When I joined the Conservative Party in 2012, at the youthful age of 17, the political environment in my homeland of Scotland was very different. It was seen to be rare to find Conservative voters around Scotland, particularly in my hometown of Dundee and even more rare to find a young Conservative.
I had been an admirer of David Cameron and the party’s message since the 2010 general election, as well as being a huge admirer of Margaret Thatcher, her policies and her legacy. Despite this, I didn’t join the party until 2012, for a number of reasons. The main reason was that I felt alone in my city. I feared the thought that I may be the only member in my area. I didn’t want to join the party and be unable to dedicate my time to the message that I felt so passionately about.
It was not until my parents received a leaflet through the door from our local Conservative Councillor that I made the decision to join. My wonderfully supportive parents encouraged me to join the party and help campaign during the Scottish local elections. Sadly, we didn’t fare well at this time. The Scottish Conservatives lost a total of 28 Councillors across Scotland, with a swing against us of 2.35%.
The Scottish National Party took control of two council that previously had no overall control, including Dundee. The tone was a little bit hopeless, particularly as my good friend and local Conservative Councillor lost his seat. We were all rather devastated.
To set the scene of the atmosphere a young Conservative would face at this time, I attended the cross- party launch of Better Together – the pro-United Kingdom group during the independence referendum – in Dundee and I was the only Conservative in Dundee who could attend on the day.
I was welcomed warmly by the Labour and Liberal Democrat campaigners, but when I read the local newspaper the next day, I was shocked to read rather condescending remarks about a young Conservative attending a cross-party political campaigning session in the centre of Dundee. I was described as “crawling out of the woodwork” which was not exactly the sort of language a seventeen year old political activist would like to hear of themselves.
I had blind faith that the Independence referendum would heal the country and once it was over we could all move on with our lives. Unfortunately, this was not the case.
Communities, friendships and families have been left broken and divided over the independence question. It often feels like I am no longer living in the Scotland I grew up in. However, this is where things have drastically changed for the Scottish Conservatives.
The 2016 Scottish Parliament election result parachuted the party from a distant third in 2011 to into becoming the official opposition. The party gained a shocking 16 seats, our constituency vote increased from 276,652 votes in 2011 to 501,844 (an 8.1% increase), and our regional vote increased from 245,967 votes in 2011 to 524,222 (a 10.6% increase). Our leader, the magnificent Ruth Davidson, even gained her Edinburgh Central constituency seat from the SNP with a 15.4% swing, giving her a 30.4% share of the vote! It was simply electrifying to watch.
So, why the sudden change in fortunes? A combination of things, I would say the Conservative’s record in government down in Westminster, the fabulous leadership of Ruth Davidson, our hardworking Conservative Councillors across Scotland, as well as hardworking MSPs and MPs, and perhaps most importantly, the seemingly never-ending threat of another independence referendum.
It tends to feel like every few weeks, we hear First Minister Nicola Sturgeon drag up the possibility of another referendum. In reality, this is dangling carrots to her increasingly disillusioned supporters. However, these threats induce anxiety and stress in many Unionist voters. When we voted in 2014, the result was decisive and most just want to move on and heal the wounds. It was meant to be a once in a generation vote. This is where Ruth and her top team of terrific Tories step in.
The Scottish local government elections came around just a year later and we out performed all expectations. We gained 164 seats, receiving 25.3% of first preference votes, and most importantly in my opinion, we have our wonderful Conservative Councillor back in my local ward. It was glorious.
Strangely, while things didn’t go too well elsewhere in the United Kingdom during the 2017 general election, the blue wave continued up in Scotland. We gained 12 new seats, going from 1 Conservative MP in Scotland to 13. I’m sure David Mundell was very pleased to have some Scottish Conservative friends with him now!
It is an extraordinary achievement, and we are certainly gaining ground in formerly SNP strongholds. Even in Dundee, our fantastic candidates in Dundee East and Dundee West increased their vote share beyond anything we could’ve imagined. In Dundee East we went from 7,206 votes and 15% of the vote in 2015, to 11,746 votes and 27.4% vote in 2017, launching us into second place!
Stewart Hosie, the SNP MP for Dundee East has gone from a 19,161 majority to 6,645 majority. This places the Scottish Conservatives in a situation I doubt many would have ever imagined.
We must now fight to govern Scotland.
The main differences from when I first joined in 2012 are now simple to see.
People who were normally ‘shy’ Tories are not so shy anymore.
People who were disinterested in politics until the independence referendum are now fighting for unionism and turning to the Scottish Conservatives to do so.
People who believe Corbyn’s Labour is a real threat to our personal liberty and our country, are now turning to Ruth’s Tories.
People who are tired of the SNP’s grievance politics are turning to us.
We have gone from a small group of dedicated, but shy, Conservatives to very loud, extremely proud and determined to fight for the party, our union, and our country.