George Osborne, while reflecting on the 2010 election result, told the Spectator that the Conservative Party must "constantly demonstrate that we are a party for the entire country, for all sections of the population. If you look at the seats where we didn't cross the line, it was partly in Scotland. It's difficult to win big General Elections when you are not winning seats in Scotland". Unfortunately, on this logic the Tories are nowhere near to winning a big majority in 2015.
The 2011 local election results were understandably greeted with enthusiasm by Conservatives. Pundits predicted losses of up to 500 council seats, but in the end the Conservatives gained 80. The national voter share of 35% was almost equivalent to Labour's 37%. Not bad for a party that has had to take some tough economic decisions.
But how did we do on the Osborne test? Badly. In Scotland the Conservative Party received a 13.9% voter share, down 2.7% from the last Scottish Parliamentary elections. At the 2010 General Election, when you might have thought there would be some momentum for change, 16.7% of Scottish residents voted Conservative - an increase of only 1% on Michael Howard's 2005 performance. The latest YouGov poll shows that if an election were held tomorrow we would only get 29% of the North of England vote.
A recent Conservative Home blog reported that the problem "hasn't escaped David Cameron's notice and he sees High Speed rail (HSR) as a big part of the Tories attempt to break through the North". The problem with this solution is that HSR may take a couple of decades to build and the Conservative Party needs to resolve the deeply trenched Northern decay soon. So what to do?
Federalism is a dirty word in Conservative circles, mainly because of its connection to the European Union project, but the Party should consider allowing malnourished regions to discover what Conservatism means to them. As Paul Goodman points out, such a move fits into Cameron's agenda. "Downing Street champions the Big Society - decentralisation, localism, giving power to the people.... But it can't preach abroad what it isn't practising at home." If the outer tentacles of a London centric organisation are not achieving results then give them the independence to become locally responsible, and responsive.
The best place to trial this approach must be Scotland, with its separate political system. Scottish Conservatives should have a strongly separate - but linked - identity. They should be seen as a Scottish party that is Conservative rather than the Scottish branch of the Conservatives. They can come to their own views on Scottish related issues, such as Education, no matter if these go against the national party's policies. On British matters, such as Defence, Scottish Conservatives will feed into the national party debate and be bound by final decisions.
We have nothing to lose by trying radical approaches in areas we are nowhere near winning.