Friday, 29 January 2010

Actually, what if the Tories win?

This is less of a "what if" than my previous post on Labour winning, but there's some questions I'd like to put in the (likely) event of David Cameron becoming Prime Minister this year.

Now, if the Tories take power, it will likely be on the back of a majority in England. Despite their European revival in Wales, the likelihood of them winning more than the three constituencies they currently hold is minimal. And in Scotland, where the party has been good - if unspectacular - in the Scottish Parliament (which they originally opposed) the FPTP electoral system makes it unlikely that they will return too many Scottish MPs. The party are targeting 11, I give them a shot at 5 or 6 on around 20% of the Scottish vote - but that is well short of having anything like a mandate from the Scottish people.

Not that that matters in a UK electoral context. The party will still govern the whole of the UK - the House of Commons is constituted of 600+ seats and majority of seats is all you require to govern. However, let me look a wee bit further at the difficulty facing the Tories in Scotland.

For a start, they have only 1 MP at the moment in David Mundell, the Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland. That role has been given to him largely on account of his being their only MP for a Scottish constituency (but not their only Scottish MP - I'll come back to that). I don't think it is outwith the realm of possibilities that the Tories win a couple more Scottish seats - perhaps Peter Duncan will return in Dumfries & Galloway and John Lamont MSP will have a decent shot at Berwickshire, Roxburgh & Selkirk while there are a few other seats (Edinburgh South, West Aberdeenshire & Kincardine, Argyll & Bute, Stirling, Ochil & South Perthshire) where they may spring an upset. That said, even with 6 MPs representing Scottish constituencies, the party may face a problem: who to make Secretary of State for Scotland.

Now, David Mundell should be favourite (given his current status as shadow Sec State) but he holds that position only because he is the sole Tory MP north of the border. He is not perceived as a strong candidate. Similarly, while Peter Duncan has been shadow SSS previously, he was in the same position. John Lamont - if elected - would be a brave choice, given his youth and relative inexperience. But the mark against him would be he'd still be an MSP and combining 3 jobs a la Alex Salmond won't cut it. He may be a better bet for under-secretary (again, if he is elected). Alex Johnstone would be in a similar boat, but he hasn't made too many waves at Holyrood (and he's been there a good while) and indeed, is perhaps unlikely to win the seat. Any of the other newly-elected Tory MPs would be just that - newly-elected and inexperienced, hardly the commanding figure the party would want going up against Salmond.

Which leaves them in a quandary. Already facing the perception that they don't have a mandate in Scotland - a democratic deficit if you will - they now don't appear to have any MPs in Scotland fit to fill the Secretary of State's role. Which leaves them 2 - not particularly attractive - options. The first is to appoint an MP for an English constituency as Sec State. An English MP as Scottish Secretary? You can imagine how that would go down in the Scottish Parliament. But there are a couple of MPs with links to Scotland. Liam Fox would be an example, or Malcolm Rifkind - who does have experience of the role. However, the latter lost his Scottish seat in 1997 and the Scottish media are unlikely to let him forget that.

Which leaves a second option - one which Labour have availed themselves of recently, subconsciously indicating a dearth of talent on their benches. Appoint someone - with experience, gravitas, a heavyweight - to the House of Lords. Someone, perhaps, who is leading their campaign in Scotland.  Lord McLetchie of the Taxis? Perhaps not. But presumably it is an idea circulating in Tory HQ. 

Of course this move leaves them with several difficulties - not least the democratic deficit of having a Sec State for Scotland who cannot be questioned in the Commons. Equally, would he continue to sit in the Scottish Parliament? His Pentlands seat is one the Tories fought hard to win back (and he ousted Iain Gray in the process) and winning the seat without McLetchie's considerable personal vote may not prove easy in a by-election. Or could he keep his seat - and sit quietly while Annabel Goldie questions Alex Salmond at FMQs, who, presumably, would fire everything back at him as Sec State - and he'd be unable to respond.

It's an implausible situation.  How bad would it make the Secretary of State look?  How powerless?  And for Annabel Goldie, overshadowed by her predecessor - and superior in the UK party?  Would it signal her demise as leader - a position she was reluctant to take in the first place?  Of course, there might be the comedic value of a party leader asking when the FM will next meet the Secretary of State for Scotland, to which Salmond could look to McLetchie and say something like "garden lobby, five minutes time?".  The press, the public, the MSPs themselves would have a field day mocking McLetchie - it'd be worse than the taxi stuff.

