A YEAR ago Murdo Fraser, the forward-looking Tory MSP, was in the midst of a brave but as it turned out futile bid to break up his party.
In essence he wanted the Tories in Scotland to form a new, and strongly Scottish, party. This was a bold (and in my view necessary) venture. The Tories are currently viewed in Scotland as a nasty, anti-Scottish political brand. If ever a group of politicians had a pressing need to regroup and reinvent themselves, it was and is the Scottish Tories.
In the event Murdo Fraser lost and Ruth Davidson became leader of the party. While I accept that she has been an effective performer within the hothouse of Holyrood, she has made little impact in the wider Scotland. Toryism remains discredited, even despised, in much of our country. I can understand the reasons for this, though I think it is taken to excess. One or two people I know are planning an orgy of celebration when Lady Thatcher dies. This is not just in very poor taste; it is execrable politics.
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Anyway the Tory party – which just two generations ago won an overall majority of the Scottish vote in a General Election, the only time this has ever been achieved – is presently reduced to a state of sad and pitiful irrelevance. Remarkably, things don't look that much better for the Tories south of the Border.
They will without doubt lose the upcoming by-election in Crosby, which will add to David Cameron's troubles. Many Tory supporters in England don't see the point of Mr Cameron. They might have forgiven him, just, for not winning on overall majority the 2010 General Election, but they are spitting blood at some of his policies, whether it be gay marriage or the (comparatively) high level of spending on overseas aid.
In a fairer world Mr Cameron would get some credit for standing by his liberal principles in areas such as these, but the Tory plotters are hard and unforgiving. Tory MPs are traditionally less loyal to their leaders than Labour MPs.
Mr Cameron's problems are multiplying at an alarming rate. Thousands of Tory sympathisers in the English heartlands are deserting to UKIP. Within his own party, there is no sign as yet of an organised mutiny, but there is an ongoing search for a credible alternative leader. Boris Johnson may be the popular candidate, but there are whispers about other credible contenders, including the ambitious Scot Michael Gove.
Mr Gove has been utterly loyal thus far, but he has many connections in the London media and he is beginning to be talked of as the next Tory leader, possibly sooner or rather than later. Whether this gossip is sanctioned by Mr Gove himself – and I doubt if it is – it must add to Mr Cameron's difficulties. The Tory conference next month is going to be by far the most stressful he has faced since he was elected leader in 2005.
I admire David Cameron for his dogged determination to stick to what he believes in, despite all the current pressures. Some see him as a trimmer but I think he is anything but. If he was a cynical politician with an eye for the main chance, and his own narrow interests, he would have distanced himself from the Union well before now.
Instead he is one of the Union's most eloquent and steadfast champions. Given the Tories' ongoing abysmal performance in Scotland, it has surely occurred to Mr Cameron that now is the time to concentrate wholly on England, even if that implies the eventual break-up of the UK. But no, he continues to talk up the Union at every possible opportunity. He may be commended for his consistency, but not his political savvy.
Meanwhile, even now, much of England remains naturally Tory territory, despite all Mr Cameron's travails, I wouldn't bet against the Tories staging a remarkable recovery by 2015 – south of the Border. By then, of course, we Scots may well have decided to sever from England anyway.