Never say never in politics. Not so long ago the Tories were virtually written off in Wales and Scotland. They were widely regarded as the English Conservative Party. But no more – in both Scotland and even more dramatically in Wales they seem on course to be firmly re-established, making the Party once again very much a national Party.
The dynamics of the Tory resurgence are very different in Scotland and Wales but they revolve around nationalism.
In Wales the nationalism that has enabled their comeback is British. In the June 2016 EU Referendum Wales voted ‘Leave’ by 52.5% to 47.5% for Remain (almost mirroring the UK-wide result). This was prefigured by UKIPs success in the Welsh Assembly Elections in May 2016 when they gained 12.5% of the constancy vote.
The ‘Leave’ and UKIP votes – many of them traditional Labour supporters – seems to have acted as a bridge to the now full-on Brexit Tories. The latest polls show UKIPs vote collapsing into the Tories (and some more Labour voters following them).
In Scotland the dynamic has been different reflecting a complex dance between Scottish and British (Unionist) nationalisms. Scotland voted Remain by 62%. But 38% voted ‘Leave’.
After the 2014 Scottish referendum the SNP pulled off a neat trick – as the only major Party supporting independence they were able to successfully coral the 45% who voted for independence. The Unionist vote was split three ways between Labour, LDs and Tories. The SNP even added to the 45%, climbing to 50% in the 2015 General Election and all-but wiping out the other three Parties.
So how did the Tories come back? Essentially they have done a ‘reverse SNP’ – they have tried to coral the Unionist 55% and, since June last year, the EU Leave 38%. If you are a Scottish unionist and British nationalist why would you not now vote Tory? Labour have little appeal – they are clearly going to have no influence in London or Edinburgh.
So there we have it. After the disasters of the 80s and 90s for the Tories in Wales and Scotland when most thought they were permanently written off, they are back. They have a long way to go in Scotland but in Wales they could be the biggest Party after June 8th.
However before the arrival in Westminster of a phalanx of Scottish and Welsh Tory MPs will raise issues of its own for the Conservative Party and Theresa May. They are going to have a set of concerns and issues that have largely been ignored by the Tories when they had little representation in the Scotland and Wales. In the flux that Brexit is bringing to internal as well as external British government arrangements, this will be yet another layer of complexity and possible conflict?