Scottish Tory Leadership

The Tories are in disarray. After less than 6 months of being confirmed party leader, Jackson Carlaw has resigned and now the role is empty. Already people are putting their hats into the ring and today we’ll take a look at what this could mean for Scotland’s second biggest party (I know right? still stings) and Scottish politics as a whole. 

Jackson Carlaw (A man with two surnames for a name) began his leadership when Ruth Davidson went on maternity leave in 2018 as the interim leader. During this period he oversaw the loss of 7 out of 13 Scottish conservative MP seats in the 2019 election. Not exactly a fantastic track record, especially considering the overwhelming majority won by the Tory party in England, however this did not hold him back and at the start of 2020 he launched his bid to be confirmed as leader of the Tory party. His main challenger was Michelle Ballantyne, but Jackson managed to get a long tally of endorsements, including from Ruth Davidson herself, going on to win over three quarters of the total vote. 

Once confirmed, his leadership was largely uneventful, mostly defined by the policies of his party co-patriots down south. For example, the largest revolt the Scottish Tory party faced in recent memory was when Jackson initially supported Boris when his chief advisor Dominic Cummings broke lockdown. Jackson was also accused of grandstanding and lying over Covid lockdown restrictions in Scotland by the Green Party. Whilst not a great record, his resignation still came as a surprise to observers after such a short time as confirmed leader, who said he had come to the painful decision after realising he wasn’t the man to lead the party or make the case for preserving the Union– a particular worry for the Scottish Tory party as support for independence in Scotland appears on a sharp rise. 

Who might be leader next then? Ruth Davidson managed to lead the party out of political irrelevance in Scotland and firmly established them as the SNP’s major rival over Labour. Popular and effective, unfortunately for the Scottish Tories Ruth will instead be taking a seat in the House of Lords.

The current favorite to be leader for next May’s election appears to be Douglas Ross, a football referee turned politician. Unsurprisingly, Douglas is making preserving the Union a central issue of his would-be premiership. But who is the man? Winning his first seat as part of the regional lists as an MSP in 2016, Douglas would go on to win a seat in Westminster in 2019, taking the seat from the SNP’s deputy leader- a rare success for the Scottish Tories in what was otherwise a political nightmare. He also initially supported remaining in the EU, over concerns for what brexit would mean for the Union, initially voting against Theresa May’s brexit bill and missing the second vote due to his wife going into labour with their first child. 

Despite voting against the party and appearing as a remain rebel, it seems the Tory party held no grudges and Douglas even got support from Boris in the 2019 election when they campaigned together in Moray

Douglas is, however, not without controversy; a video from 2017 emerged where Douglas said his number one priority if he was Prime Minister would be to bring in tougher enforcement against “Gypsy Travellers”, a curious turn of phrase that shows a strange attempt at PC language while discussing how his top concern during a time of crisis for the UK- with an ever looming Brexit and rising independence movements- would be to introduce more bigotry to our society. Not surprising for a party that in 2019 promised to specifically target Roma as part of their election manifesto, but still truly concerning for those of us who don’t particularly like ethnic cleansing on the British isles. 

What does all this mean for Scottish politics? Well not much will be known for definite until a leader is actually picked, but a party that doesn’t have a leader already in place 9 months before an election is going to struggle. While this might be to the advantage of the SNP, Labour is unlikely to be able to seize a victory out of this Tory chaos, other than possibly being able to retake their position as first loser to the SNP. What can be said is that with the strongest Unionist party in Scotland now leaderless, independence might be appearing sooner rather than later, and with their star again on the ascendant it might be time for the SNP to call for a second referendum, especially if the 2021 elections continue to look like a clean sweep for the party as they do now.

The Battle of Largs

While the storms are battering our windows and the sea is churning I’m reminded of another fury that emerged out of the west and hit our Ayrshire shores- the last great invasion of Scotland by the Norse.

In 13th century Scotland Ayrshire was divided between the rising Kingdom of Scotland, and the Viking descended and now Christian Kingdom of Norway. The Norse had had a presence in the West of Scotland since about the 800’s, first as raiders, then as settlers and lords, and Scotland for its own part was a relatively new idea. The kingdom emerged out of the uniting of the Kingdoms of Pictland and Alba, born out of murder, intrigue and even a few massacres. The Scots, a people formed out of this union, made up of Picts, Gaels, and immigrants from what would become Ireland and England began to form an identity and define what it meant to be Scottish, and that identity had begun to take shape as a people that were fiercely proud and proudly fierce.

At the turn of the millennium, the Welsh-speaking Kingdom of Strathclyde was overrun, and Ayrshire was for the first time considered part of Scotland. However, Scotland was still far from what it looks like today. Centuries of bloodshed and intrigue followed, with the Scots of the central belt, again and again, subduing Highland Clans and then going onto push the Anglosaxon kingdom of Northumbria further and further south. It was in this turbulent era that Alexander The Second took the throne.

The son of a king who had lost and then won independence from the English crown, Alexander the Second was keen on ending any dispute with the English and would go onto sign the Treaty of York, which would define the English border to this day. This is not to say that growing up under English overlordship had humbled the Scottish King. In fact, Alexander now saw everything north of that border as Scottish, and that included the Norse settlement on the mainland and the Western Isles. Alexander began a campaign to claim these lands for the Scots, first by pushing north into Caithness, leaving behind a trail of corpses, before forging west, where he attempted to buy over the lands with bribes and purchases. When gold failed he turned to steel and began preparing an invasion. He would never see this come to fruition as he died suddenly while trying to win over nobles to his cause, instead it would be his son, Alexander the Third that would take over his plans to unite Scotland. 

