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Scottish Conservative Party

"Scottish Tories" redirects here; for the pre-1965 Tory political parties, see Unionist Party (Scotland) and Tory (British political party).
Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party
Pàrtaidh Tòraidheachd na h-Alba
Scots Conservative an Unionist Pairty
Leader Ruth Davidson MSP
Chairman Rab Forman MBE, WS
Deputy leader Jackson Carlaw MSP
Founded 1965 (1965)
Headquarters 67 Northumberland Street
Youth wing Conservative Future Scotland
Membership 11,000[1]
Ideology Conservatism
Scottish unionism[2]
Economic liberalism[2]
Political position Centre-right[3]
National affiliation Conservative Party
International affiliation International Democrat Union
European affiliation Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists
European Parliament group European Conservatives and Reformists
Colours Blue
House of Commons (Scottish seats)
1 / 59
Scottish Parliament
15 / 129
European Parliament
1 / 6
Local government in Scotland
111 / 1,223
Politics of Scotland
Political parties

The Scottish Conservatives (Scottish Gaelic: Pàrtaidh Tòraidheachd na h-Alba; Scots: Scots Conservative an Unionist Pairty; officially the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party and informally the Scottish Tories, is a centre-right political party in Scotland.[4] It is part of the United Kingdom Conservative Party and is the third largest in the devolved Scottish Parliament and in Scottish local government. The leader of the Scottish Conservatives is Ruth Davidson MSP, who has held the post since 2011.

The modern Scottish Conservative Party was established in 1965 with the merger of whip in the UK Parliament, with Andrew Bonar Law, then a Unionist and Member of Parliament for Glasgow Central becoming leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister.

Unionists won the most seats in Scotland in the 1955 general election and gained a majority of the Scottish vote - the first time this was achieved by a political party since the introduction of universal suffrage. In the 1959 election, Unionists won the most votes in Scotland, but fewer seats than the Labour Party who went on to dominate Scottish politics for the latter half of the 20th century.

The landslide victory of the UK Labour Party in the 1997 general election saw the Conservatives fail to return any MPs in Scottish constituencies, declining from 12 in 1992. The party has returned a single MP from Scotland in the 2001, 2005, 2010 and 2015 general elections. Since the creation of the Scottish Parliament, Scottish Conservatives have consistently taken third place in its elections and currently control 15 of the 129 seats, with 12 of these seats won through the additional member system. The party has one of the six Scottish seats in the European Parliament. In 2012, the Scottish Conservatives had 11,000 members.[1][6]


  • History 1
    • Merger 1.1
    • The Thatcher-Major years 1.2
    • Devolution and pre-1965 considerations 1.3
    • Following the 2010 General Election 1.4
  • Policies 2
  • Party organisation 3
    • Leader of the Party 3.1
    • Central staff 3.2
  • Scottish Parliament spokespeople 4
  • Electoral performance 5
    • European Parliament Elections 5.1
    • UK General Elections 5.2
    • Scottish Parliament Elections 5.3
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • Further reading 8
  • External links 9



Electoral defeat in the 1959 general election led to the reforms of 1965, which brought an end to the Unionist Party as an independent force. It was renamed the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party and constitutionally came under the control of the UK party. These, and further reforms in 1977, saw the Scottish Conservatives being viewed as a regional unit, with its personnel, finance, and political offices under the control of a leadership in London.

These changes had serious implications for the Conservatives' Scottish identity. Set alongside the end of Empire and the emergence of many independent states it witnessed the rise of the Scottish National Party (SNP) as sections of the old Unionist vote swung to the SNP along with former Labour voters who supported Scottish independence. This may seem paradoxical, but the Unionist Party had benefited greatly from its projection as an independent Scottish party opposing the London-based British Labour Party. In addition the name "Conservative" was identified with the English party; and there was a strong unionist-nationalist tradition, represented by the likes of John Buchan (who said "I believe every Scotsman should be a Scottish nationalist."[7]) and those who had founded the Scottish Party (which later merged with the National Party of Scotland to found the Scottish National Party).

The Thatcher-Major years

The election of Margaret Thatcher in the 1979 general election revived the Party's support and returned more MPs, but this was squandered in the two subsequent elections of 1983 and 1987. These elections witnessed the rise of the SDP-Liberal Alliance, which ate into traditional Unionist Party support, along with increased support for Labour and SNP in 1987.

