Unionist Party (Scotland)

The Unionist Party was the main centre-right political party in Scotland between 1912 and 1965.[1]

Independent from, although associated with, the Conservative and Unionist Party in England and Wales, it stood for election at different periods of its history in alliance with a small number of Liberal Unionist and National Liberal candidates. Those who became members of parliament (MPs) would take the Conservative Whip at Westminster as the Ulster Unionists did until 1972. At Westminster, the differences between the Scottish Unionist and the English party could appear blurred or non-existent to the external casual observer, especially as many Scottish MPs were prominent in the parliamentary Conservative Party, such as party leaders Andrew Bonar Law (1911–1921 and 1922–1923) and Sir Alec Douglas-Home (1963–1965), both of whom served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

The party traditionally did not stand at local government level but instead supported and assisted the Progressive Party in its campaigns against the Labour Party. This relationship ended when the Conservatives started fielding their own candidates, who stood against both Labour and the Progressives.

Unionist Party
Founded1912
Dissolved1965
Preceded byConservative Party
Liberal Unionist Party
Merged intoScottish Conservatives
IdeologyConservatism
British unionism
British imperialism
Scottish regionalism
Political positionCentre-right

Origins

The origins of the Scottish Unionist Party lie in the 1886 split of the British Liberal Party with the emergence of the Liberal Unionists under Joseph Chamberlain. The Union in question was the 1800 Irish Union, not that of 1707. Prior to this, the only Tory/Conservative party in Scotland was the official Conservative Party, which had never achieved parity with the dominant Whig and Scottish Liberal Party ascendancy since the election reforms of 1832. The new Liberal Unionists quickly agreed to an electoral pact with the Conservative Party in Britain, and in Scotland this pact overcame the former electoral dominance of the Scottish Liberals.

After the official 1912 merger of Liberal Unionists and Conservatives in Britain as the Conservative and Unionist Party, the Scottish Unionist Party emerged as effectively the Conservative Party in Scotland, although some candidates still stood on a Liberal Unionist ticket because of the latent appeal of the word "Liberal" in Scotland.

Ethos and appeal

United Kingdom general election 1931 in Scotland
Map of the results of the 1931 election in Scotland; when the Unionists won a record 66% of Scottish seats.
  Conservative/Unionist
  Labour
  Liberal
  National Liberal
  Independent Labour Party

Popular imperial unity was the central thread of the Scottish Unionist Party's belief system. While the Scottish Unionist party was linked on a Parliamentary level with the Conservative and Unionist Party in England and Wales, it was conscious that it had to appeal to the liberal tradition in Scotland, and so until 1965 it studiously avoided using the term "Conservative".[1] For example, it used Conservative Party literature but changed the word 'Conservative' to 'Unionist'.[2]

The party built up significant working-class support by emphasizing the connection between Union, the Empire, and the fate of local industry. Unity across the classes was often cited as one of the party's planks of Unionism. Along with this protectionism, Protestantism also played an important part in the party's working-class appeal. Although not explicitly articulated by the party, lest it alienate what small but wealthy middle and upper class Catholic support it had, this appeal was projected through the endorsement and promotion of well known Church of Scotland members like John Buchan, or prominent Orangemen in areas of west and central Scotland where the Grand Orange Lodge of Scotland had strong support. Prominent Orangemen included Sir John Gilmour, the intermittent Secretary for Scotland in the 1920s and Home Secretary in the 1930s. Some saw this as an anti-Catholic appointment; however, it was Gilmour who, as the Secretary for Scotland, repudiated the Church of Scotland's highly controversial report entitled "The Menace of the Irish Race to our Scottish Nationality".

Being an independent Scottish party also drew electoral appeal when set against the threat of a London-based centralising British Labour party. A crucial aspect to this, particularly in the 1940s and 1950s, was the ability to place an 'alien' identity upon Labour by successfully using the term 'Socialist' to describe the Labour Party.[1] This distinctively Scottish appeal was further strengthened when combined with opposition to the Labour party's post-war nationalisation programme, which centralised control (in London) of former Scottish owned businesses and council-run services. The strong Scottish character of the party was even evident in relations with Conservative government ministers, when, for example, Lord Glendevon admitted he would be at odds with Scotland's Unionist Party for refusing the post of Secretary of State for Scotland because he preferred to remain at Westminster.[3]

The party's campaigning reflected their desire to reconcile the two themes of individualism and collectivism in their appeal to potential Labour voters. This projected an image of flexibility and pragmatism when they expressed their support for the synthesis of "two fundamental ideas of human individuality and of service to others and to the community."[1]

Electoral record and the 1955 election

United Kingdom general election 1955 in Scotland
Map of the results of the 1955 general election in Scotland; often cited as a high point for the Unionist Party.

