HAVING looked in previous columns at the history of the Scottish National Party and various aspects of the Labour Party’s history in Scotland, it seems only right to dwell upon the history of the Scottish Conservatives.

Before I do, I just have to comment on Richard Leonard and his claim that the current Scottish Labour Party’s manifesto invokes the spirit of Red Clydeside. Fair enough, there is actually some socialism in the manifesto, but the Red Clydesiders also believed in home rule – Maxton, Kirkwood and Wheatley will be birling in their graves.

We know the stance of the current Scottish Conservatives about a second referendum. Refusing to even countenance one is their only real policy and on December 12 we will see how that stance plays out, especially with their biggest electoral asset having now confirmed she is heading out the Holyrood door.

With the Conservative governments of Theresa May and Boris Johnson both using Brexit to attack the devolution settlement, it is worth looking back at the history of Conservatism in Scotland and the first thing that strikes any researcher is the fact that for a long time the word “Conservative” did not appear in the name of the party. Not only that, but in their decades as the Unionist Party, there was a strong streak of what would be seen by some modern psephologists as quasi-nationalism, never better expressed than by The Thirty-Nine Steps novelist and Unionist MP John Buchan: “Every Scotsman should be a Scottish nationalist.” He said that in the House of Commons in 1932, adding: “If it could be proved that a Scottish Parliament were desirable ... Scotsmen should support it.”

So how could a high Tory, later Baron Tweedsmuir, the Governor General of Canada, be a Unionist and yet clearly support a form of home rule? The answer lies in the antecedents of the Scottish Unionist Party which was how the organised Tories called themselves from 1912 to 1965.

Modern politics as we know it began in the Victorian era, with political parties as such not really a feature of Scottish political life prior to that. In the Scottish Parliament prior to the Act of Union, there had been “parties” but in fact they were loose amalgamations usually wielded together by one faction or another or to promote a particular cause.

The Tory party in Westminster formed around 1812, but broke up over various issues and the Whigs remained dominant, bringing in the Reform Act of 1832, which widened the electorate. The Act was to prove transformational and when Robert Peel issued his famous Tamworth Manifesto in 1834 – it is widely regarded as the foundation document of modern Conservatism – a formal organisation began to emerge.

The name Conservative was adopted by Peel’s party and that is why the Conservative Party is recognised as the oldest political party in Britain.

In 1846, the Conservatives split over the issue of the Corn Laws and the followers of Peel broke away to join the Whigs in the new Liberal Party.

In Scotland, the name Tory had been given to the Jacobite followers of the Stuarts and those who had opposed the Act of Union, but the Whigs who came to dominate 19th-century politics in Scotland became the Liberals. With William Ewart Gladstone as their leader for decades, the Liberals held power until the issue of Irish Home Rule divided them.

In 1867, the Scottish National Constitutional Association was formed with Conservative leader Benjamin Disraeli as its patron and in the 1874 election he swept into power, with a surge in Conservative seats in Scotland helping the transformation – it was the first outright Conservative government in 33 years.

By 1882, with ever greater increase in adult suffrage, political associations began to form across the UK and Ireland and the National Union of Conservative Associations of Scotland came into being in that year. Just four years later, the Liberals finally collapsed over Irish home rule and the anti-Gladstone faction, the Liberal Unionists, split away.

Liberal Unionism stood for the Union, the Empire and Protestant ascendancy and was popular in Scotland. The Conservatives and the Liberal Unionists were fighting for the same voters, however, and the emergence of the Labour Party squeezed that vote even more.

There had only ever been one Scottish prime minister who was recognisably a Tory, namely John Stuart, the 3rd Earl of Bute (below), back in the 1760s, but in 1902 a Scottish Conservative entered No 10. Arthur Balfour was born in East Lothian but represented English constituencies, joining his uncle Lord Salisbury’s government before succeeding him as PM. He would later go on to make the famous Balfour Declaration about a homeland for the Jewish people.

The National:

AT UK level, the Liberal Unionist and Conservative parties amalgamated in 1912 under the name the Conservative and Unionist Party, but at that time the Scottish Tories imposed their own piece of devolution. It was thought by them at the time that the word Conservative was divisive and unappealing, and they also wanted to show that defending the Union was their first concern, so the Scottish Unionist Party came into being. Their policies were centre-right and the Unionists took the Conservative whip in Parliament, but by leaving out the word Conservative from their title, they appealed to a broader representation.

It should be noted that in various parts of England, some Conservative associations also retained the name Unionist.