At the 1987 General Election, the Conservatives had their number of Scottish seats lowered from 21 to 10, their worst performance since before World War I. They lost the seats of Aberdeen South, Angus East, Argyll and Bute, Banff and Buchan, Cunninghame North, Edinburgh Central, Edinburgh South, Fife North East, Moray, Renfrew West and Inverclyde and Strathkelvin and Bearsden.

This anti-Conservative position—reminiscent of the pre-1886 electoral position—has been attributed to Margaret Thatcher's perceived advocacy of American monetarist policies that were leading to the closure of traditional Scottish industries. This was at odds with the past Scottish Unionist position of "service to others and to the community" and was graphically illustrated by the cool reception she received at the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland when she made her "Sermon on the Mound".

By then advocating the introduction of the poll tax a year early in Scotland (where they had minority support) they further exacerbated the image of being anti-Scottish. Ironically the Scottish Conservatives had been amongst the fiercest advocates of introducing the poll tax to replace the system of local government rates.

The replacement of Margaret Thatcher with John Major did see a very small increase in their vote in the 1992 election when they campaigned on a "Save the Union" ticket against a resurgent SNP and took back the Aberdeen South seat. However, the marginality of the increase—the SNP's vote increased substantially but success was limited by First Past The Post—combined with Conservative Party divisions, Black Wednesday, the rise of New Labour, the increased willingness of the electorate to resort to tactical voting and the Conservatives' uncompromising opposition to any form of devolved legislative assembly for Scotland contrived to see the Conservatives lose all of their Scottish seats at the 1997 election. It was the first time in almost 180 years that a centre-right party had been completely shut out in Scotland.

Devolution and pre-1965 considerations

Former logo of the Scottish Conservatives, used until 2006

It was the establishment of a Scottish Parliament, an institution they had opposed vehemently, that gave the Scottish Conservatives a modicum of Parliamentary respectability. However, this was only because of the Parliament's proportional representation electoral system, and the level of national support they received in 1999 and 2003 hardly moved. Nevertheless, they did manage to pick up three constituency seats in 2003, Edinburgh Pentlands, Galloway and Upper Nithsdale and Ayr.

In subsequent Westminster elections, their vote has been equally sluggish or static. In the 2001 election, they won a seat from the SNP, but the sitting MP subsequently lost against Labour in the 2005 election in a redrawn seat (which had a notional Labour majority). However they did gain the Dumfriess-shire, Clydesdale & Tweeddale seat from notional Labour control.

Former logo of the Scottish Conservatives, used from 2006 to 2012

In the 2007 Scottish Parliament elections, the party gained their fourth constituency seat in Roxburgh and Berwickshire. Following a boundary review before the 2011 Scottish parliament election, the Conservatives were given 6 constituency seats which they would have won notionally at the 2007 election: Dumfriesshire, Edinburgh Pentlands, Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire, Galloway and West Dumfries, Eastwood and Ayr. The party would have notionally won 14 seats using AMS, giving them 20 seats, which is three more than they actually won in 2007.

The 1997 wipe out and subsequent lack of movement has resulted in debate about how the party should change to revive its fortunes. Echoing their pre-1965 position, one suggestion has been to drop the name "Conservative". However, the Strathclyde Commission ruled out a return to the "Scottish Unionist Party" name because of sensitivity to Northern Irish sectarian connotations. Besides, this would now be impossible under the new Electoral Commission as the small Scottish Unionist Party is already registered.

The deputy leader of the party, Murdo Fraser MSP, has suggested that the party become independent, like the pre-1965 Unionist Party, and adopt a relationship with the English Conservatives analogous to the relationship which the Christian Social Union in Bavaria has with the Christian Democratic Union in Germany.[8][9] Brian Monteith, an MSP, who has since left the party, proposed that the Scottish Conservatives support fiscal autonomy for Scotland as a means to appear more "Scottish" than the Labour party who oppose it.[10] A resonance with John Buchan was struck when an ex-MP said the party should support Scottish independence because it would produce a clearer and more co-operative relationship with England than what he felt was the latent conflicts and resentments devolution would create. Allan Stewart, former MP for Eastwood, said: "'I've always believed that the English perception of what independence would do to them has always been unnecessarily worried. There is a major issue about defence, but I don't think other issues are a real worry.'" (Herald, 02/05/2005).

