Tory strength in opposition is good for Scottish democracy – Alastair Stewart

Someone needs to hold ruling SNP to account at Holyrood, says Alastair Stewart

Monday, 17th August 2020, 7:30 am
Douglas Ross the new leader of the Scottish Conservative Party (Picture: John Devlin)

There are some in Scotland who’ve turned Tory bashing into a sport. It’s not particularly fruitful, especially as it doesn’t change the fact they’re the second-largest party at Holyrood and Scotland’s de facto opposition.

If the roles were reversed, the SNP opposition would be just as paramount. Scotland absolutely needs an opposition which is stable and credible to make it a realistic alternative to voters. The tension ensures better government. Only in contrast do we find the choice.

Even if you don’t agree with the government or opposition of the day, it’s critical they operate in tandem. A government that has no opposition to scrutinise and criticise it is not healthy. Neither is an opposition that runs roughshod over a government with no real response.

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South of the Border and Keir Starmer’s tenure already feels like a case in point It will take years to restructure and mobilise the Labour Party into a viable electoral alternative to the Conservative Party. Three prime ministers and numerous failures and own goals later, the Conservatives are intact. The Dominic Cummings fiasco should have been an endgame, and yet both he and the government survived.

What made Jeremy Corbyn ineffective is he seemed unwilling or incapable of separating his beliefs from the necessary political point-scoring of opposition.

The role is not just leader of ‘another party’ – it’s the constitutional recourse to hold a government’s feet to the fire. You don’t need to descend into ad hominem attacks, but you need to be memorable, you need to be active and attack with pinpoint accuracy.

Scotland needs the Tories to be useful as a party. After 13 years in power, the SNP themselves might not know when hubris, fatigue and governance blur. A fighting fit Conservative party means that real debates are held on policies while offering genuinely different perspectives and solutions.

Jackson Carlaw’s resignation leaves Douglas Ross with significant work to do before 2021. The party has to mobilise an agenda and capitalise on the talent within. We need political parties both to govern, but more pressingly to criticise the government of the day.

With only 129 MSPs in the Scottish Parliament, these demands are all the more urgent. Every man and woman must do their best. People see the spectacle of FMQs, but if we’re not careful then little else will be obvious but the weekly fight. We need substantial policy consideration. ‘Nationalist’ versus ‘Unionist’ cannot be allowed to be the new stopgap in place of serious policy debates.

It is impossible to imagine an electoral landscape where the Scottish Conservatives collapse as the opposition. We need the benches opposite the government to operate from a position of strength. Without them, we will be dooming ourselves to a one-party state, and that is good for absolutely no one. Labour, the Liberal Democrats and even the Greens are not mandated to work together – it’s the Tories that stand the best bet of delivering an alternative programme.

So at this moment in time, the Scottish Conservatives are the best chance of ensuring the government is held to account. That is good for the parliament, good for the government and good for Scotland. We need Douglas Ross to succeed, if not for your political beliefs then certainly for democracy in Scotland.

Alastair Stewart is a freelance writer and public affairs consultant. Read more from Alastair at www.agjstewart.com and follow him on Twitter @agjstewart