So yes, while some questions may be answered if the Tories win (the likelihood of Gordon Brown staying on as Labour leader is minimal) many more remain.


SD 29 January 2010 at 22:21  

I think a peer for SS Scotland would work admirably. Imagine it...The strongest contender would be Lord Forsyth - a recidivist Secretary of State would have its merits as the Tories have a weaker profile in Scotland. He would, of course have an UnderSecretary of State in the Commons and be questioned in Westminster Hall regularly by the Scottish Grand Committee and more widely. This would have the real advantage of having a SS for Scotland who was free from constiuency burdens and so free to be at Holyrood or meeting the FS with fewer pressures of the Westminster timetable. This might also be a good model for a SS Wales and SS Northern Ireland, enabling the Tories to show that they were taking devolution much more seriously.

Hiraeth 29 January 2010 at 22:35  

Erm... The Tories unlikely to win more than the three seats they currently hold in Wales. At least three other seats in S. Wales alone are held by Labour with wafer-thin majorities, including Cardiff North, where I live. At the last council elections, Labour (who currently hold the seat) lost every one of their councillors in the division. I predict seven seats in Wales.

That said, I feel that there is a need for a full Secretary of State, as well as the develotuion of further powers to the National Assembly, in order to avoid conflict between Cardiff Bay and Westminster.

Malc 29 January 2010 at 22:46  


There is some logic there. A SS as a Lord, free from the constraints of the Commons... but also free from any kind of democratic legitimacy, unelected and unaccountable.

And while Lord Forsyth (as a former SS) would certainly have the experience to do the job there are 2 things to remember here. Firstly, he lost his seat in 1997 while Secretary of State for Scotland and secondly, he is a remnant of the Thatcher era in Scotland.

While the Tories may have recovered their electability in England (and Wales to an extent) the same cannot be said of Scotland, and such an appointment would surely set them back years - possibly even decades.

A Lord is likely. But not Lord Forsyth. Unless they Tories in Scotland are crazy.

Malc 29 January 2010 at 22:49  


I bow to your superior knowledge of Wales. And your expectation of Tory gains in Wales may not be that far off - especially if the Euro results are anything to go by. So 7 is perhaps a real possibility.

With regards your second point, I couldn't agree more. The position of SS (in each of the nations) must be full time. Whether the secretary is an MP or a Lord, that holds true.

Christina 30 January 2010 at 02:57  

"A Lord is likely. But not Lord Forsyth. Unless they Tories in Scotland are crazy."

Malc, I agree. Not Lord Forsyth please. Mcleitchie from the Lords, yes, or Lamont. I would love to see Malcolm Rifkind get this post, he would be an excellent choice. But alas, the fact he holds an English seat would allow the usual petty nationalist rhetoric to come to the fore. He is still a passionate Scotsman, and a very highly regarded Scot's political Statesman. Alas, that will hold little sway with the Nats and their agenda, even if his appointment might be good for Scotland.

Mr Eugenides 30 January 2010 at 03:33  

Forsyth would be an excellent SSS, but it would be politically pretty crazy to appoint him given the "baggage" he brings with him - unfairly or fairly.

There's small enough choice... Personally I have always been quite impressed by Peter Duncan, and I think he comes across pretty well on the telly. But he is, figuratively if not literally, a little lightweight...

Anonymous,  30 January 2010 at 09:37  

If anything I would have said Hiraeth was understating the possibilities for the Tories.

There are two detailed analyses of seat patterns in Wales available: one from the now defunct Half-Blood Welshman blog here and one from Meurig (don't know his surname) a Plaid activist from my old stamping ground of Aberystwyth here, here and here.

Even Meurig's analysis (which is less favourable to the Tories, as would be expected from a Plaid activist against a Tory voter) offers seven more-or-less certain Conservative seats, and three more possible ones, as well as the possibility of a couple of others. HBW went further and predicted 10 seats as a minimum.

The idea that the Tories will win only three seats in Wales is a mad one. Wales is a very different political dynamic from Scotland, and it is possible the Tories will do unexpectedly well there.

Hiraeth 30 January 2010 at 09:45  

Doctorhuw (Clayton, perchance?), you may have a point there, given the dynamics of the Aberconwy seat in N. Wales. Ten would indicate real progress, and is not beyond the bounds of probability. The question then is, who is to be Secretary of State? My vote goes to Jonathan Evans, who has ministerial experience, and is a very effective speaker.

Whatever the Tories do in Wales, they must not throw this away. I suspect, with Richard Wyn Jones in Aber, that the best way to avoid this would be to make the Assemby a proper Parliament.