However, it remains to be seen if the Scottish Conservatives will return to a model that reflects the previous Unionist Party. Fiscal autonomy has not been rejected but it still remains unclear if the party will adopt it. As for an independent party or independence, the party leadership and Parliamentarians face a membership who have grown into using the name 'Conservative' and take pride in it, despite the decline it heralded. Many members are also ideologically opposed to any notion of Scottish autonomy, whether it be for Scotland or their party, even though this was a feature of the party when it had a larger membership. With such obstacles to overcome, the present party may take the route of hoping for a fillip from new Conservative leader David Cameron, but on the past electoral experiences with Margaret Thatcher and John Major, this has often been followed with poll disasters such as the 1987 and 1997 elections. However, the decline of the Scottish Conservatives has not been constant—in the 1992 General Election, the Scottish Conservatives gained a seat in Scotland to become Scotland's second party, with 11 seats north of the border, and the party is currently second in several Scottish seats that could provide a basis for long-term recovery.

Following the 2010 General Election

In the 2010 UK General Election, David Cameron's Conservatives were the victors and subsequently formed government through a coalition with the Liberal Democrats. In Scotland however, not a single seat was gained by the party, and David Mundell remained the party's only Scottish MP. A committee was then established to analyse the situation, headed by Lord Sanderson, with Lord Forsyth also contributing.

The Sanderson Commission outlined the following recommendations:[11]

  • Elect a Scottish leader to have overall responsibility for the Party’s performance in Scotland.
  • Replace the weak leadership and governance framework with a streamlined, transparent and accountable structure.
  • Create regional campaign centres staffed by campaign professionals.
  • Increase support and resources for the local association network.
  • Develop a clear vision for Scotland, distinct to the Scottish Conservatives.
  • Engage the whole Party and wider Scotland in policy development - and recruit a chief policy adviser.
  • Introduce balloted motions and open debate at Party conference.
  • Overhaul candidate selection and development - and reform the current ranking process for Regional List MSPs.
  • Establish a process to identify and develop future Party leaders.
  • Contest every local government seat throughout Scotland.
  • Launch a new fundraising and membership drive across Scotland.
  • Provide an annual grant to Conservative Future Scotland to help develop the Party’s youth wing.

The commission also stated the need for a leadership election to be held after the Scottish parliamentary election, as no leadership election has thus far been held by the Scottish Conservatives.

In the 2011 Scottish Parliament election, the party campaigned on what it called 'common sense for Scotland', and outlined the requirement for re-introducing university tuition fees and prescription charges, as well as emphasising what the party had helped pass through parliament as a minority force in the last parliament: 1,000 extra police officers, four-year council tax freeze and £60m town regeneration fund.[12] However this proved insufficient, and the party was reduced from 17 seats, to 15, as the SNP won an un-precedented majority of seats. The Conservatives could take comfort in the knowledge that their losses were slight in comparison to those suffered by Labour and the Liberal Democrats; however, Annabel Goldie announced her resignation as party leader soon after the election.

On 4 November 2011, Ruth Davidson was elected as party leader beating original front-runner, Murdo Fraser MSP.

Between 2007 and November 2012, the party logo was a sketched outline of a Banyan (or Indian Fig) Tree - said to trumpet the party's green credentials and modern approach to multiculturalism. During the 2012 Party Conference in Troon, it was announced by Ruth Davidson MSP that the Scottish Conservatives would adopt a new party logo, which was ultimately unveiled on 24 November. Ruth Davidson stated at the launch that "Our new Union Saltire logo is bold, fresh and easy to recognise. Obviously inspired by the St Andrew’s Cross, it is distinctly Scottish but with colours which clearly reflect our pride in the United Kingdom".


The Scottish Conservatives are a centre-right political party, with a commitment to Scotland remaining a part of the United Kingdom. It is autonomous from the Conservative Party across the UK in the creation of policy in devolved areas. In August 2006, the leader of the UK Conservative Party, David Cameron, said that the party should recognise "that the policies of Conservatives in Scotland and Wales will not always be the same as our policies in England" and that the "West Lothian question must be answered from a Unionist perspective".[13]

In certain areas, the party has adopted different policy positions from the UK Conservatives. Following the Sutherland Report in 1999, the party voted with the Scottish Executive in 2002 to introduce free personal care for the elderly funded from general taxation.

