I furtively slink into the confession booth to offload my sins, nervously looking around me in the hope that I’m not spotted by one of my peers. The purifying light beaming through the stain glass window, illuminating the chapel and giving me nowhere to hide anymore as I scuttle in.
As I wait in the booth, squinting through the thick latticework the Priest arrives. ‘What troubles you?’, he says to me. ‘Well, I have sinned, at least in the eyes of the Scottish nationalists, left wingers, environmentalists and my demographic cohort; since the 2015 Scottish Parliamentary election I have voted for the Conservative Party.’ ‘I see’, says the Priest, perhaps pondering how I can be absolved of such a heinous sin.
The Priest replies: ‘I have been on Facebook. How could you do such a thing? They’re killing babies. Foxes. Service men are on the Street. The NHS is in crisis. Privatisation. How could you vote for the “Nasty Party.”’
‘But, but’, I stammer, unable to defend myself and getting increasingly flustered.
You see, I ‘am one of the ‘Shy Tories’ that the media likes to talk about and that provided the Conservatives with a very slim parliamentary majority in 2015 and may well do so again this year as well, although I’m a fairly recent convert. I don’t agree with the party on all issues, and this is normal. I find the idea of fox hunting abhorrent, although, I have it on good authority that the idea of it being the preserve of upper class ‘toffs’ is a massive misconception. Do I like the rise of Foodbanks? Of course not. But I believe most issues are more complicated than they initially appear. Do I think that the state should provide essential services? Absolutely, yes, but I think what is considered as ‘essential’ now isn’t really essential.
I, like the majority of us, are far more ideologically and culturally complicated than putting a label over our head with ‘Conservative’, ‘Labour’, ‘SNP’, or ‘UKIP’ belies. I’m a Conservative voter who hasn’t eaten meat in ten years. I have been on the minimum wage. I voted ‘remain’ in the EU referendum. The first time I could vote for the Scottish parliament, I voted for the Scottish Socialists (They had an image of a pizza, divided into segments, with how much everyone would get. I was young at the time). What I’m saying is, that perhaps we choose a political party that is the best, imperfect fit for our multifaceted views.
However, in Scotland in particular, there is a unique brand of hatred for the Conservatives. Many people who lived through the 1980’s and the collapse of heavy industry would find the idea of voting Conservative anathema. Areas such Dundee or communities that were reliant on coal mines never really recovered from the events of the 1980s.
And you know what, I don’t blame them for hating the Conservatives. Indeed, I had first-hand experience of this in 2014, when I went out canvassing with the ‘No’ campaign and was told by a rather irate gentleman, ‘you lot can fuck off, I remember Thatcher.’ And herein lies the issue; I don’t remember.
I have no memory of the Thatcher years. She was into her second term before I was born, having just won another election in 1983. My first political memory was the election of New Labour under Tony Blair accompanied by D Ream singing, ‘things only get better.’ The next decade was an excitingly fresh and stable time. Cool Britannia, the Sony PlayStation, ‘Brit-pop’ all helped along by the untold promises of a new millennium.
The Queens’ reaction to the party in the Millennium Dome on New Years Eve 1999, where she ungainly and gloomily held Tony Blair’s hand, while looking into the middle-distance, can now be viewed as a harbinger of ill omen for events still seven years in the future. All good times come to an end, and the events of 2007/8 were a spectacular end. After non-stop, although variable, economic growth from late 1992 through to early 2008 the economy came crashing down into the worst crisis since 1929. There was the first run on a British bank in 150 years in 2007, in which its customers discovered that Northern Rock was neither Northern, being affected by the crisis in the sub-prime mortgages in the US and certainly no rock either.
This event was my miners’ strike, dole queue and 1980s experience all bundled into one fabulous and generational experience. This was the economic and social event of my life, and it hit me and my generation at the worst possible time. The same month I submitted my dissertation the unemployment rate in the UK had went up to 2.1 million.
