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 Party
Leader Ruth Davidson MSP
Chairman Rab Forman MBE, WS
Deputy leader Jackson Carlaw MSP
Founded 1965 (1965)
Headquarters 67 Northumberland Street
Edinburgh, UK
Youth wing Conservative Future Scotland
Membership  (2012) 11,000 [1]
Ideology Conservatism
British unionism[2]
Economic liberalism[2]
Soft Euroscepticism
Political position Centre-right[3][4]
National affiliation Conservative Party
European affiliation Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists
International affiliation International Democrat Union
European Parliament group European Conservatives and Reformists
Colours Blue
House of Commons (Scottish seats)
1 / 59
Scottish Parliament
31 / 129
European Parliament (Scottish seats)
1 / 6
Local government in Scotland
111 / 1,223

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 the section of the British Conservative Party that operates in Scotland. It describes itself as a centre-right political party.[5] It is the second largest party in the devolved Scottish Parliament[6] and the third largest 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 the Unionist Party into the Conservative Party of England and Wales. The Unionist Party, as with the Conservative and Unionist Party in England and Wales, was formed in 1912 by the merger of the Conservatives and Liberal Unionists, and existed as the dominant force in Scottish politics from the 1930s to the late 1950s.[7] While organising itself as a separate party in Scotland, Unionists took the Conservative 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, Unionist candidates won the most votes as a sum total in Scotland though not a majority of seats due to First Past the Post electoral system; since then the Labour Party went on to dominate Scottish politics for the remainder of the 20th century.

The 1997 general election saw the Conservatives fail to return any MPs in Scottish constituencies only achieving a national poll of 17.5%, falling sharply from 12 MPs with a poll of 25.6% 5 years prior. The party has returned a single MP from Scotland in the 2001, 2005, 2010 and 2015 Westminster elections. After the creation of the Scottish Parliament in 1999, Scottish Conservatives consistently took third place in its elections, although the party became the second largest in the Scottish Parliament in 2016. They currently control 31 of the 129 seats, with 24 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][8] As of May 2016, the party is the second largest in the Scottish Parliament following a gain of 16 seats in the Holyrood Elections.[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."[10]) 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 electoral success in Scotland 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 vote, 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. Although the party received no constituency seats in the first Scottish Parliament election in 1999, they were able to gain the marginal Ayr constituency from the Labour Party following a by-election in 2000. Following their by-election victory, the Conservatives managed 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 and static. In the 2001 UK general election, the Scottish Conservatives gained the Galloway and Upper Nithsdale seat from the SNP and narrowly missed out on gaining a second seat in Perth, where Conservative candidate Liz Smith polled behind the SNP by just 48 votes. With a rearrangement of parliamentary constituencies in 2005 the sitting Conservative MP in Galloway and Upper Nithsdale subsequently lost against Labour in the 2005 election in a redrawn seat (which had a notional Labour majority). However the party did gain the Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale seat from notional Labour control in 2005.

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.[11][12] 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.[13] 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

Sanderson Commission

In the 2010 UK General Election, David Cameron's Conservatives 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:[14]

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.

2011 Scottish Parliament election

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.[15] 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 party lost the Edinburgh Pentlands constituency to the SNP, seeing notional loses in Eastwood and Dumfriesshire to Labour. 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".

2015 UK general election

The Conservatives made little advance at the 2015 UK general election compared to 2010, with Scotland's sole Conservative MP David Mundell holding onto his Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale constituency with a reduced majority of just 798 votes ahead of the SNP's Emma Harper. The Conservatives made no seat gains at the election in Scotland, with Conservative targets such as Argyll and Bute; West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine and Angus being won by the Scottish National Party with an increased majority compared to 2010. In spite of this, the Conservatives narrowly missed out on having 2 MP's elected in Scotland, missing out in the Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk constituency by only 328 votes behind the SNP's Calum Kerr: this was the most marginal result in Scotland and the eighth most marginal result in the United Kingdom.

2016 Scottish Parliament election

At the 2016 Scottish Parliament election the Scottish Conservative campaign focused on providing strong opposition to the SNP government in Scotland, unequivocally opposing calls for a second referendum on Scottish independence. The party manifesto focused on freezing business tax rates to promote economic growth and greater employment opportunities; investing in mental health treatment over the course next parliament; a commitment to building 100,000 affordable homes within 5 years and a re-introduction of the Right to Buy scheme in Scotland.[16] The Scottish Conservatives were the only major party in Scotland to oppose higher taxes to the rest of the United Kingdom during the campaign as tax reductions came in force across the rest of the UK which were opposed by the SNP, Labour and Liberal Democrats.[17]

At the election the party saw major gains, particularly on the regional list vote. The Conservatives doubled their representation in the Scottish Parliament by taking 31 seats (compared to just 15 in 2011), making them the leading opposition party in the Scottish Parliament ahead of Scottish Labour. On the constituency element of the vote the Conservatives held onto their three first past the post constituency seats (Ayr; Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire and Galloway and West Dumfries), making gains in Aberdeenshire West; Dumfriesshire; Eastwood and Edinburgh Central, where party leader Ruth Davidson stood for election. This marked the party's best electoral performance in Scotland since the 1992 UK general election.


