A year from now, Scotland will vote in a referendum to decide whether to stay within the United Kingdom or become an independent state. But many Conservatives, particularly in the younger generation, are reluctant to defend Scotland’s place in the Union. After all, what possible benefit does the Conservative Party have to gain from standing up for Scotland when there is little electoral advantage?
To answer this question, the Conservative and Unionist party needs to reflect on what it means to be a Conservative, and why unionism embodies our ideals.
First, some background. The Treaty of 1707 led to the formation of the British state. Yet, it was an uneasy state of affairs. Westminster only took interest in the idea of a Union when it became apparent that Queen Anne may not give birth to an heir, and that the son of James II, the “Old Pretender”, would have a legitimate claim to the throne.
As a result, the merger of Scotland and England was not about chasing some British utopia, rather the Union was cemented on Realpolitik. From a Conservative perspective, it relishes the National interest – neither the English nor the Scots wanted a hostile neighbour at the border. Likewise, it appeals to our pragmatic instincts. This incisive understanding the balance of power ensured that our finest years were a period of relative stability, Pax Britannica.
Nevertheless, the Union represents more than just a reluctant enterprise, made necessary by geopolitical realities. The Union was also about free trade. The Scottish gained access to the transatlantic markets, which provided opportunities to access vast riches. To let the history of the Union be undermined by Scottish Nationalists will create a oppressive narrative to the Empire, and will surrender the achievement of Empire Free-Trade, spanning several continents. No other political party in Scotland will defend this legacy.
Nevertheless, the Conservative Party’s decline in Scotland is well documented. What’s more, it seems that it is unlikely that there will be a revival of our fortunes any time in the near future. There is only a single Scottish Conservative MP out of a possible fifty nine. The outlook is bleak at best, irreparable at worst.
When challenged on the merits of the Union, it’s important to be resolute. Some Conservatives will use persuasive arguments about the lack of Scottish MPs and look to encourage English sentimentalism. Yet, being a Conservative, philosophically and in membership terms, is about institutions. To defend the institution of the United Kingdom is defend Markets, Empire and Monarchy; an institution all Conservatives can be proud of.