But the difference was that it happened under a Labour government at Westminster and an SNP one at Holyrood. The Conservatives were in opposition at the former and were the third party in the latter. You could perhaps go back and blame them somehow, but from where I was sitting in 2008/09, it seemed like a tall order to do this. The now infamous ‘There’s no money left’ note, left by a former Labour Treasury Minster encapsulated this sense of profligate spending for me and I was left with the impression at the time that the sitting government must bear some responsibility for this.
Like the people who would not vote Tory in Scotland because of their experiences in the 1980s, I was being influenced and still am, by historical events that I have lived through. I have no seething hatred of Labour or another political party, but the events of the ‘Great Recession’ have probably caused more cultural and economic damage than the spate of deregulation and de-industrialisation in the 1980s and early 1990s, at least to my generation anyway. It will certainly impact the rest of my life until I shuffle off the top of the population pyramid.
Like I said earlier, I don’t believe in everything the Conservative party does. However, there is realism to conservatism that appeals to me. I suppose it’s the general sense of direction that I like. Brexit notwithstanding, in Scotland they seem to be offering the only genuine opposition to a second Scottish independence referendum with #teamruth leading the way. Labour seem to be confused on the issue and are unfortunately haemorrhaging support to the centre-left SNP on one side and from anyone who considers them self a British unionist on the other.
They are also the only party who feature the British flag anymore as if in these post-modern, post-imperial times, wanting to have a sense of place and culture in the world is a bad thing, but only if you’re British. They seem to believe in the unitary state of the United Kingdom existing as an entity. Again, I’m okay with this. In the ideological debate between those that feel they want to live somewhere and those that believe they can live anywhere, I’m with the former.
Not all government cuts can be defended. But I don’t think that higher taxation is going to solve anything anymore either. Throwing money at issues is getting diminishing societal returns, and I’m no longer sure if the state should be providing everyone with paracetamol for their sore head or talcum powder for their new-born baby as they currently do in Scotland.
Funding for the NHS went from 2.9% of GDP in 1953/4 to 8.2% of GDP in 2010/11. Will it be around 20% by 2040? At what point does it become unsustainable to current and future generations? Perhaps it won’t. Twenty years ago the NHS was in ‘crisis’ and in twenty years’ time it will still be in ‘crisis’. It appears to be in perpetual crisis, but it always seems to function, albeit slower than we would like. Frankly, I don’t know, but in general, things can’t keep on growing indefinitely.
I can assure you it takes more than money as well. You need to genuinely change a culture and foster an atmosphere of individual responsibility and initiative in people. The only party that seems to mention responsibility is the Conservatives now, who have the word 11 times in their 2017 manifesto compared with 7 for Labour. A very crude measure, but as I say, much of this is just general feeling from the different parties.
Budgets never decrease. Every government scheme grows exponentially and requires additional funding from the taxpayer. Nothing is ever actually ‘free’ it’s either pushed up to higher earners and corporations or horizontally to people on the same socio-economic ladder as yourself. Or the government can borrow more. Again, the only party that acknowledges this is the Conservatives, but it’s important to remember this whoever you want to vote for. As the adage goes, ‘There’s no such thing as a free lunch’.
Also, on a cultural level constantly seeing messages on social media about ‘Toxic Tories’ or ‘nasty Tories’ starts to rankle and get a bit tedious after a while. Watching conservative activists get followed about by someone in a car is also a surreal thing to witness, but welcome to Sturgeons Scotland. It almost makes me want to vote for the Conservative party just to annoy people who can’t accept that other people have different viewpoints and experiences that might lead them to different conclusions.
Theresa May’s oft-repeated mantra of ‘strong and stable’ has now been run into the ground. However, I would like to add that it should be: ‘Strong, stable and most likely to leave you alone to live your life.” It’s not quite as catchy as a campaign slogan though.
This is just the general feeling that I get. A party that believes that spending can’t keep increasing, that you should at least take some responsibility for your own actions and that believes in the UK. I’m certainly no ‘don’t tread on me’ libertarian nor am I a statist, but something in between, where I believe the Conservatives are.
You do you. Vote for who you want. A plurality of opinion is a good thing. One more thing, thanks for listening to me Father…