For me – and, I suspect, for many Scottish Tories – a lot of my time in lockdown was characterised by a sense of frustrated impotence. I would sit in front of the television in furious disbelief as I watched Nicola Sturgeon, the unchallenged leader of a one-party state, on the BBC, answering useless questions from selected journalists who offered no supplementary interrogation. As Sturgeon’s poll ratings soared my morale sank. What are we dejected Unionists to do? How can we stop the SNP’s march towards a second referendum when the mainstream opposition to Sturgeon from the Scottish branch offices of the Tory, Labour and Liberal parties has been risible?
Then three weeks ago George Galloway came to lunch. He wanted to discuss his new party (he has founded quite a few), the Alliance for Unity. A4U is a cross-party coalition with the aim of transforming the silent and fragmented pro-Union vote into an election winning force. After some consideration I accepted the role of deputy leader and the pattern of my hitherto agricultural life between now and the Scottish Parliament elections in May is starting to clarify. I have just been speaking to a man called Goat, who might make a YouTube documentary showing me travelling around with George, highlighting misgovernment and unhappiness in Sturgeon’s Scotland.
George and I are quite the ‘odd couple’ to lead a party. I am a Tory, rural, Remain-voting, former solider. George… isn’t. But we are both keen to demonstrate that the fact we are from opposing ends of the political spectrum is a strength. In the A4U we want the broadest possible coalition from all political faiths and none to defeat the SNP. George, who is much better educated than I am, calls our partnership the most extreme political alliance since the Fox-North coalition. After I looked it up I pointed out that Charles James Fox and Lord North didn’t actually stay in business together for very long.
To our joint surprise, we have found that in fact we agree about more than we disagree on. We’re both fairly libertarian by inclination and as such are appalled by the shocking authoritarianism of the SNP. However, it is perhaps fortunate that defence and foreign policy are matters reserved to Westminster and therefore don’t need to be discussed. In fact, we don’t need to have a manifesto at all as our only policy is to concentrate the pro-union vote in Scotland to defeat the SNP and their Scottish Green allies and enable a government of national unity to be formed at Holyrood.
After that, if George and I are in the Parliament, where we would sit as independents, he will no doubt be arguing to raise taxes while I would want to lower them. We quite like the idea of being ‘frenemies’ if we are successful. In the meantime, we enjoy hamming up our relationship. After our first meeting he tweeted that he had just had lunch with his favourite living Old Etonian. When he started to get online abuse from Twitter’s usual suspects, he pointed out that Tam Dalyell and George Orwell were also OEs. Thanks to my new alliance with George, I have the strange experience of now being retweeted regularly by the members of the Workers Party of Great Britain.
I often now find myself having to defend my decision to incredulous friends. Although some have misgivings about George, they all agree that the establishment parties have so far failed abysmally in the fight against the SNP. The Scottish Tories only seem to have flicked to panic mode, ditching the hapless Jackson Carlaw, while recent polls show that nearly 40 per cent of Scottish Labour voters actually want the breakup of the Union. That the SNP, a party that has recently proposed suspending trial by jury, restricting free speech and appointing state apparatchiks to oversee how parents bring up their children, should be so far ahead in the polls says as much about the Conservative, Labour and Lib Dem parties as it does about the Sturgeonists.
What worries my friends, and what worried me initially, is the fear that we might ‘split the vote’. The logic that the vote is already split three ways, and so we are doomed to failure and another half decade of the SNP, or worse, unless we do something radical, takes a while to sink in. George’s plan is to persuade the Unionist parties not to stand against the strongest pro-Union candidate in the first-past-the-post ballots and to make best use of the d’Hondt AV system we have in Scotland by running pro-Union Alliance candidates from across the political spectrum in the ballot for the list seats.
Being deputy leader of a political party, even one as nascent as ours, implies being surrounded by a host of spin-doctors and leggy interns making coffee and running about with folders. In fact out headquarters team is as lean and dispersed as a terrorist cell. We do, however, have a growing candidates’ list. We are keen to avoid identikit politicians and PPE graduates so we are deliberately trying to find people who have ‘done stuff’. It includes professor Alan Sked of the LSE (the original architect of Brexit), whose home is in Easter Ross, and ex-regimental sergeant major Arthur Keith of the Black Watch. I enjoyed ringing Arthur to congratulate him with the traditional Army greeting, ‘Stand by your beds!’ and we had a good chat about the similarities between the SNP and their soulmates in Sinn Fein, with whom Artie and I have had dealings in the past.
One thing George and I definitely agree on, though for slightly different reasons, is the need to defeat the Scottish Green Party who prop the SNP up in coalition. The term ‘watermelon’ – green on the outside, red on the inside – could have been invented for them. And the Scottish countryside has been battered every time the SNP has had to throw their confederates some red meat in order to get legislation through. Most recently, the ban on controlling mountain hare numbers threatens the fragile ecology of our heather moorland. In George’s second weekly Monday night YouTube broadcast he promised that we would ‘obliterate the SNP’s gardening section’.
George loves grand theatrical gestures; one of which was to tweet the idea that we need a big figure to bring Scotland back together again. He would offer ‘the greatest living Scotsman after Sir Alex Ferguson’, The Spectator’s chairman Andrew Neil, a plum seat if he would agree to come and be First Minister in the government of national unity. Pick up the phone Andrew!