The Norse were not, however, a spent force. The age of Vikings had long passed but the converts to Christianity had managed to keep their pagan fury despite their newfound faith. Scotland represented something important to the Norse, as this was the first place in Britain they had settled, the island of Iona one of the first places they had raided. So long as the kingdom of the Isle stood the era of the Norsemen was not over, even if Harold Hardrader had failed in England, even if the Danelaw was now gone, and Cnut’s empire was now history the Norse still had a presence in Britain. When Alexander the Third took up his father’s mantle and started pushing into Norse controlled lands and raiding villages under Norse protection, King Haakon the Old brought together a great fleet and set sail for Scotland. Wintering in the Orkneys and then Arran the stage was now set, in the year 1263 for a confrontation between the ageing but still fierce Norse, refusing to let go the past and the upstart, brutal Scots, determined to take what they saw as rightfully theirs.

Haakon the Old, leading the invasion fleet himself, was met with tempestuous and stormy seas as he attempted to cross the sea from Arran to the mainland, battering his fleet and forcing some of his ships to shore earlier than intended just outside the town of Largs. These poor crews were harried and harassed by Scottish archers, and Haakon ordered the rest of the fleet to land, and support these men. After seeing this the Scots disappeared into the hills, while the Norwegians landed and set up camp for the night on the shores of Ayrshire. 

A few days later the main Scottish force arrived from Ayr, led by the Steward of Scotland, confusingly also called Alexander. His men in gleaming armour and supported by hundreds of knights, Alexander marched his troops north along the coast, coming across a small Norwegian Warband held upon a hill. When faced with the larger Scottish army, the Norwegians attempted to move back to join the main invasion force on Largs beach, but the Scots managed to reach them first, turning what was an orderly withdrawal into a panicked flight.

On the beach themselves, seeing their countrymen fleeing, fear set in and some men made for the boats, others used the ships that had come ashore in the storm as a makeshift battlement, and fought to the bitter end.  It was during the retreat that the Norwegians suffered the worst of it. Afterwards, on the next morning, the Norse would return to the beach to bury their dead and burn the ships that had run ashore. After this, they sailed back to Orkney, where the Old king would pass away after a sudden illness. 

In the coming years, the Scottish and Norwegian kingdom would sign a treaty, giving the Isle of Man and the Hebrides to Scotland, while leaving the Orkneys and Shetlands in Norse control. Alexander the Third would spend this time punishing the lords of the realm that hadn’t supported him or his father’s war effort. 

This battle, while not a massive confrontation with thousands and thousands of men, did one important thing in helping to solidify Scottish identity: it defined what Scotland was. After the battle the question was settled, the isles were Scottish, Ayrshire was Scottish, the borders were Scottish, the highlands were Scottish. In the coming years after Alexander the third’s death, Scotland would again fall under the overlordship of England, and this budding identity, the brewing nationhood no doubt seeded the zeitgeist that the Scottish resistance would crystallize around. I think it’s worth remembering that on a stormy day like today, on a beach here in Ayrshire, What Scotland meant was defined.

Indy2 March

With the new year, things haven’t calmed down over the election results. With an overwhelming win for the Tory government and massive wins for the SNP in Scotland, the political differences in the United Kingdom have only become starker as we enter this new decade. The night after the election, the first of what is now appearing to be many marches happened in Glasgow; with what might have been the biggest independence march in Scottish history taking place this weekend, things are shaping up to be interesting in 2020 for Scotland.

This weekend’s march was organised by All Under One Banner, a group founded in 2014 to help raise the profile of Scottish independence by raising funds and supporting marches while also stressing inclusion. This message has apparently been very popular as the group has had vocal support from the First Minister and even drew in a fair share of SNP MPs and MSPs. The crowd also had supporters from other independence movements across Europe, with Catalan and Welsh flags waving alongside the Saltire. As well as a spirit of inclusion and solidarity, a clear opposition to the Tory party was a galvanising factor for vast swathes of marchers, with chants of “Tories Out” and “Fuck Boris” being heard throughout the day.

The march has been said to have drawn in nearly 80000 people from all over Scotland, despite issues with public transport and atrocious weather. While these figures aren’t one hundred percent accurate, with people joining and leaving the march at different points making it harder to get an accurate count, this still makes it well in excess of the 35000 figure from the last march in Glasgow. Scotland’s pro-independence voices are understandably becoming more and more insistent post-election, drawing in larger crowds and more support, as can be clearly seen by the increase, in turn, out at this weekend’s march compared to the one in 2018. Even if the 80000 figure is on the high end, which I don’t doubt, it’s impossible to deny there has been a groundswell of support for the cause.

Increasingly we are seeing political support not only from the SNP but also from Scottish Labour. Scottish Labour at one turn flirted with the idea of supporting a second referendum, but have since shelved a motion calling for a special conference to discuss the issue. It’s clear that while some party members support independence, the party structure is still hesitant to address it. I hope the party does get their finger out and take a long look at their own stances; down south having a Brexit policy that was more complicated than yes or no undoubtedly hit the party hard. Scottish Labour can’t afford to ignore its own party members when its already struggling for votes.

I myself have been cautious about the prospect of Scottish Independence in recent years. Sure, during the last referendum I voted yes, and door knocking for the Yes vote was the first time I’d been politically active but since then my political priorities have changed a lot; I don’t particularly care what flag I am under or which capital my taxes are going to. I care about the material conditions of me and mine- being a scheme wean, that means working class. It doesn’t mean British or Scottish. While I have come round to the idea that Westminster isn’t fit for function- a centuries-old institution steeped in traditions that don’t have any relevance and packed with more blue bloods than an Oxbridge rugby match – I’m not overly enthusiastic over the SNP’s lack of support for the working class. In the last election, they went as far as taking out opposition to Thatcherite anti-union legislation. A party happy to keep any part of Thatcherite policy is not going to get me to trust that they have working-class folk’s best intentions at heart.