservative". However, the Strathclyde Commission ruled out a return to the "Scottish Unionist Party" name because of sensitivity to Northern Irish sectarian connotations. Besides, this would now be impossible under the new Electoral Commission as the small Scottish Unionist Party is already registered.

The deputy leader of the party, Murdo Fraser MSP, has suggested that the party become independent, like the pre-1965 Unionist Party, and adopt a relationship with the English Conservatives analogous to the relationship which the Christian Social Union in Bavaria has with the Christian Democratic Union in Germany.[7][8] Brian Monteith, an MSP, who has since left the party, proposed that the Scottish Conservatives support fiscal autonomy for Scotland as a means to appear more "Scottish" than the Labour party who oppose it.[9] A resonance with John Buchan was struck when an ex-MP said the party should support Scottish independence because it would produce a clearer and more co-operative relationship with England than what he felt was the latent conflicts and resentments devolution would create. Allan Stewart, former MP for Eastwood, said: "'I've always believed that the English perception of what independence would do to them has always been unnecessarily worried. There is a major issue about defence, but I don't think other issues are a real worry.'" (Herald, 02/05/2005).

However, it remains to be seen if the Scottish Conservatives will return to a model that reflects the previous Unionist Party. Fiscal autonomy has not been rejected but it still remains unclear if the party will adopt it. As for an independent party or independence, the party leadership and Parliamentarians face a membership who have grown into using the name 'Conservative' and take pride in it, despite the decline it heralded. Many members are also ideologically opposed to any notion of Scottish autonomy, whether it be for Scotland or their party, even though this was a feature of the party when it had a larger membership. With such obstacles to overcome, the present party may take the route of hoping for a fillip from new Conservative leader David Cameron, but on the past electoral experiences with Margaret Thatcher and John Major, this has often been followed with poll disasters such as the 1987 and 1997 elections. However, the decline of the Scottish Conservatives has not been constant—in the 1992 General Election, the Scottish Conservatives gained a seat in Scotland to become Scotland's second party, with 11 seats north of the border, and the party is currently second in several Scottish seats that could provide a basis for long-term recovery.

Following the 2010 General Election

In the 2010 UK General Election, David Cameron's Conservatives were the victors and subsequently formed government through a coalition with the Liberal Democrats. In Scotland however, not a single seat was gained by the party, and David Mundell remained the party's only Scottish MP. A committee was then established to analyse the situation, headed by Lord Sanderson, with Lord Forsyth also contributing.

The Sanderson Commission outlined the following recommendations:[10]

  • Elect a Scottish leader to have overall responsibility for the Party’s performance in Scotland.
  • Replace the weak leadership and governance framework with a streamlined, transparent and accountable structure.
  • Create regional campaign centres staffed by campaign professionals.
  • Increase support and resources for the local association network.
  • Develop a clear vision for Scotland, distinct to the Scottish Conservatives.
  • Engage the whole Party and wider Scotland in policy development - and recruit a chief policy adviser.
  • Introduce balloted motions and open debate at Party conference.
  • Overhaul candidate selection and development - and reform the current ranking process for Regional List MSPs.
  • Establish a process to identify and develop future Party leaders.
  • Contest every local government seat throughout Scotland.
  • Launch a new fundraising and membership drive across Scotland.
  • Provide an annual grant to Conservative Future Scotland to help develop the Party’s youth wing.

The commission also stated the need for a leadership election to be held after the Scottish parliamentary election, as no leadership election has thus far been held by the Scottish Conservatives.

In the 2011 Scottish Parliament election, the party campaigned on what it called 'common sense for Scotland', and outlined the requirement for re-introducing university tuition fees and prescription charges, as well as emphasising what the party had helped pass through parliament as a minority force in the last parliament: 1,000 extra police officers, four-year council tax freeze and £60m town regeneration fund.[11] However this proved insufficient, and the party was reduced from 17 seats, to 15, as the SNP won an un-precedented majority of seats. The Conservatives could take comfort in the knowledge that their losses were slight in comparison to those suffered by Labour and the Liberal Democrats, however Annabel Goldie announced her resignation as party leader soon after the election.

A leadership election has been scheduled to occur sometime in the Autumn. No MSP has declared their candidacy as of yet, however Murdo Fraser and Ruth Davidson have been cited as the main challengers, with Davidson receiving the support of Goldie and allegedly David Cameron.[12] Borders MSP John Lamont was also cited as a likely challenger, however was reported to have self-destructed his chances due to a controversial statement on Catholic schooling.[12]

On the 4th of November, 2011, Ruth Davidson was elected as party leader beating original front-runner, Murdo Fraser MSP.

Policy platform

The Scottish Conservatives have adopted several policy positions which differ from their colleagues in the rest of the United Kingdom, for example support for the Scottish Executive policy of free state care for the elderly, and their backing of the decision to abandon university tuition fees in Scotland. There is also a difference in approach on tax, with the Scottish party likely to propose the full 3% reduction in income tax (the so-called Tartan Tax) in their manifesto for the Scottish Parliament election in 2007, while the UK party has committed itself to putting economic stability ahead of tax cuts.

In August 2006, the leader of the UK Conservative Party, David Cameron, said that the party should recognise "that the policies of Conservatives in Scotland and Wales will not always be the same as our policies in England" and that the "West Lothian question must be answered from a Unionist perspective".[13] A spokesman for the leader said that Cameron would continue to consider adopting a policy of "English votes for English laws", banning Scottish MPs from voting on English-only legislation.