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".[18]

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, conference convener, secretary, treasurer and three regional conveners representing the north, east and west of Scotland areas. As of June 2016, these are-

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.[19]

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.[20]

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.[21] 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[22]
Ruth Davidson Edinburgh Central 2011 Leader of the Scottish Conservative Party
Jackson Carlaw Eastwood 2007 Deputy Leader and shadow cabinet secretary for culture, tourism and external affairs
John Lamont Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire 2007 Chief Whip
Murdo Fraser Mid Scotland and Fife2001 Shadow cabinet secretary for finance
Dean Lockhart Mid Scotland and Fife 2016 Shadow cabinet secretary for economy, jobs and fair work
Donald Cameron Highlands and Islands 2016 Shadow cabinet secretary for health and sport
Liz Smith Mid Scotland and Fife 2007 Shadow cabinet secretary for education and skills
Adam Tomkins Glasgow 2016 Shadow cabinet secretary for communities, social security, the constitution and equalities
Douglas Ross Highlands and Islands 2016 Shadow cabinet secretary for justice
Peter Chapman North East Scotland 2016 Shadow cabinet secretary for rural economy and connectivity
Maurice Golden West Scotland 2016 Shadow cabinet secretary for the environment, climate change and land reform

Electoral performance

District Council Elections

Year Share of votes Councillors
1974 26.8%
241 / 1,110
1977 27.2%
259 / 1,107
1980 24.1%
232 / 1,182
1984 21.4
189 / 1,182
1988 19.4
162 / 1,182
1992 23.2
204 / 1,158

Regional Council Elections

Year Share of votes Councillors
1974 28.6%
112 / 432
1978 30.3%
121 / 432
1982 25.1%
119 / 441
1986 16.9%
65 / 524
1990 19.2%
52 / 524
1994 19.2%
31 / 453

Local Council Elections

Blue indicates council areas where the Conservatives were the largest party at the 2012 Scottish Local Council Elections.
Year Share of votes Councillors
1995 11.5%
82 / 1,155
1999 13.5%
108 / 1,222
2003 15.1%
122 / 1,222
2007 15.6% (first preference)
143 / 1,222
2012 13.3% (first preference)
115 / 1,222

European Parliament Elections

Blue indicates council areas where the Conservatives were the largest party at the 2014 European Parliament Election.
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 seats won by the Conservatives in the 2016 Scottish Parliament Election.
Year Share of votes (constituency) Share of votes (list) Seats Position Outcome
1999 15.6% 15.3%
18 / 129
3rd Opposition
2003 16.6% 15.5%
18 / 129
(including 3 First Past the Post seats)
3rd Opposition
2007 16.6% 13.9%
17 / 129
(including 4 First Past the Post seats)
3rd Opposition
2011 13.9% 12.4%
15 / 129
(including 3 First Past the Post seats)
3rd Opposition
2016 22.0% 22.9%
31 / 129
(including 7 First Past the Post seats)
2nd Opposition

See also


  1. 1 2 Ruth Davidson, 2012 Scottish Conservative Conference Address
  2. 1 2 "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–. ISBN 978-1-4387-7095-6.
  4. Eve Hepburn (2010). Using Europe: Territorial Party Strategies in a Multi-level System. Oxford University Press. p. 228. ISBN 978-0-7190-8138-5.
  5. Marc - "What we stand for". Scottish Conservatives. Retrieved 2016-07-01.
  6. "Scottish Parliament election 2016 - BBC News". Retrieved 2016-05-06.
  7. "... 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
  8. Cochrane, Alan (6 September 2011). "To lead the Scottish Tories, Murdo Fraser needs a leap of the faithful". The Daily Telegraph. London.
  9. "Scottish Parliament election 2016 results". BBC News. Retrieved 2016-05-06.
  10. "''Scots Independent'' — Features — Scottish quotations". Archived from the original on 7 November 2010. Retrieved 27 April 2010.
  11. Garnett, Mark; Phillip Lynch (2003). The Conservatives in Crisis The Tories After 1997. Manchester: Manchester University Press. p. 168.
  12. Sunday Herald
  13. Sunday Herald Archived 11 November 2004 at the Wayback Machine.
  14. BBC News (PDF) Missing or empty |title= (help)
  15. "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 19 July 2011. Retrieved 13 August 2011.
  16. 'Holyrood 2016: Scottish Conservative manifesto at-a-glance'
  17. 'Budget 2016: Higher rate tax cut is 'wrong choice', says Nicola Sturgeon'
  18. "'Revolutionary' Cameron offers party in Scotland autonomy over policies", The Scotsman, 17 August 2006
  19. Sanderson Commission, p. 19
  20. Sanderson Commission report, p. 15
  21. Hello (2010-05-11). "General Election 2010: Scots Tories lose plush Capital office". The Scotsman. Retrieved 2016-07-01.
  22. "Ruth unveils shadow cabinet". Scottish Conservatives. Retrieved 19 May 2016.

Further reading

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