With the Liberal Party divided and declining, the Scottish Unionist Party managed to attract former Liberal voters during this period – sometimes with candidates standing on a Liberal Unionist ticket. The creation of the National Liberals also helped increase the Unionist vote.

Within this context their support grew, and the emergence of the Labour Party as a threat to the middle classes resulted in the Scottish Unionists gaining a majority of Scottish seats at the 1924 general election, with 37 out of Scotland's 73 seats. Suffering a setback in 1929, they reasserted themselves at the 1931 general election during an electoral backlash against the Labour Party that resulted in the creation of the National Government. The Scottish Unionist Party won 79% of the Scottish seats that year: 58 out of 73. The following general election in 1935 returned a reduced majority of 45 MPs.

This remained the situation until Labour's landslide victory at the 1945 general election. The Unionists won only 30 of the (now) 71 constituencies. At the 1950 general election, a majority of Labour MPs was returned again, but the Scottish Unionist Party closed the gap by returning 32 MPs. In the subsequent Conservative election victory of 1951, an equal number of Labour and Unionist MPs were returned from Scotland, 35, with Jo Grimond of the Liberal Party retaining the Orkney and Shetland seat.

With Church of Scotland membership peaking at 1,300,000 in 1955 – or over one-quarter of Scotland's population[4] – the 1955 general election brought unparalleled success as the party gained 50.1% of the vote and 36 of the 71 seats at Westminster.[5]:179 Often cited as the only party to achieve a majority of the Scottish vote, six of the Conservative and Unionist MPs were returned that year under the label of Liberal Unionist or National Liberal. This apparent success was the prelude to a number of events that weakened the appeal of both the Scottish Unionist Party and the Scottish Conservative branch that followed.

Merger with the Conservative Party

Following electoral defeat when the Party lost 6 seats in the United Kingdom general election, 1964, reforms in 1965 brought an end to the Scottish Unionist Party as an independent force.[5]:180 It was renamed "Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party" that constitutionally then came under the control of the mainstream UK party. These, and further reforms in 1977, saw the Scottish Conservatives transformed into a regional unit, with its personnel, finances, and political offices under the control of the leadership in London.

These changes had serious implications for the Scottish Unionists' identity and it was soon followed by the rise of the Scottish National Party. This seemingly paradoxical swing from Unionist to Nationalist might be explained because of the old Scottish Unionist Party's projection as an independent Scottish party opposing a British Labour Party and the fact that name "Conservative" was viewed as being rather English.

Consequences of merger

As the British Empire came to an end, so too did the primacy of Protestant associations, as secularism and ecumenism rose. The decline of strictly Protestant associations, and the loss of its Protestant working-class base, spelled the erosion of the Unionist vote. Though many Conservatives would still identify with the Kirk, most members of the established Church of Scotland did not identify themselves as Conservatives.

With the Daily Record newspaper switching from endorsing the Unionists to the Labour Party,[5]:180 the Conservative Party in the 1960s was mercilessly portrayed as a party of the Anglicised aristocracy. Combined with the new name, this helped switch previous Unionist voters to the Labour Party and the SNP, which advanced considerably in the two general elections of February and October 1974.

The relations between the Scottish Conservatives with the largely working-class Orange Order also became problematic because of the perceived aristocratic connection of the former, but it was The Troubles in Northern Ireland that created more concrete problems. On one level, there was the residual perception of a connection that many mainstream Protestant voters associated with the sectarian violence in Northern Ireland – a perception that is unfair to a large extent since the Scottish Orange Order has dealt more stringently with members associating with Loyalist paramilitaries than its Irish equivalent. However, the ramifications of this perception also led to the Scottish Conservative Party downplaying and ignoring past associations, which further widened the gap with the Orange Order. Any links that lingered were ultimately broken when Margaret Thatcher signed the Anglo-Irish Agreement. This event witnessed Orange Lodges (amongst other supporters) setting up their own Scottish Unionist Party.

Electoral performance

This chart shows the electoral results of the Scottish Unionist Party, from its first general election contested in 1918, to its last in 1964. Total number of seats, and vote percentage, is for Scotland only.

