Reflections on the Election Campaign
I remember my first general election. My grandad and mum walked me to the polling station at the high school in Alyth. There were clay dinosaurs in the foyer, and my grandad bought me an orange juice from a vending machine, which I thought was ‘literally’ magic. I had two. It was 1979. I have no recollection of any political discussion or mention of any candidates, but I do remember my grandfather explaining that no matter what, you always vote, always. And he said it again, ‘always’. I doubt I knew what it meant then but it has stuck with me. That and the dinosaurs and the magical juice.
What will I remember of this election? Knocking doors in Cockburnspath for John Lamont, during a driving rainstorm, conscious that I was damp down to my drawers. The warm welcome walking through Dumfries town centre with Finlay Carson and scores of activists (much to the annoyance of Nats on their street stall). Swaying to the ABBA hits belted out by a busker in Dalkeith while manning a street stall with Michelle Ballantyne. The strict guidance of Liz Smith MSP as I pounded the streets of Comrie for Luke Graham. Stephen Kerr and his fetching ‘Kerr for Stirling’ jackets. Failing to actually watch Ruth work her magic during the first Scottish leaders’ debate as Edward Mountain and I tweeted away furiously.
In the end I campaigned in 36 constituencies. Only time, and working in Brussels, stopped it being every constituency. I wore two of the tires on my car down to the wire (though that may have something to do with the axle alignment…)
There will be plenty of others to give you political analysis, so the following is very much a personal take on the election.
The Conservative Party won the election. Pollsters, pundits, all and sundry, predicted a hung parliament but the Conservative Party won outright.
Some things to note in the by-going.
The Labour Party has not won an election without Tony Blair since 1974. Neither Tony Blair nor Margaret Thatcher ever took the vote up once they had reached No 10 - David Cameron just did. This election represented the biggest cull of ministers since 1992: Danny Alexander, Ed Davey, Vince Cable (and sadly Esther McVey). In addition, Balls down, Murphy gone, Alexander axed, Curran culled.
The Scottish story
We held what we had. Against a Nationalist tsunami, David Mundell MP is still standing, bloody but unbowed, a beacon of blue in a sea of yellow. John Lamont was only 329 votes shy of winning Berwickshire, Roxburgh & Selkirk. In seats throughout Scotland we were just behind. Look at the map of second placed candidates: Angus, Perthshire, Aberdeenshire, Moray, Galloway. That is where the Holyrood campaign will begin.
All that being said, I am reminded of the words of Churchill talking of Dunkirk, ‘We must be very careful not to assign to this deliverance the attributes of a victory.’ Indeed. However, let me paraphrase another fine Tory, Iain MacLeod
‘Labour may scheme their schemes. The Nationalists may dream their dreams. But we have work to do’. So we do.
In less than a year. We must be ready to campaign once again.
And what of tactical voting?
I met switherers on the doorsteps, true Tories trying to do the right thing, trying to protect the union, willing to temporarily lend their vote to another party, hopeful that it would be enough to stem the Nationalist tide. It was not to be. I’m in a quoting mood. Over to Ruth:
‘I don’t believe in voting for a party that you don’t like, just to stop one you really hate.’
At the moment the SNP are making great play of the fact that our vote fell in percentage terms, despite the fact that 22,000 more folk voted Conservative than at the last election. (amazing how you can twist statistics to fit your agenda). Let them underestimate our support. At the Holyrood election, we will come roaring back. Every Conservative voting Conservative. As I said, echoing Iain MacLeod, we have work to do.
Is independence inevitable?
No. No it is not. Let’s have a quick look at the figures. Votes for independence in the referendum: 1,617,989 (turnout 84.59%). Votes for the SNP in this election: 1,454,436 (turnout 71.1%). You can’t help but wonder what happened to the other 200,000 ‘Yes’ voters.
Now we unionists were divided in the general election. Rightly so. We stood for different things. However, should there ever be another test of our loyalty (and I dearly hope it will be a generation away…) we will be as united as we were last year. I am going to quote from a fallen Labour MP, Tom Harris:
'Let me say one thing by way of an attempt at political analysis, it’s (probably correctly) assumed that Scottish Labour has paid the price for its support for the No campaign in last year’s referendum. If that is indeed the case, then I have to conclude that it was a price that had to be paid. I and many Scottish Labour colleagues lost our jobs last night, and that’s to be regretted. But if we had lost the referendum, we would have lost our country, and that would have been far, far worse.'
To those Scottish Conservative candidates who were unsuccessful, I simply say, ‘Well done’. You stood your ground. Against predictions and projectiles you stood like a stone wall. Sure of the cause. Certain of the purpose. In a democracy there is no role more important than that of candidate. I am proud of the campaign we fought. Whilst others preened and postured, or dodged and weaved, we held steadfast to our beliefs.
As we cast our eyes to the horizon, the prospects may look daunting, and our opponents may be crowing, but to quote Burns
'There is no such uncertainty as a sure thing'.