Party organisation

The party is governed by a Party Management Board convened the Party Chairman, currently Robert Forman. The Management Board also consists of the party leader, its conference convener, a treasurer and three regional conveners representing the north, east and west of Scotland areas. As of September 2015, these are-

  • Robert Forman, Chairman of the Scottish Conservatives
  • Ruth Davidson MSP, Leader of the Scottish Conservatives
  • Pat McPhee, Conference Convener
  • James Stewart, Treasurer of the Party
  • James Reekie, East of Scotland Regional Convener
  • George Carr, North of Scotland Regional Convener
  • Richard Wilkinson, West of Scotland Regional Convener

The party leader is elected by members on a one-member-one-vote basis, with the chairman appointed by the Scottish leader after consultation with the UK party leader. The Conference convener is a voluntary officer elected by members at the party's annual conference who must have been a former regional convener, and is responsible for chairing the conference and the party's convention.[14]

Leader of the Party

The position of leader of the Scottish Conservatives was created in 2011. Between 1999 and 2011, the position listed below was leader of the Scottish Conservatives in the Scottish Parliament. The new position of Scottish party leader was created following the recommendations of the Sanderson Commission.[15]

No. Image Name Term start Term end
1 David McLetchie 6 May 1999 31 October 2005
2 Annabel Goldie 31 October 2005 4 November 2011
3 Ruth Davidson 4 November 2011 Incumbent

Central staff

The party's registered headquarters is at Scottish Conservative Central Office, 67 Northumberland Street, Edinburgh. Between 2001 and 2010, SCCO was housed in an office on Princes Street.[16] The Scottish Conservatives central staff includes the Director of the Party, currently Mark McInnes, who serves as its chief executive, and three regional campaign managers.

Scottish Parliament spokespeople

The front bench formulates the party's policy on issues devolved to the Scottish Parliament.

Member of the Scottish Parliament Constituency or Region First elected Current Role [17]
Ruth Davidson Glasgow 2011 Leader of the Scottish Conservative Party
Jackson Carlaw West Scotland 2003 Deputy Leader and Health & Wellbeing Spokesman
Alex Fergusson Galloway & West Dumfries 2003 Rural Affairs Spokesperson
Annabel Goldie West Scotland 1999 Constitution Spokesperson
John Lamont Ettrick, Roxburgh & Berwickshire 2007 Chief Whip & Business Manager
Liz Smith Mid Scotland & Fife 2007 Culture, Sport and Young People Spokesperson & MSP Policy Co-ordinator
Gavin Brown Lothian 2007 Finance, Employment and Sustainable Growth Spokesperson
Mary Scanlon Highlands & Islands 1999 Education and Lifelong Learning Spokesperson
Murdo Fraser Mid Scotland & Fife 2001 Enterprise, Energy and Tourism Spokesperson & Chair of EET Committee
Jamie McGrigor Highlands & Islands 1999 Environment, Fishing and External Affairs Spokesperson
Alex Johnstone North East Scotland 1999 Infrastructure, Capital Investment, Housing and Transport Spokesperson
Nanette Milne North East Scotland 2003 Public Health, Sport and Commonwealth Games Spokesman
Cameron Buchanan Lothians 2013 Local Government and Planning Spokesperson
John Scott Ayr 2000 Backbench MSP
Margaret Mitchell Central Scotland 2003 Justice Spokesperson

Electoral performance

European Parliament Elections

Year Share of votes Seats
1979 33.7%
5 / 8
1984 25.8%
2 / 8
1989 20.9%
0 / 8
1994 14.5%
0 / 8
1999 19.8%
2 / 8
2004 17.8%
2 / 7
2009 16.8%
1 / 6
2014 17.2%
1 / 6

