Yes, that’s the chortle about Scotland and its Tories.
A declining asset
It’s also a commonplace to remark that, as recently as the 1955 general Election, Scottish Tories took over half the total vote (50.1%) and half the MPs (36 of 72).
Since then, it has been continuing attrition:
Notice how the Poll Tax, enforced in Scotland from 1989/90, a year before the rest of the UK, is a critical factor. There were eleven Scottish Tory MPs elected in 1992, and none in 1997.
Not just missing MPs: missing voters?
There was another consequence of the Poll Tax:
Our findings suggest that as many as 500,000 voters did not register because they wanted to avoid paying poll tax. The gain to the Conservatives’ lead in overall votes was only 0.5 per cent, however. This is enough, in theory, to have cost Labour as many as seven extra seats and the Liberal Democrats three, but only if one makes some heroic assumptions about the distribution of the votes.
Even accepting the “0.5 per cent, however”, the Tax had applied in Scotland for a year longer. Logically, then, the “de-registration” was more advanced in Scotland than elsewhere. Equally, we might expect the de-registration to be concentrated in those groups more inclined to be non-Conservative.
Perhaps we should then look at the numbers, and wonder if something funny isn’t going on:
We know that the population of Scotland is increasing. We know that the population is ageing. We know that older folk tend to vote more than the younger ones. And yet …
Iain MacWhirter did a piece, That Bloody Woman, for the New Statesman in 2009, looking at how Scotland had turned against the Tories. He laid the blame (if blame there be) on Thatcher and the Poll Tax (i.e. the One Damn Thing):
It was the poll tax, more than any other facet of Thatcherism, that ensured the disintegration of the old unitary British state. Scots complained that the poll tax legislation was pushed through Westminster on the strength of English MPs co-opted on to the Scottish standing committee to make up the numbers. It was the West Lothian question in reverse. The poll-tax row finally persuaded Labour’s ultra-cautious shadow Scottish secretary, Donald Dewar, to join the cross-party Scottish Constitutional Convention in 1988 and sign its “Claim of Right” document, which called for a repatriation of Scottish sovereignty. Ironically, the Scottish National Party boycotted the convention, making itself politically irrelevant for the next decade and a half.
In 1997, after every single Scottish Conservative seat was lost, Labour held its promised second referendum on the constitution. Scots voted by a decisive three to one in favour of a Scottish Parliament with tax powers, bringing to an end three centuries of debate about home rule. Since the election in 1999 of the first Scottish Parliament in 300 years, the process of constitutional disengagement has speeded up, with the Scots electing their first Nationalist government in May 2007. But it might never have happened if it had not been for Margaret Thatcher.
History repeats itself …
In the run-up to the Scottish Independence Referendum, Iain Duncan Smith’s punitive bedroom tax (i.e. After Another) has handed a fresh tawse to any Scottish voter who wants not punish English arrogance. Hence:
The UK government should abolish the bedroom tax or hand the Scottish Parliament powers to scrap the controversial policy, Holyrood’s welfare reform committee has said.
A report from the committee criticised the tax as “iniquitous and inhumane” in one of the most scathing attacks from Holyrood on the UK Tory-Lib Dem government’s policy.
The measure means social housing tenants with spare bedrooms must move to a smaller home or lose up to 25 per cent of housing benefit.
Westminster ministers who hold powers over the tax should scrap the policy as the solution to a “bad law”, the cross-party welfare reform committee said.
MSPs said many Scots were “trapped” into paying the “bedroom tax” and were left with nowhere to move due to a shortage of social housing properties in Scotland.
The report said the tax “may well breach” the human rights of tenants, because of the financial penalties faced by residents and the threat of effectively being forced to leave their homes.
So, if it all goes sour for the “Union” on 18th September, we know upon whom to unload the ordure.
By a small coincidence, perhaps, that would be Greta Garbo’s 109th birthday. And we all know her most famous line:
Though she subsequently claimed she said, “I want to be let alone”