The decline of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party 1950-1992
The decline of the Conservative party in Scotland has been nothing short of dramatic. In 1955 the party secured a half of the Scottish vote. At the last two elections - 1987 and 1992 - it won no more than a quarter. In contrast over the same period the party in England has more or less held its own. The decline of the party has also put a growing strain on the union between England and Scotland. The Conservative party has been able to run Scotland since 1979 thanks to the party's relative success south of the border. Inevitably the democratic legitimacy of such a state of affairs has been called into question. But despite its importance relatively little is known about why the Conservative party has declined so precipitously in Scotland. Many of the explanations for the party's decline have largely remained untested. These include that the party has lost its Protestant base, suffered for its opposition to devolution and become too right wing for a normally progressive Scottish electorate. Using a unique collection of survey data, doubt is cast on all three claims. Instead it is suggested the party has suffered from a leftward drift amongst the Scots electorate. Moreover, the desire of the party elite to rid itself of a putative sectarian image led to what may be termed, the throwing out of the baby with the bathwater. A crucial aspect of Scottish Unionism was an ability to appeal to powerful symbols in Scottish culture which gave the party a Scottish identity irrespective of its stance on devolution. And equally crucial has been the economic experience of Scots over the last forty years.