Murdo Fraser has struck an unusual note in his bid for leadership of the Scottish Conservative party by promising to abolish it. If people in Scotland who were not members of the Conservative party were eligible to vote, he would be far and away the winner. And that’s the whole reason for his proposal: the Conservative party in Scotland is thoroughly discredited and he hopes to renew centre-right politics north of the border under a new name.
The parallel of the CSU in Germany is often cited: the Christian Democrats in Bavaria have a separate party, the Christian Social Union, which is a partner of but separate from the CDU as a whole. Bavaria was independent more recently than Scotland, but the latter is in many ways a more distinct part of its EU member state. (I don’t like using that technical term here, but the word “country” is unclear in its meaning and the word “state” is hopelessly confused these days.) No-one imagines that the CSU is a vehicle for Bavarian secession from Germany, rather than an expression of a notable regional identity. The same can be true of the Scottish Tories.
On the other than, there is Belgium. One of the reasons why it is difficult to form a government there – 15 months and counting since the last general election – is that there are no national political parties. Each party is limited to either the Flemish or the Walloon electorate; parties that operate equally in both main parts of the country are unknown. The negotiations needed to form a coalition government are therefore doubly, trebly difficult, and leave the unionist parties vulnerable to the arguments of the secessionist ones that a united Belgium does not work and cannot last. The problem for the unionists is that they are not united enough.
So which way would a Scottish Tory breakaway go? Would it be a loyal and obedient participant in a centre-right UK government, or it would be a spiky, awkward and difficult partner that would eventually be easier to do without? If there are to be only 52 parliamentary seats in Scotland after the next election, how many might a new Conservative party hope to win? David Cameron reportedly targeted 12 in the 2010 general election and won just one. There may not be many of them to show for this
Think about what might happen at the next election. With a clear Conservative majority, a separate Scottish party would have no choice but to fit in and be loyal. Similarly, if the Tories are clearly defeated, its Scottish cousins will also sit in opposition. But what if the result is close? The electoral arithmetic might give a separate Scottish party the chance to drive a hard bargain for its support, which would after all be one of the benefits of being separate, but is creating tension between the Westminster system and yet another Scottish political party the best way to strengthen the union?