Is Scotland Turning Conservative?

By Kit MacDougall, Glasgow

The results are in, and things are looking quite different for Scotland. Although the Conservatives have lost ground in England, they have made dramatic gains here for the first time in two decades. Since the 1997 General Election the Tories have managed to sustain an average of 1 seat in Scotland. They now have 13, spread mainly over the rural north-east, many of the seats that were considered SNP strongholds. The apparent rise in popularity for the Tories in Scotland, along with the decline in the SNP’s dominance over the country, has lead many to jump to the conclusion that the Scottish people are gradually losing their progressive edge, turning conservative in the face of change, and thus somehow becoming less Scottish.
It has always been considered the role of Scotland to counter Conservative rule in Britain, and up till now they have been seemingly reliable in doing just that. For many, the change represented in this election shows that people are turning their back on Scotland the brave, submitting to what many equate to rule by Westminster, i.e. England. In choosing not to vote SNP, these scots are making a statement, and that statement is that Scotland should remain part of the UK. After all, the Conservatives have firmly established themselves as the anti-independence party, the only people capable of holding off another referendum as long as possible. With another Scottish referendum as their main objective, the SNP have turned off many of the older voters in rural constituencies who would have voted for them in 2015, voters who have now turned towards the Tories.
However alongside this we have the Labour Party making gains in some urban constituencies, due almost wholly to appeal of Corbyn as a leader, though they have still got some way to go before re-establishing themselves as the main progressive force. Scottish Labour’s move to the right, its stance as anti-independence, which brought them into bed with the Tories in the ‘Better Together” campaign, and above all the lack of appeal to working-class voters meant that most of the left-wing electorate moved towards the SNP back in 2015 and have remained there today. But clearly some have been attracted back to Labour on the basis of Corbyn’s campaign and the prospect of a Corbyn led Westminster government. This is reflected not only in the few seats that Labour has won, but also in its increased vote share generally. Ironically, in some cases this may have helped the Tories to beat the SNP by reducing the latter’s vote, effectively splitting the left vote.
As for the right-wing labour voters, there now seems to be little appeal in voting for a weakened party, especially as the Scottish Conservatives have aimed themselves directly at those who identify as liberal, ‘progressive’, but anti-socialist, what we might call the ‘centre’ although that term seems to become less and less relevant every day. So rather than move right, Scotland has polarised, and with that has come the splitting of the left vote between the SNP and Labour, whereas the Tories have hoovered up all the right wing votes. Hence there is no sudden emergence of a new right wing.
The idea that Scotland has somehow always been an inherently progressive and yet tragically hindered nation is false. Although it is true that Scotland’s cities have largely maintained more socialistic politics, many rural areas in Scotland harbour quite different politics, based of course on laws of property and taxation, but also on opposition to what they see as an attack on the rural way of life by the urbanites. The Scottish Countryside Alliance supports the barbaric activity of fox hunting amongst other reactionary causes. Many citizens who we may presume to be the most pro-independence, i.e. the kilt-wearing, bagpipe blowing nationalists of the north, are in fact probably more likely to vote against the SNP.
On top of this we have the tradition, particularly in Glasgow, of the most reactionary kind of unionism, based on idealisation of the British Royal Family, preservation of protestantism and its culture, which is tied to a ridiculous hatred of catholicism, a hatred which is founded on nothing more than a cultural partitioning of the working class by political elites and which manifests itself in football hooliganism and general sectarianism. Thankfully this unionism, especially in the working class, is increasingly small and outdated, though it does exist.
In the end there is not much to be surprised about. Conservative layers of the Scottish population have existed for a long time, and it remains our job to combat the influence of these ideas on the working class, insofar as they are influenced by them. As Socialists we must understand that the only way forward is to counter this ideology by winning the labour movement to clear socialist ideas – because only a class conscious, urban working class can consistently oppose the basis of these reactionary ideas. And it is without doubt that conservative ideas are discredited and in decline in Scotland, especially the traditions associated with unionism. The SNP still dominates, and has been joined by a Labour Party gaining in support thanks to its left wing leadership.
Nevertheless this election has been a wake up call to the illusion that Scotland was on an irreversible march towards increasing left wing dominance, and that therefore we need not fight for class based ideas and can just rely on the vague left nationalist trend. By breaking with these illusions in Scotland as automatically progressive we can better understand that the left can go forwards only by fighting unambiguously for the interests of the working class, rather than taking them for granted. Through doing this we can organise ourselves into a real force for socialism in a Scottish Republic


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