Who are the Tartan Tories?
It's been called the "me-too" election. The Scottish media is full of the widely-repeated wisdom that three of the four main parties contesting the imminent Holyrood general election (the other one being the Tories, who nobody votes for in Scotland anyway) have triangulated/stolen each other's policies to such an extent that there's almost nothing left to choose between them on ideology, and the election is now basically a personality contest.
(Which is tough on at least two of the parties, since their leaders in Scotland have no detectable personalities.)
But is it true?
Labour politicians and activists are fond of labelling the SNP with the tag "Tartan Tories". This is because Labour's primary strategy in most Scottish elections (whether for Westminster or Holyrood) is to paint themselves as the ideological opposite of the Conservatives, and therefore Scotland's best protection against them. It's a message that plays well in Labour's heartlands in and around Glasgow, because the Scottish electorate still has a visceral hatred of the Tories – especially if it's framed around memories of Margaret Thatcher, who is a figure of near-mythical dread and evil in Scotland even though more than 20 years have passed since she last held political office.
But even Labour's most fervent supporters in the media are now growing tired of the party's attempts to keep fighting decades-old battles, amid signs that the Scottish voters want Scottish elections to decide what happens in Scotland, rather than have them be used as an ineffectual stick to beat the Westminster coalition with.
(Labour began 2011 with a 15-point lead in the polls and Ladbrokes listing them at 1/12 to form the incoming Scottish Government, but the SNP's positive and Scottish-focused campaign has been largely credited as the reason for the Nationalists swallowing up that lead in barely a month and now being significantly ahead in both sections of the vote.)
Despite all the coverage about the SNP and Labour having near-identical policies (after the latter experienced sudden road-to-Damascus U-turns on long-standing policies about freezing the council tax and university funding), though, nobody seems to have done any actual research on whether it's true or not – and if it isn't, who's actually closest to who.
As ever, then, it was left to WoSblog to discover the reality. The independent organisation Scottish Vote Compass has on its website one of those handy polls where you can enter your own personal views on a range of issues and it'll tell you which party most closely mirrors your opinions overall. The interesting thing, though, is that it provides the data on which that judgement is made – ie, it lists the answers of the various parties to all the questions.
So what would happen, I wondered, if I entered each party's answers into the questionnaire? The results were quite enlightening.
(Before we start, it's worth noting an odd quirk of the questionnaire, namely that none of the parties are shown as 100% in agreement with their own listed policy positions. It looks like that's a result of the policies that are shared with others "diluting" the effect to varying degrees – the Conservatives and Greens are the outliers on the political spectrum in Scotland, so they "compromise" the least in terms of common ground with the others, and therefore get higher marks for self-agreement.)
Scottish National Party
(Click all images to enlarge.)
The SNP, WoSblog viewers won't be all that surprised to note, are most similar to the Greens, and also fairly close to the Lib Dems, which is no shock as both of those parties are broadly social-democratic and left-of-centre. But in direct contradiction of the media line, they rank as a 0% match for Labour (the policies they do agree on being cancelled out by the ones they don't), and are most strongly at odds with the Tories.
Feed Labour's answers into the poll and you discover that for all the party's anti-Tory rhetoric, they're the only party in Scotland who score a net positive match with the Conservatives, at a sizeable 15%. Labour's ideological nemesis is not David Cameron, but the Greens. In line with the SNP result, Labour's policies show just 1% alignment with the Nationalists.
Sure enough, the numbers generated by entering the Tory manifesto policies into the questionnaire shows that by far their closest political bedfellows in Scotland are Labour (a 16% positive match), they have a neutral relationship with their Westminster coalition partners the Lib Dems, and they're at the opposite end of the spectrum to the SNP and Greens.
The Lib Dem results back up the others – they're closest to the SNP and the Greens, neutral with the Tories and Labour.
And finally, running the Green manifesto through the machine confirms the other results – they're most aligned with the SNP, fairly amenable to the Lib Dems, mostly in conflict with Labour and violently at odds with the Tories.
In short, then? Don't believe the hype. Contrary to the impression being portrayed in the media, the Scottish election offers voters a real ideological choice – Labour and the Tories on one side, the SNP and the Greens on the other, and the Lib Dems desperately trying to shake off the baggage of the London coalition to join the latter's broad-church left-of-centre team.
As for the matter of who the real "Tartan Tories" are, the numbers seem to speak fairly clearly for themselves.