Even by the standards of the Conservative and Unionist (sic) party this is an impressively stupid poster. Do they really want to encourage Scots to vote for the SNP? Evidently they do.
Of course we know why. Every seat Labour lose in Scotland makes it less and less likely Labour will emerge from the election as the largest party. Consequently, every SNP gain makes it a little more likely David Cameron will have a chance of cobbling together a second ministry.
But, my god, think of the price at which that comes. In their desperation to stop Miliband the Tories are prepared to risk the future of the United Kingdom. They might win this election but at the expense of losing their country. As Pyrrhic conquests go, that takes some beating.
It is increasingly evident, however, that almost no-one at CCHQ really cares that much about the Union. Sure, they like it as a concept but the awkward realities and compromises and paradoxes of Union? Och, they can’t be bothered with any of that.
This poster reminds us of this. Sure, it’s aimed at English voters but it will leach into Scotland too. And here it tells Scots to vote for the Nationalists. Let us count some of the ways in which it does so:
1. Vote SNP and they’ll be in government!
2. We, the Conservatives, are afraid of the SNP. (Subliminal message to Scots: so you know what to do, don’t you?)
3. And most importantly, it frames the election as a battle between Scotland and England in which the latter is menaced by the former. It pits the two largest parts of the Union against one another. Which, of course, is exactly how the SNP likes it; precisely how the SNP sees the election – and the future of Britain – too.
The Scottish Nationalists will not mind the Tories stoking the fires of English nationalism. By ‘not mind’ I mean, of course, that they will be delighted. Yet again, a notionally Unionist party is helping the Nationalists achieve their ambitions.
I shall, god-willing, have more to say on this in next week’s edition of the magazine but the key point is that English Tories appear to have very little interest in considering how their campaign will play in Scotland. Nor do they seem to have devoted any thought to the potential consequences of a campaign that tries to scare – or bully! – English voters by using Alex Salmond as some kind of bogeyman.
Worse still, the cry goes, no more appeasement! No more buying-off the Jocks! No more of this tiresome business of having to pay attention to the other parts of this realm. We’ve heard enough from you lot as it is. So pipe down. Or else.
You don’t need to be grievance-seeking Nat to be appalled by this sort of behaviour. On the contrary, it is the kind of thing that makes Scottish Unionists – of any kind – despair. It’s an approach which raises Unionist hackles and, in the end, further undermines support for the Union as anything other than a contractual arrangement of financial convenience. The failure to make an emotional case for Union was one of the most grievous mistakes made by Better Together during the referendum campaign. That failure implicitly reinforced a Nationalist story that Scotland’s future – and that of the United Kingdom as a whole – should be decided by a battle of accountants. In the longer-term it weakened the Union even as it seemed, in the short-term, to have saved it.
If the Tory party wants to be a party for a 21st century John Wilkes then that is their choice. But if so they should at least be honest and say they don’t care tuppence for the Union.
I know Alex Salmond must irritate many English voters (he annoys plenty of Scottish ones too) but putting up with that – or quietly ignoring it – is one of the prices of Union. If that means actually thinking about the Union rather than simply taking it for granted then, well, I am afraid it is time people in England started to think about it. Especially those people who claim to value it.
As matters stand, you know, one sometimes has the impression that Scottish Unionists – especially right-of-centre Unionists – are the only people who still believe in the old religion.
Certainly with friends like these at Conservative Central Office they have no need for enemies. The Union can be endangered – and lost – in London just as surely as it is menaced and threatened in Edinburgh or Glasgow. You’d like to think the Tories appreciated this; it is quite apparent that they do not.