Anonymous,  30 January 2010 at 10:39  

"My vote goes to Jonathan Evans, who has ministerial experience, and is a very effective speaker"

He'd also have what will probably turn out to be a fairly safe seat in Cardiff North, allowing him to focus more on working and campaigning Wales-wide, something the Tories are still a bit weak on despite the prospect of, as you say, real progress.

It may be however that he will be given a few months to get his feet back under the table, having been away in Strasbourg a lot for the last 10 years, with Cheryl Gillan or Nigel Evans filling in for that time.

And yes, you were quite right on who I am, and I think I know who you are as well. Hope the research is coming along OK.

All Seeing Eye 30 January 2010 at 10:54  

I wonder if your article is based on a believe that the Tories will only win a handful of seats in Scotland (fewer than I believe they will but let's take your figures) and yet that "public opinion" (you mean the lefty media) will somehow force them into appointing a SSS who is Scottish.

If they make the poor showing that you predict then what's the problem with upsetting people who didn't vote for them anyway?

They could (and in my opinion should) appoint a single SecState for All The Subsidised Bits, save some money by abolishing the seperate Departments and, if he's the best man for the job, give the job to an MP from Essex.

Strathturret 30 January 2010 at 13:02  

Good speculation. What about Lord Strathclyde? He's been round the block a bit and sits in Cameroon's shadow cabiniet. He's a real toff of course. So will feel at home in the cabinet!

Baron McLetchie of Edinburgh Radio Cabs does not ring true. Murdo Fraser as an outside bet?

Malc 1 February 2010 at 08:59  

Christina & Mr Eugenides,

I agree on Forsyth. But Rifkind would provide the same problem Christina - although he was elected, he wasn't elected by Scotland which would prove troublesome for the Tories. And not just among Nats - I doubt very much that Labour (Scottish or UK Labour for that matter) would keep quiet about an "English" MP running the Scottish Office.

Malc 1 February 2010 at 09:04  

Doctorhuw & Hiraeth,

I've already conceded that my comment on Wales was folly. Perhaps if I change it to "many" more seats in Wales your knickers might unknot themselves?

Seriously though, I do not underestimate the Tories in either Scotland or Wales. I do think there is something of a Tory revival, particularly among the young who have no institutional memory of the Tories - and are, consequently more likely to vote for them.

That, for me, probably means 20% of the vote in Scotland, albeit few (5?) seats given the help FPTP gives Labour. In Wales, a repeat of the European performance is likely to yield double-digit seats but I'll make a point I've made in previous posts - that is a PR election and, to many, a second (or even third) order election. People are more likely to kick the government in it - and vote outwith their first preference. While the Tories look better in Wales, their revival is not complete yet.

Malc 1 February 2010 at 09:10  

All Seeing Eye,

If they make the poor showing that you predict then what's the problem with upsetting people who didn't vote for them anyway?

If the Tories took that view, it'd be an utter disaster for them. Is that so different from enacting another Poll Tax in Scotland? It's a ridiculously childish way of governing.

Has Barack Obama only governed for the states which voted for him? "Sorry Georgia, you're too Republican, here - we're going to implement a free universal healthcare experiment here and raise your taxes to pay for it. You didn't vote for me - I don't really care what you think."

Bad politics, bad policy. Though given this is the Tories we're talking about, I wouldn't put it past them.

Malc 1 February 2010 at 09:15  

As for your other point All Seeing Eye:

They could (and in my opinion should) appoint a single SecState for All The Subsidised Bits, save some money by abolishing the seperate Departments and, if he's the best man for the job, give the job to an MP from Essex.

The first bit is madness - how would they hope to have any control (read "meaningful discussions with") the devolved institutions - run, as they are by the SNP in Scotland, Lab/Plaid in Wales and whoever survives the Stormont crisis in N.Ireland if they had one person trying to do 3 jobs? Utter disaster.

Your final point I can make peace with. The best man (or woman) for the job should get it. Absolutely. But then, that might not be good politics - and almost certainly wouldn't be if "Dave" appointed an Oxbridge toff as SS for "All the Subsidised Bits" as you put it. Maybe if he created a Secretary of State for England it may stop some of this "subsidised"-based tension?

Malc 1 February 2010 at 09:17  


I do agree, there is something about McLetchie as Lord of Scotland that doesn't work. But the other options are so unappealing for the Tories that I suggest it may be the one they go with. Lord Strathclyde may work, but again I note we are talking Lords and not Commons. Is that an issue in itself?

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