UK General Elections

Blue indicates the seat won by the Conservatives at the 2015 General Election.
Year Share of votes Seats
32 / 45
33 / 45
23 / 45
1832 21.0%
10 / 53
1835 37.2%
15 / 53
1837 46.0%
20 / 53
1841 38.3%
20 / 53
1847 18.3%
20 / 53
1852 27.4%
20 / 53
1857 15.2%
14 / 53
1859 33.6%
13 / 53
1865 14.6%
11 / 53
1868 17.5%
7 / 60
1874 31.6%
20 / 60
1880 29.9%
8 / 60
1885 34.3%
10 / 72
1886 46.4%
29 / 72
1892 44.4%
21 / 72
1895 47.4%
33 / 72
1900 49.0%
38 / 72
1906 38.2%
12 / 72
1910 (January) 39.6%
11 / 72
1910 (December) 42.6%
12 / 72
1918 32.8%
32 / 74
1922 25.1%
15 / 74
1923 31.6%
16 / 74
1924 40.7%
38 / 74
1929 35.9%
22 / 74
1931 54.4%
50 / 74
1935 48.7%
35 / 72
1945 41.8%
30 / 72
1950 44.8%
31 / 70
1951 48.6%
35 / 72
1955 50.1%
36 / 72
1959 47.3%
31 / 72
1964 40.6%
24 / 72
1966 37.7%
20 / 72
1970 38.0%
23 / 72
1974 (Feb) 32.9%
21 / 72
1974 (Oct) 24.7%
16 / 72
1979 31.4%
22 / 72
1983 28.4%
21 / 72
1987 24.0%
10 / 72
1992 25.8%
11 / 72
1997 17.5%
0 / 72
2001 15.6%
1 / 72
2005 15.8%
1 / 59
2010 16.7%
1 / 59
2015 14.9%
1 / 59

Scottish Parliament Elections

Blue indicates constituency seats won by the Conservatives in the 2011 Scottish Parliament Election.
Year Share of votes (constituency) Share of votes (list) Seats
1999 15.6% 15.3%
18 / 129
2003 16.6% 15.5%
18 / 129
2007 16.6% 13.9%
17 / 129
2011 13.9% 12.4%
15 / 129

See also


  1. ^ a b Ruth Davidson, 2012 Scottish Conservative Conference Address
  2. ^ a b "Parties and Elections in Scotland". Retrieved 10 May 2015. 
  3. ^; International Business Publications, USA (1 January 2012). Scotland Business Law Handbook: Strategic Information and Laws. Int'l Business Publications. pp. 29–.  
  4. ^
  5. ^ "... a waning of the cultural conditions which produced the centre-right coalition that dominated Scottish politics, 1931–64, and its fragmentation into Conservatism, Liberalism, and Scottish Nationalism.", Abstract of "The Evolution of the Centre-right and the State of Scottish Conservatism", Michael Dyer, University of Aberdeen, Political Studies, Volume 49, March 2001
  6. ^ Cochrane, Alan (6 September 2011). "To lead the Scottish Tories, Murdo Fraser needs a leap of the faithful". The Daily Telegraph (London). 
  7. ^ 'Scots Independent'' — Features — Scottish quotations"'". Retrieved 27 April 2010. 
  8. ^ Garnett, Mark; Phillip Lynch (2003). The Conservatives in Crisis The Tories After 1997. Manchester: Manchester University Press. p. 168. 
  9. ^ Sunday Herald
  10. ^ Sunday Herald
  11. ^ BBC News (PDF) 
  12. ^
  13. ^ "'Revolutionary' Cameron offers party in Scotland autonomy over policies", The Scotsman, 17 August 2006
  14. ^ Commission, p. 19
  15. ^ Commission report, p. 15
  16. ^
  17. ^ . Scottish Conservatives MSPs MSPs . Retrieved 29 August 2011. 

Further reading

  • The Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party: ‘the lesser spotted Tory’? (PDF file), Dr David Seawright, School of Politics and International Studies, University of Leeds, Paper presented at the Annual Conference of the Political Studies Association, University of Aberdeen, 5–7 April 2002
  • The Decline of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party 1950–1992: Religion, Ideology or Economics?, David Seawright and John Curtice, Centre for Research into Elections and Social Trends, University of Oxford, Working Paper Number 33, February 1995
  • Smith, Alexander Thomas T. 2011 Devolution and the Scottish Conservatives: banal activism, electioneering and the politics of irrelevance Manchester: Manchester University Press

External links

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