Amid the perpetual media circus surrounding the ongoing public health crisis, it’s clear that conventional domestic politics has taken a backseat status on the agenda. It was therefore to relatively little fanfare that Jackson Carlaw relinquished his position as leader of the Scottish Conservative Party less than six months after officially assuming the role vacated by Ruth Davidson.
Although Carlaw’s official motivations were reduced to abstract platitudes about the need for a ‘fresh face to lead the party into next year’s Holyrood elections’, this was mere window dressing of a much more perilous reality for the traditional party of Britain’s ruling class. Opinion polls have shown consistently for several months a growing majority of support for the SNP and, more importantly, Scottish independence as coronavirus continues to lay bare the hypocrisy and ineptitude of the British establishment.
The man who promptly emerged as Carlaw’s successor was the current MP for Moray, Douglas Ross. Given his relative inexperience as a parliamentarian, Ross’s selection was the culmination of a swift rise through the Tory ranks and he is now charged with pulling his party, and the union it defends so vehemently, from the brink of extinction.
A native of Aberdeen, Ross’s agricultural background in dairy farming in the Moray region is a clear indicator of his political profile as a prominent advocate for the interests of the land-owning class in the north of Scotland, and his part-time role as a football linesman displayed his flag-waving credentials before even entering the arena of unionism. While he had held a regional seat for the Highlands and Islands in Holyrood, he wouldn’t secure his position as Moray’s representative in Westminster until 2017 – beating high-ranking SNP figure Angus Robertson in the process – as the rural areas of the country moved back into Tory hands.
Ross proved to be a useful asset to Boris Johnson’s government, capable of exploiting the patriotic fervour of unionism to temper the growing appetite for radical change north of the border. However, Ross gradually began to distance himself from the Prime Minister’s farcical handling of the Coronavirus pandemic before resigning as Under-Secretary of State for Scotland. This followed the scandal that saw Dominic Cummings continue as Johnson’s chief advisor, despite flouting the travel advice that had been issued by Cummings himself. This perceived distinction from the Westminster government was no doubt a crucial factor in Ross’s ascension to leader, as the Scottish Conservatives desperately try to reflect the lingering resentment towards Westminster from the vast majority of Scots, without compromising their interests which lie squarely with the status quo of British capitalism.
It follows then that, with Ross currently without a seat in the Scottish Parliament, the Tories have turned to fellow Johnson-sceptic Ruth Davidson to attend to matters in Holyrood. The former leader managed to cultivate her image as a Tory moderate willing to be seen scrutinising her colleagues in Westminster, all the while pushing the importance of the Union to the forefront of her rhetoric. But although her firebrand style of anti-Scottish nationalism proved effective in stunting the momentum of the independence movement in the wake of the referendum, public consciousness has shifted considerably away from the empty bluster of prolonged British capitalism and the status quo.
The Scottish Conservative leadership has been left on the backfoot by the groundswell of support for Scottish independence and, naturally, away from the institutions of British politics which protect the interests of capitalism and capitalists – most of whom comprise the rank and file of the Tory party. Douglas Ross is merely the latest on the conveyor belt of Scottish Tory politicians who will walk the tightrope between benevolent, One-Nation progressive and tacit sympathiser of Unionist bigotry. But the politics of Scottish Conservatism, irrespective of its advocate, is one of division and exploitation: to divide the working class between ‘patriots’ and ‘traitors’, the better for them to be exploited by the capitalist system.
The ‘fresh face’ now in charge of the Scottish Conservatives represents the decaying face of British capitalism in Scotland, and with his party facing crises both North and South it won’t be long before Douglas Ross resorts to the base exploitation of entrenched societal prejudices surrounding the national question.
As Marxists we must transform the independence movement into a challenge to capitalism, British and Scottish alike, while emphasising the necessity of organisation along lines of class and not country and, thereby, exposing the hypocrisy that is integral to Scottish Conservatism.