(I also wish to make it clear that the latest Scottish Unionist Party, a minor group of British nationalists, has nothing whatsoever to do with the original Unionist Party.) The merger achieved two things – it made the Unionists the dominant force in Scottish politics for the next 40 years and it eventually made Scotland a two-party state as the Liberal vote eroded.

The low point of the Scottish Unionist Party was probably the defection of former members to create the Scottish Party which eventually joined with the National Party of Scotland to form the Scottish National Party The high point came in 1955 when they won more than 50% of the popular vote – the only time this has happened in post-war Scotland. The SNP came very close in 2015 and who knows what may happen on December 12.

So how did the Unionists do so well? Murdo Fraser MSP has written a reasonably accurate and quite readable account of the history of the Scottish Tories which can be found on their website.

I would have given Fraser much more credence had he mentioned the name Margaret Thatcher – any history of the Scottish Tories that omits her has to be suspicious.

I think he is right, however, in his analysis of the Unionists’ popularity.

He writes: “Crucial to this Unionist success was a policy of what the writer David Torrance describes as ‘nationalist unionism’. The Scottish Unionist MPs in the House of Commons might sit with the English and Welsh Conservatives, but it was accepted that they preserved a distinct identity. The Scotsman reported in 1947 that these Unionist MPs were seen as “standing up for Scotland” and “busy in the assertion of Scottish rights and viewpoints”.

Fraser also gets it right about the Unionists’s appeal to the centre ground of Scottish politics: “Unionist political success was not just built on being seen to stand up for Scottish interests. A second element was the pursuit of an avowedly centrist political platform, explicitly advocating a ‘middle road between two extremes – the extremes of laissez-faire and socialism’ as the party’s 1955 East of Scotland Yearbook put it. It was the Liberal Unionist tradition, rather than the Tory one, which influenced this moderate stance.”

The premiership of Sir Alec Douglas-Home in 1963-64 was the second and last time a Scottish Tory held the top job and he did so while a Unionist. By then, Labour was beginning its surge to become the leading party in Scotland and the Unionists lost seats in three successive elections so that by 1966 they had gone from a high of 36 Scottish seats in 1955 to just 20 in 1966.

Douglas-Home’s successor as Tory leader, Edward Heath, used his personal leadership to persuade the Scottish Unionist party to change its name to the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party in 1965 and he also determined to challenge the rise of the SNP following Winnie Ewing’s by-election victory at Hamilton in 1967.

It is often forgotten that the first of the two major parties in the UK to actually plan for devolution was the Conservative Party.

On May 18, 1968, Heath came to the Scottish party’s conference at Perth and made his famous declaration that the Tories would commit to a Scottish Assembly. Apparently he did not bother to consult too many of the Scottish senior members, but he followed through on his promise, setting up a constitutional committee under Douglas-Home which by 1970 had proposed a 125-member Assembly sitting in Edinburgh.

The Conservative victory that year saw the plan put on the back burners and the Tories paid the price for inaction in 1974 when the second election of that year saw their share of the vote decline to under 25% and the number of seats fell to 16.

Then came Thatcher and the extraordinary situation in which Scotland was led by a prime minister who clearly did not understand this nation’s people, including the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party. Its leaders such as George Younger, Ian Lang and Michael Forsyth were seen as governor generals who aided and abetted Thatcher in her policies – don’t forget the Poll Tax was imposed on Scotland a year earlier than England as an experiment, with Scots as the guinea pigs.

Given the record of Thatcher and Major, it was nevertheless still a surprise when the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party lost all its seats in the 1997 General Election. In the space of 42 years, the Tories had declined from being by far the biggest party in Scotland to a nadir of zero seats in Westminster. They would have only one MP in the following four general elections.

Ironically, it was the advent of the Scottish Parliament which allowed the Conservatives to regroup with leaders like Annabel Goldie. According to Murdo Fraser, there has been a reason for their revival and it wasn’t just Ruth Davidson.

He wrote last year: “Today, there is much in Liberal Unionist tradition which influences Scottish Conservative thinking. Already the party takes distinct policy positions from those of our colleagues down south; for example, on funding free personal care for the elderly, or on free prescriptions. On other issues, such as Europe, or on immigration, the Scottish Conservatives tend to adopt a more liberal tone than some of our English counterparts.”

What a pity, Murdo, that history catches up with you at times. The row over Brexit and the arrival of Boris Johnson has split the Scottish Tories asunder and threatens to send them back to their dreadful days of 1997.

It’s what happens when you forget to stand up for Scotland.