Few people advancing their convictions in modern politics do so without being labelled, at times, a bigot. It would be glib to embrace the label unconditionally but there is a recondite fear in society at large that conservatives will recognise all too well, that we are in our hearts, extrophobic. That is, we have an unease and in my case genuine fear of extrovert politicians.
There are those who are forthright, robust, laconic, and exuberant, but these are merely presentation styles and there is little more superficial in politics. There is another type, who makes a virtue of conflating preferences with principles and who steer a herd instead of shepherding the flock.
My regional leader, Ruth Davidson, has achieved a great deal tactically in the last year but her extroversion has given me concern. To project one’s preferences and identity to such a degree that we are all now members of the Ruth Davidson party is to risk a demagoguery that parries and reflects that of the Nicola Sturgeon party, instead of opposing it.
Holyrood is not Westminster; its chamber is semilunar and designed to put consensus before conviction. Time again we are invited to treat Holyrood with respect, the Scottish government with respect and for the UK to engage with Scotland over Brexit.
We are expected to do so having fought two referenda that make very clear Scotland is part of - and not separate - to the UK and with a Scottish government that is hostile to the integrity, and therefore the success of the Union. This is incongruent and suggests unsubtly that Scotland’s international standing should be addressed through Holyrood.
This is absurd and to benefit the distinctly Holyrood wing of the party we are invited into the arena of constitutional relativism that has no basis. The SNP has 55 MPs in Westminster who for the first time have a huge opportunity to shape the outcome of their nation through Brexit. Its block vote is four times the size of May’s majority and will be listened to without assistance from a regional Tory leader.
The constitution of course dominates Holyrood. The Tories have scored a brilliant tactical victory as the anti-referendum party of Scotland, winning 31 seats in May this year. But I fear this is not a recovery for conservatism nor indeed the Party. It was curiously an anti-establishment vote against the SNP establishment in Holyrood that has dominated since 2007. The campaign was essentially Ruth and Referendum and very little else.
A Tory Party that says Ruth is the one and Holyrood is the place is attracting a broad but extremely shallow voter base. UKIP has enjoyed this same success three times since 2004 in Europe, only to do so exceptionally poorly in other elections.
To be beat the SNP we must oppose. Not to be the opposition but to oppose. The personality dominated SNP leadership with tacit fear of rebuke from the leader for those disloyal has poisoned Holyrood. An extremely tight circle of friends controls the machine and the Tories are rapidly following suit.
What strikes you first hand is how many of the Tory leadership are openly gay. Did I just flash my Leadsom in public? Well, yes, and because it is important to identify the composition of the Party leadership. It tells us much about the leader and her plan. If the same proportion of the top brass were Oxford Union Presidents, or from Coatbridge, or radical right, would I have concerns? Again, yes. It is the narrowing of repertoire of the identities that matters, not their personal preferences. A narrowing of repertoire can suggest pre-occupation, derealisation from the mission of shepherding a broad church and the conviction to do this wherever possible and not only whenever deemed sagacious.
The recent repeated attacks on Andrea Leadsom’s comments were unfair and persevered after she graciously quit the leadership contest. To mock the virtue of motherhood as a guiding principle of policymaking was beneath someone who has doubtless achieved much, despite the cruel bigotry that gays continuously face. To go further and claim nephews and nieces gave her a stake in society betrayed a transactional view of children. One has nieces but one is a parent.
I could cry foul in rejection of my application to head the Black Police Officers Association on the basis of never having been a policeman, nor to my knowledge, Afro-Caribbean. Yet the personality driven steering nature of the two main party leaders does have an effect on how our Parliament sees the state’s relationship with children.
Out of 129 MSPs, 124 answer to leaders who are childless and over to half to those who are unmarried. The named person scheme (hardly opposed until recently), education and child protection stand out as glaring failures of devolved government. This is to a much greater extent than healthcare or even housing which is positively dire. Can a childless Parliament have a place in the future of our children? Are we even allowed to suggest that diversity away from the two parent family is admirable but in no way scalable from the individual to the collective of government?
To reject the most powerful relationship in mankind as having a guiding and principled view of how child policy should develop seems fatally conceited. When I listen to Tim Farron speak on housing and schools, though I disagree with his political stance, I cannot help but feel his own family are at the heart of his vision. If we are to externalise our sexuality as a privilege, why not also the most natural consequence of it? Can we understand the struggles of our most vulnerable who have an external focus of responsibility and ambition if we neither have nor oppose anyone with children?
On more than many occasions Ruth has taken to Twitter to condemn some transgressions against lesbians or championed another “brave” politician who has declared their sexual preferences openly. I can’t help but think: put it away, dear. I’m extrophobe, I’m uncomfortable around those who extol their virtues that are in fact preferences and who do so openly, protesting much of those suffering similar prejudices to those they do. The gap between personal preference and favouritism is professionalism and that requires introversion, introspection, self-control and identity by principles and standards.
I worry for the disabled who cannot use any toilet without help; not for those able bodied who are unsure which one to use. I worry more for those 1% of girls who have come from the care system to become 40% of the female prison population and who talk the bus to find a job, make peace with their failed parents and do it away from social media. I think they’re rather brave and I think we could tweet something about them. Maybe we could even help them by opposing a Holyrood that obsesses more about the head of government than the feet of society that stand us above destitution and collapse.
As conservatives, we must put the poor first and foremost in our minds. One cannot charge into a nursing home on a Buckaroo wearing a stetson and waving a Solero at the fallacy of free personal care, a complaint system unfit for purpose and a system of local government procurement that protects councillors from scrutiny and not the weak from neglect.
We must not answer our own questions in preference to those of others because theirs are hard and ours are easy. Scotland is possibly the easiest place where one can be oneself, whether openly or not. At some point there will be an inflection where we must start to put others first. When it comes to helping others we do not shine.
Why are driving lessons and insurance so expensive? Why don’t we build more houses? How can we make public transport work for part time workers and zero hours contractors? Why dowe beat up smokers and drinkers with by-laws and unkind rhetoric yet spend millions on cycle paths no one ever seems to use?
Why are we failing our children despite all we spend? When will we give carers a break instead of wealthy families a tax break with free personal care that is destroying the precious professional relationships that can only develop with adequate time for visits?
Worse: why are we not even asking these questions? Ruth and referendum make for a Party skating on thin ice, yet council elections will focus so much on delivery of services and cuts to them for which the SNP and Tories will fight against any sharing blame.
If Labour have any chance of a resurgence in British politics it is in local government elections. As bizarre as that may seem now, with the appalling councillors in post, a slate of fresh candidates armed with a record of austerity for the poor from both governments is a potent force that could break the back of conservatism in Scotland before it barely knew its own recovery.
Our Party must be led from the centre. Not the centre of Scottish politics, but the centre of the membership. Cameron made so many of us feel unloved and unwelcome and paid a heavy price. There is no threat of David Coburn, demure though he is, taking conservative members from us.
But Scottish voters are loyal to their principles and their preferences change with the wind and the anti-referendum vote is a very soft one indeed. Now Ruth must build moats for conservatism and leave the bridge building for others.
Dr. Jon Stanley is a Junior Doctor, a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons and Health Contributor for the Bow Group