Election Vote % Seats Outcome of election
1918 30.8%
28 / 73
'Coalition' Conservative Hung Parliament / 'Coalition' Liberal Victory
1922 25.1%
13 / 73
Conservative Victory (Unionist Prime Minister)
1923 31.6%
14 / 73
Conservative Hung Parliament
1924 40.7%
36 / 73
Conservative Victory
1929 35.9%
20 / 73
Labour Hung Parliament
1931 49.5%
48 / 73
Conservative Victory
1935 42.0%
35 / 73
National Government (Conservative) Victory
1945 36.7%
24 / 71
Labour Victory
1950 37.2%
26 / 71
Labour Victory
1951 39.9%
29 / 71
Conservative Victory
1955 41.5%
30 / 71
Conservative Victory (Unionists & National Liberal total was 50.1% of the vote and 36 seats)
1959 39.8%
25 / 71
Conservative Victory
1964 37.3%
24 / 71
Labour Victory (Incumbent Unionist Prime Minister)

Party Chairmen

Footnotes

  1. ^ a b c d http://www.polis.leeds.ac.uk/assets/files/research/working-papers/wp13seawright.pdf
  2. ^ David Seawright, An Important Matter of Principle (Routledge, 2018)
  3. ^ "Lord Glendevon's Obituary". The Scotsman. 22 January 1996.
  4. ^ Gerry Hassan and Eric Shaw, The Strange Death of Labour Scotland " 29 March 2016, 7:33 pm
  5. ^ a b c Torrance, David (April 2018). "'Standing up for Scotland': The Scottish Unionist Party and 'nationalist unionism', 1912–68". Scottish Affairs. 27 (2). doi:10.3366/scot.2018.0235 – via Edinburgh University Press.

External links

Albert McQuarrie

Sir Albert McQuarrie (1 January 1918 – 13 January 2016) was a British Conservative politician.

Alexander MacRobert (politician)

Alexander Munro MacRobert KC (1873 – 18 October 1930) was a Scottish lawyer and Unionist politician. He was Lord Advocate of Scotland in 1929.

Andrew Dewar Gibb

Andrew Dewar Gibb MBE QC (13 February 1888 – 24 January 1974) was a Scottish advocate, barrister, professor and politician. He taught law at Edinburgh and Cambridge, and was Regius Professor of Law at the University of Glasgow 1934–1958. Gibb was the leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) from 1936 to 1940.

Basil Neven-Spence

Sir Basil Hamilton Hebden Neven-Spence (12 June 1888 – 13 September 1974) was a Scottish Unionist Party politician and military physician.

Neven-Spence came from a prominent landowning family in the Shetland Islands. Neven-Spence graduated from Edinburgh University in 1911. He served with the Royal Army Medical Corps, seconded to help the Egyptian Army and government of Sudan, and in the First World War, mainly in the Middle East. He received the Order of the Nile for his role in the Darfur Expedition. Following the war he organised a campaign to treat sleeping sickness in Darfur. He returned to the University of Edinburgh to study for an M.D., before moving to Aldershot in 1924 to work as a specialist physician to the British Army. He retired from the Army in 1927 with the rank of Major.

Neven-Spence's family had owned property in Shetland for several generations and he became Vice-Convenor of Zetland County Council.

Neven-Spence first contested the Orkney and Shetland constituency in 1929, stepping down prior to the 1931 general election. He was re-elected in 1935 and served as the Member of Parliament until he lost his seat at the 1950 general election to Jo Grimond of the Liberal Party. He was knighted in 1945 and served as Lord Lieutenant of Shetland from 1952-1963. To the present day, Neven-Spence is the most recent MP for the Orkney and Shetland constituency to not be from either the Liberal Party or their successor party, the Liberal Democrats; as they have retained the seat ever since Grimond gained it at the 1950 general election. He once lived on the island of Uyea.

Charles Dickson, Lord Dickson

Charles Scott Dickson FRSE LLD (13 September 1850, Glasgow – 5 August 1922) was a Scottish Unionist politician and judge.

Christopher Johnston, Lord Sands

Sir Christopher Nicholson Johnston, Lord Sands FRSE (18 October 1857 – 26 February 1934) was a Unionist Party (Scotland) MP for Edinburgh and St Andrews universities between two by-elections in 1916 and 1917. He was an expert on Church Law and represented the Church of Scotland on many occasions.

Douglas Jamieson, Lord Jamieson

Douglas Jamieson (14 April 1880 – 31 May 1952) was a Scottish Unionist politician and judge.

George Younger, 1st Viscount Younger of Leckie

George Younger, 1st Viscount Younger of Leckie Bt (13 October 1851 – 29 April 1929) was a British politician.

Gordon Campbell, Baron Campbell of Croy

Gordon Thomas Calthrop Campbell, Baron Campbell of Croy, MC, PC, DL (8 June 1921 – 26 April 2005) was a Scottish Conservative & Unionist politician.

