Before last weeks council elections I made a prediction about the Airdrie North seat. I said that there would be one SNP, one Labour, one Independent and one Conservative and I was bang on. The so called “Conservative Resurgence” is being painted as an end to any hopes that Scotland will become independent, and I’m sure that over the coming month in the run up to the General Election this will be repeated ad nauseum.
To those who are open minded this came as no surprise. I read many social media comments before the local elections which were not only gloating at the imminent demise of British Labour in Scotland, but scathingly dismissive of the Conservatives hopes of returning any councillors. The media seemed shocked too, with the Sunday Herald aghast that the Tories and Labour (though mainly the Tories) had been infiltrated by the Orange Order.
Those who are able to step back and see the big picture were less than surprised. The signs had been there for some time, and Ruth Davidson had been banging the drum (if you’ll pardon the pun) for so long that she was referred to as the Ruth Davidson Loyal Party for Ruth Davidson. So why didn’t everyone see it coming?
Everyone had seen for some time Ruth Davidson being the public face of attracting hard core British Nationalists to vote Tory. Davidson carried on with normal Tory policies and made no attempt to soften the image or play down what was once unpalatable to the majority of Scottish citizens. Instead she’s gone with a policy of ‘Never mind the policies, smell the flag’ and it has been devoured by the British Nationalists. In doing so she has attracted a new generation to the Tories and while she has been distracting us with her public sleight of hand, the real trick has been taking place just at the edge of your vision.
Something I had noticed with some of the Tory candidates was their surprisingly clean social media profiles. In this day and age when confronted with an unknown we find we can learn about most candidates from social media; in fact when I voted in the local elections I specifically ranked candidates with no social media presence lower. So to find numerous candidates with bare profiles sparked my interest. By chance I happened across one candidate entirely by chance, given that his social media profile was under a variant of his own name. While his profile appeared to be private he had liked some online content, so although what he had posted couldn’t be seen, his likes could:Loyalist flute bands. Follow the bands, follow the likes. Time consuming, but revealing. It shows a network of locked profiles and invitation only groups, mostly Loyalist in nature. This is the beating heart of the Conservative revival; hidden and protected. To get in you have to be known. There are no intruders, no lurkers. Those inside are often rabidly pro-Brexit, anti-immigrant, British Nationalists. The Tories didn’t have to build a network up, they simply leeched on to an existing network, and it’s huge. Unlike the Yes movement, it isn’t confined to Scotland and draws support from across the UK. Compare the likes /shares on a post on Bella Caledonia with a post on one of the more extreme British Nationalist sites and you can see the weight of numbers being utilised to spread pro-British/Anti-Scottish content. That pro-British content is by and large aggressive and negative, seldom positive, and is often accompanied by racist and sectarian imagery or comment. It’s a cesspit, and the Tories haven’t just dipped a toe in, they are now in up to their neck. The danger for them is that having targeted an organisation for support in the form of volunteers and votes, those people become members and inevitably stand for the party. Which is precisely what has been seen across Scotland as there’s a drip, drip, drip of new councillors and candidates exposed who have either expressed questionable views or shared unsavoury images. There’s only so many times you can share a Britain First image while feigning ignorance of who Britain First actually are.
So in light of the above Ruth Davidson’s miraculous Tory revival is anything but; it’s merely a repositioning of the less principled and more unsavoury element of the unionist support from Labour to the Conservatives. The Tories aren’t reducing the SNP’s support, they are reducing Labours, and so long as the combined British Nationist vote is smaller than the combined Scottish Nationalist vote then there are no grounds for claims that Scots have rejected another referendum. In fact, on looking at how the vote played out cross North Lanarkshire the unionist parties created a symbiotic relationship where by and large British Nationalist votes cascaded downwards, and where the candidate failed to win on FPTP was elected at a later stage- by Labour 2nd preference votes!
June’s election, like the local elections, will be played by the Tories as a defacto vote on the constitution, and if the SNP want to mobilise their voters in June then they have to respond in kind. They failed to do so in the local elections and failed to make the big gains that some predicted. It was the constitutional question which returned 56 MP’s in 2015, and will be in June if they want to come anywhere near that result again.