Electoral performance

Scottish Parliament Elections

Blue indicates constituency seats won by the Conservatives in the 2011 Scottish Parliament Election.
Year Vote percentage (constituency) Vote percentage (list) Seats won
1999 15.6% 15.3% 18
2003 16.6% 15.5% 18
2007 16.6% 13.9% 17
2011 13.9% 12.4% 15

UK General Elections

Blue indicates the seat won by the Conservatives at the 2010 General Election.
Year Percentage of vote in Scotland Seats won
1929 22/74
1931 50/74
1935 35/72
1945 30/72
1950 44.8% 31/70
1951 48.6% 35/72
1955 50.1% 36/72
1959 47.3% 31/72
1964 40.6% 24/72
1966 37.7% 20/72
1970 38.0% 23/72
1974 (Feb) 32.9% 21/72
1974 (Oct) 24.7% 16/72
1979 31.4% 22/72
1983 28.4% 21/72
1987 24.0% 10/72
1992 25.8% 11/72
1997 17.5% 0/72
2001 15.6% 1/72
2005 15.8% 1/59
2010 16.7% 1/59

European Parliament Elections

Year Percentage of vote in Scotland Seats won
1979 33.7% 5/8
1984 25.8% 2/8
1989 20.9% 0/8
1994 14.5% 0/8
1999 19.8% 2/8
2004 17.8% 2/7
2009 16.8% 1/6

The party logo, trumpeting the party's green credentials and modern approach to multiculturalism, is a sketched outline of a Banyan (or Indian Fig) Tree.

Conservative front bench

The front bench formulates the party's policy on issues devolved to the Scottish Parliament.

Member of the Scottish Parliament Constituency or Region First elected Current Role [14]
Ruth Davidson Glasgow 2011 Leader of the Scottish Conservative Party
Jackson Carlaw West Scotland 2003 Deputy Leader and Health & Wellbeing Spokesman
David McLetchie Lothians 1999 Justice Speokesman
Alex Fergusson Galloway & West Dumfries 2003 Rural Affairs and the Environment Spokesman
Annabel Goldie West Scotland 2011 Culture and Communities Spokesperspon
John Lamont Ettrick, Roxburgh & Berwickshire 2007 Chief Whip
Liz Smith Mid Scotland & Fife 2007 Education and Lifelong Learning Spokesman
Gavin Brown Lothian 2007 Finance, Employment and Sustainable Growth Spokesman
Mary Scanlon Highlands & Islands 1999 Energy, Enterprise and Tourism Spokesman
Murdo Fraser Mid Scotland & Fife 2001 Backbench MSP
Jamie McGrigor Highlands & Island 1999 Environment and Climate Change Spokesman
Alex Johnstone North East Scotland 1999 Infrastructure, Capital Investment, Transport and Housing Spokesman
Nanette Milne North East Scotland 2003 Public Health, Sport and Commonwealth Games Spokesman
John Scott Ayr 2000 Backbench MSP
Margaret Mitchell Central Scotland 2003 Local Government and Planning Spokesperson

Conservative leaders in the Scottish Parliament


Mark McInnes is the Director of the party, based at its headquarters at Scottish Conservative Central Office, 83 Princes Street, Edinburgh. Eight staff are employed at Scottish Conservative Central Office, with a further seven staff employed at the Scottish Parliament in the Press and Research Unit.


The party holds an annual spring conference. The next conference[when?] is to be held at the Perth Concert Hall, in Perth, Scotland.

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ Cochrane, Alan; Barrett, David (4 September 2011). "Scottish Conservative Party set to disband". Sunday Telegraph. Retrieved 4 September 2011. 
  3. ^ "... a waning of the cultural conditions which produced the centre-right coalition that dominated Scottish politics, 1931–64, and its fragmentation into Conservatism, Liberalism, and Scottish Nationalism.", Abstract of "The Evolution of the Centre-right and the State of Scottish Conservatism", Michael Dyer, University of Aberdeen, Political Studies, Volume 49, March 2001
  4. ^ "Panic within Labour as membership falls", The Scotsman, 5 March 2006
  5. ^
  6. ^ "''Scots Independent'' — Features — Scottish quotations". Retrieved 2010-04-27. 
  7. ^ Garnett, Mark; Phillip Lynch (2003). The Conservatives in Crisis The Tories After 1997. Manchester: Manchester University Press. p. 168. 
  8. ^ Sunday Herald[dead link]
  9. ^ Sunday Herald[dead link]
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^ a b EXCLUSIVE by Paul Hutcheon and Tom Gordon (2011-07-03). "Gay MSP in running to lead Scots Tories". Herald Scotland. Retrieved 2011-08-29. 
  13. ^ "'Revolutionary' Cameron offers party in Scotland autonomy over policies", The Scotsman, 17 August 2006
  14. ^ "People | MSPs". Scottish Conservatives. Retrieved 2011-08-29. 

Further reading

  • The Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party: ‘the lesser spotted Tory’? (PDF file), Dr David Seawright, School of Politics and International Studies, University of Leeds, Paper presented at the Annual Conference of the Political Studies Association, University of Aberdeen, 5–7 April 2002
  • The Decline of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party 1950–1992: Religion, Ideology or Economics?, David Seawright and John Curtice, Centre for Research into Elections and Social Trends, University of Oxford, Working Paper Number 33, February 1995

External links

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