Hector Monro, Baron Monro of Langholm

Hector Seymour Peter Monro, Baron Monro of Langholm, AE, PC (4 October 1922 – 30 August 2006), was a Conservative & Unionist Party politician. He was Member of Parliament for Dumfriesshire for over 32 years, from 1964 to 1997, and then a life peer in the House of Lords.

After piloting flying boats in the Second World War, Monro became a farmer in his native Dumfriesshire. He became active in local test politics in the 1950s, and was elected as MP for Dumfries in 1964. He served as a Conservative whip and held three junior ministerial positions, twice in the Scottish Office and once as Minister for Sport in the Department for the Environment. He became a member of the House of Lords in 1997, after he stood down from the House of Commons. He was particularly concerned with Scottish and rural issues, the RAF, and sport, and was noted for his strong links with his constituency. He was in office at the time of the Lockerbie Disaster in 1988, which occurred in his constituency.

James Couper (politician)

James Brown Couper (1870–1946) was Unionist Party (Scotland) MP for Glasgow Maryhill.

He won the seat in 1924, but lost it in 1929.

John Colville, 1st Baron Clydesmuir

Colonel David John Colville, 1st Baron Clydesmuir, (13 February 1894 – 31 October 1954) was a Scottish Unionist politician, and industrialist. He was director of his family's steel and iron business: David Colville & Sons.

John George (politician)

Sir John Clarke George, KBE, CStJ (16 October 1901 – 14 October 1972) was a British coalminer and politician. He was one of a very small band of Conservative Members of Parliament to have been working miners.

Michael Noble, Baron Glenkinglas

Michael Antony Cristobal Noble, Baron Glenkinglas, PC (19 March 1913 – 15 May 1984) was a Scottish Tory politician.

Noble was the youngest son of Sir John Noble, 1st Baronet, and the grandson of Sir Andrew Noble, a different 1st Baronet, and was educated at Eton College and Magdalen College, Oxford. A farmer, he was president of the Black Face Sheep Breeders' Association and the Highland Cattle Society. He was an Argyll County Councillor and a director of Associated Fisheries.

From a by-election in June 1958 until his retirement in 1974 he was Member of Parliament for Argyll.

Noble was a Scottish whip from 1960 and Lord Commissioner of the Treasury from 1961. He was Secretary of State for Scotland from 1962 to 1964 in the governments of Harold Macmillan and Alec Douglas-Home, taking over from John Maclay after the Night of the Long Knives. He returned to government as President of the Board of Trade in 1970 and as Minister for Trade from 1970 to 1972 under Edward Heath.

As Scottish Secretary, he presided over the last execution in Scotland when Henry John Burnett was hanged at Craiginches Prison in Aberdeen on the morning of 15 August 1963 by the hangman Harry Allen for the murder of merchant seaman Thomas Guyan.

On 3 May 1974 Noble was elevated to the peerage as Baron Glenkinglas, of Cairndow in the County of Argyll.Although he was a good 25 years younger than the architectural historian Harry Stuart Goodhart-Rendel, the two had a very friendly feud. Noble is said to have joked that they were "best of enemies."

He died in May 1984, aged 71.

Niall Macpherson, 1st Baron Drumalbyn

Niall Malcolm Stewart Macpherson, 1st Baron Drumalbyn, KBE, PC (3 August 1908 – 11 October 1987) was a Scottish Tory and National Liberal politician.

Patrick Wolrige-Gordon

Patrick Wolrige-Gordon (10 August 1935 – 22 May 2002), also spelt Wolridge-Gordon, was a Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party politician.

Sir Robert Smith, 1st Baronet

Sir Robert Workman Smith, 1st Baronet JP (7 December 1880 – 6 December 1957) was a Scottish Unionist politician.

The youngest son of George Smith, shipowner, Glasgow, he was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge. He was a barrister at the Inner Temple.

Smith was unsuccessful candidate for Aberdeen and Kincardine Central in 1922-1923, and was elected as the Member of Parliament (MP) for the seat in 1924, holding it until 1945. He was a Justice of the Peace for the County of Aberdeen.

He was knighted in 1934 Birthday Honours and created a baronet in 1945.

Thomas Cooper, 1st Baron Cooper of Culross

Thomas Mackay Cooper, 1st Baron Cooper of Culross (24 September 1892 – 15 July 1956) was a Scottish Unionist Party politician, a judge and a historian, who had been appointed Lord Advocate of Scotland.

William Milligan, Lord Milligan

William Rankine Milligan, Lord Milligan, (12 December 1898 – 28 July 1975) was a Scottish judge and Unionist politician. He served as Solicitor General for Scotland and Lord Advocate.

This page is based on a Wikipedia article written by authors (here).
Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license; additional terms may apply.
Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.