The predecessors of today's Scottish Conservative Party gained 54.4% of the Scottish votes cast in the 1931 General Election and returned 50 out of the 74 Scottish MPs who were elected to the UK Parliament sitting in Westminster. In the 1997 General Election the Scottish Conservative Party returned no MPs at all to Westminster, having polled 17.5% of the votes. In subsequent general elections they increased their number of MPs from 0 to 1, though their share of votes cast diminished further, to 14.9%, by the 2015 General Election.
"The Decline of the Scottish Conservative Party" by Colin Sutherland asks the simple question "why?" and goes on to discuss the reasons for what on the face of it appears nearer an extinction than a decline. Ask the man or woman in the street why the Conservatives' fortunes have fallen so far and you will probably get a simple and immediate response: "Margaret Thatcher." And it is easy to understand why: in 1979, the year that Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister, the Scottish Conservative Party part gained 31.4% of the Scottish vote and returned 22 out of 72 MPs to Westminster. We've already noted their failure to return any MPs at all eighteen years later.
Colin Sutherland dismisses the obvious answer in his book, and suggests instead that around two-thirds of the decline had its origins in the take-over of the, until then quite separate, Scottish Unionists in 1959-60 by the Conservative Party based in London. As one person he spoke to put it "Smith Square took over the Scottish Unionist Party, and when that happened we still voted Unionist, but there were no more dances, fetes, jumble sales, no one went out canvassing, no one wanted to serve on committees, and no one recruited new members." The result was that a generation of Conservative/Unionist voters gradually died off and were not replaced.
It's a fascinating hypothesis, which is argued in detail in this nice little book. Readers can make up their own minds about the relative weight of the factors behind what has happened to the Scottish Conservatives. It is particularly intriguing that if you lay the cause of the decline at the door of a London takeover of the Scottish Unionists, and play down the role of one particularly unpopular Prime Minister, then it does begin to make much more sense of the more recent decline of the Scottish Labour Party and the remarkable upsurge of the Scottish National Party. This is certainly a thought-provoking contribution to the debate.