THE 33 per cent of Scottish voters who a week ago were saying they would likely vote Conservative has sunk to 28 per cent, so there is progress in the right direction. This week I’ll try to give the trend some extra traction.

The main reason I left the Scottish Tory party a dozen years ago was that it had become an outfit almost devoid of ideas and if anything hostile to them. The wipe-out in the UK General Election of 1997 still loomed large in its collective mind.

I suppose the reasoning was “if we don’t have any ideas then nobody can hate us for them”. So, as leaders, both David McLetchie and Annabel Goldie studiously avoided all statements of policy unless identical to those issued from London, and inside the party did their best to suppress any novel opinions. Annabel actually closed down the vestige of an internal think-tank that had survived to service the MSPs at Holyrood.

The sole exception to the golden rule of silence was of course the Union, the praises of which were to be sung without ceasing. Fair enough, but at the time even this made little difference. The Labour party formed the Union’s first line of defence simply because it had 50-odd seats at Westminster to the single Tory clinging on there. It took the collapse of Labour before its Unionist mantle could be stolen.

This might also have been a chance for Tories to take wing a bit on policy, but no. I watched Ruth Davidson all the way through her speech to her party’s conference in Glasgow a couple of months ago, and it mentioned not a single policy. She announced two reviews which might eventually lead to some policy, a review of the NHS and a review – indeed, a “root and branch” review – of the Curriculum for Excellence in Scottish schools, which Tories had so far supported. But of actual policy there was no sign: a lot more banging on about the Union, though.

In general, conservatism does lack the single set of doctrines that socialism has, or used to have. But just because it is so loose and pragmatic, conservatism also has stacks of ideas. Let’s look at a few of them.

In general, conservatives favour a diffusion of power from the centre, yet the Tory party of Theresa May, and of her Scottish minions, is rigidly centralist: if Scotland’s interests deviate in any way from England’s, then England’s prevail.

The unspoken principle is at its most blatant in Brexit. For example, the Scottish need of an expanded (and therefore largely immigrant) workforce is ignored because of hostility among English people to workers from overseas. In pursuit of that, the Home Office that May used to run regularly deports from Scotland honest, hard-working, harmless foreigners who run foul of its heartless regulations.

Now her Secretary of State for Brexit, Liam Fox, says these unfortunates might be exploited as bargaining chips. This is what happens under the absolute sovereignty of the Crown-in-Parliament.

Even Donald Trump’s US cannot be so arbitrary. Its constitution entrenches human rights: a fine example came with the president’s travel ban, which was overturned by a federal judge in Oregon (who also happened to be a Republican).

While an anti-centralist outlook entails championing the rights of the individual, it does not exclude communal values. It does prefer, however, that these values should grow up out of the natural communities that emerge in human society rather than being imposed uniformly by the state as part of some rationalist plan. Conservatives prefer the “little platoons”, as their political philosopher Edmund Burke called them, meaning that the citizens of a country, their families and their localities become the building blocks of still wider structures that in the end add up to a nation.

Scotland is a prime example. It is the entity to which most people living here give their prime allegiance (just as the English do to England, the Welsh do to Wales and a good many Ulstermen do to Northern Ireland). I don’t think many of us, when introducing ourselves in some foreign country, would say “I belong to the UK”. The UK overarches us all for the time being, till we think of something better, but it is not an entity that commands much affection or loyalty in itself, in the way a nation does.

While Gordon Brown was Prime Minister he tried to spark off a debate about British values, hoping to bring them into a focus that might strengthen the Union. The debate that followed did nothing more than expose how impossible such a general agreement was, unless it led to definitions so platitudinous as to become meaningless.

For May, Brown’s anguished soul-searching is unnecessary. She defines Britishness in a single dimension.

It is the set of values right for a country intent on hard Brexit: at once xenophobic, intolerant and deluded about the position in the world of an imperial power long in decline. For a taste of it, see the ludicrously stilted conversation set up for her and Davidson last Saturday on the streets of Banchory (

Since I am a libertarian conservative, I also find myself generally quite a long way from May on economic matters. She claims to be in favour of free trade (except with Scotland, for which barriers may be set up at the Border). Yet the EU, the biggest free trade area in the world, is being abandoned because the Europeans will not accept the restrictions she wants to place on it. Similarly, huge markets elsewhere, especially India, have made clear their unwillingness to open up further to British exports while their own emigrants remain subject to strict controls – and vulnerable to local harassment if they do make it here. In the end, the Prime Minister has not much to offer many governments round the globe.

May’s bossy brand of Toryism finally includes a desire to resurrect industrial policy, with an aim of “picking winners” that has long seduced politicians who regard free markets with suspicion. It involves the government choosing to bestow its favours on particular companies and so subsidise them into being more competitive internationally. It is an inherently implausible activity, for which Britain’s own economic history offers an impressive record of failure. Since governments have no independent or reliable information about which corporations will be winners, the concept leads mostly to extravagance and cronyism.

These are only some of the reasons (there are others) why I am stopping my ears to the siren voices seeking to persuade me to return to the Tory fold and vote for May on June 8. It could be said that, despite deep differences, there are also broad areas in which I remain closer to her than to Nicola Sturgeon. That may be true, but then the SNP is a national party which in principle has room for everybody, even those who disagree with much of its official policy, as I do. The Tory party, on the other hand, makes room only for brown noses. I remember as much from my own long years as a member, during which I was told twice from the highest level, by John Major and then by Michael Forsyth, that conformism was expected of me, especially in everything to do with Scotland. For Ruth Davidson, it has been the same with Brexit: first she was against it, then she was for it. I think our paths will continue to diverge.