Scottish Politics for Absolute Beginners

[I originally wrote this post on the eve of 2015’s General Election, which was for the UK parliament, but since it’s been getting a bit of traffic over the last few days (probably due to Scottish Parliament elections) I’ve made a couple of updates.]

In Scotland, everyone is a Tory. In Scotland, everyone hates the Tories.

(Maybe that means we all hate ourselves…)

Confused? So are we.

There now follows an short explanation of Scottish politics for my non-British friends (and/or my British-but-baffled-by Scottish-politics friends.)

In the UK we have the main parliament at Westminster in London. We also have smaller parliaments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland that deal with some aspects of government – mainly education, health, transport and policing.

These are some of our main political parties:

stikmanConservatives  – a bit like the USA Republicans, but with differences. In the UK we have the National Health Service, which is a bit like Obama Care, except more, and we’ve had it since 1948.  We love it.  We love it so much that we fight about it constantly and say that everyone else is going to destroy it. The Conservatives are keen to let everyone know they love it, since they are the party most often accused of plotting to destroy it.

Public perception of the Conservatives: good with money, though  inclined to keep it for themselves. They have been in government since 2010 and introduced the “Bedroom Tax.” With this tax, if you claim housing benefit (help to pay rent) and have a spare bedroom, then you will lose money. You are allowed: one bedroom per couple, one bedroom for two kids under 10, or for two of the same sex from 10 to 16. This is probably the most hated tax ever, and is very important to Scotland’s politics.

The Conservatives’ colour is: Blue. (Also important, commit it to memory.)

Conservatives are colloquially known as Tories. (This is very, very important for understanding Scottish politics.)

yellstikThe Liberal Democrats – commonly known as the LibDems are a “centrist” party, and probably the UK party most similar to the US Democrats. 100 years ago, as the Liberals, they were one of the two biggest parties. They went into decline and had not been in power for 70 years, until they joined a Coalition Government with The Conservatives in 2010. Opponents often refer to it as ConDemNation.

(Sidenote: In the 1980s, there was another centre party – the Social Democrats. In party terms, the Liberals married them.)

Public Perception of the LibDems: previously seen as wishy-washy. Now  seen as untrustworthy-wishy-washy after being in the coalition. (Especially in Scotland.)

The LibDems colour is Yellow. This is also important, again if you live in Scotland.

UKIP stands for United Kingdom Independence Party. Formed in 1993, as parties go it’s a baby. (But not compared to Charlotte, the new Royal baby, who really is a baby, and who UKIP supporters definitely support.)

Often called Kippers, UKIP are far right, so a bit like the Tea Party, though they have the odd policy that is bizarrely liberal. They have  2 MPs. (Members of the UK parliament.) Both these MPs used to be Conservatives and when each defected there was a by-election. UKIP’s slogan is “Vote For Change,” so at these by-elections, voters were urged to vote for change by voting back in the MP who had just resigned!

UKIP’purplesticks main aim is to make the UK independent. If you thought the UK is independent – don’t worry – you are correct. Nevertheless, the first page of UKIP’s manifesto says: If you believe that we are big enough to make our own laws, in our own parliament…then we are the party for you.


UKIP believe we are subservient to the EU, and want us to leave. Yet  UKIP has 23 Members of the European Parliament, more than any other UK party! In autumn 2014 UKIP had a surge in popularity, with some pollsters then estimating they could get 128 seats in our election tomorrow. They are now expected to get 3 seats, or maybe 2.

Public perception  of UKIP: Obsessed with immigration; racist. (Many members are, yet, oddly, they have more Black and Mixed Ethnicity candidates than the Green Party.)

UKIP’s colour is purple. (For understanding Scottish politics that is not important.)

Labour, founded in 1900, was traditionally, “The Workers’ Party.” As more people gained the vote, including women, Labour’s support grew and in 1924 they were in government for the first time. Labour created our NHS and the Welfare State, which protects the poor, unemployed, sick and elderly. They are socialist, but not communist. From when they first formed a government, until 1979, we tended to have a few years of Labour government followed by a few of Conservative.

redstickPublic perception of Labour: kind, but not too good with money. All through the 1980s and much of the 1990s, everyone in Britain was a Yuppie who wanted to make lots and lots of money, so Labour couldn’t get into government.  In 1997, the leaders decided to make New Labour. New Labour wanted to shake off their old incompetent image and appeal to everyone, not just the working class. To reach “middle Britain” they became “Champagne Socialists” – and won a landslide victory. Labour stayed in government for 13 years, including during the worldwide economic crash. During this time, some people began to think that Labour maybe wasn’t quite so kind after all, especially some people in Scotland. (This is very, very important if you want to understand Scottish politics.)

Labour now have a new leader, Ed Miliband, who was no more keen on New Labour than many people in Scotland were, and who wants to make Labour the caring party again. In spite of that, the same people in Scotland who were angry at New Labour don’t like Mr Miliband. Rupert Murdoch, media baron doesn’t like Ed Miliband much either, because he challenged him. Most politicians suck up to Murdoch and he prefers that, so he demands his newspapers attack Miliband as often as possible – they mainly do this by showing a photo of him eating a bacon sandwich.

Update: Labour’s leader is now Jeremy Corbyn, and most newspapers attack him just as much or even more than they did Ed Miliband.

Labour’s colour is Red. For understanding Scottish politics that is extremely important.

Tgreenhe Green Party’s colour is Green. Bet you even guessed that! There are actually two of them. The Green Party of England and Wales, and the Scottish Greens. Apart from that they want Scotland to be an independent country (even the Green Party of England and Wales) many Green policies are remarkably similar to Labour’s. (That’s the Labour party as it is nowadays, not New Labour, which is now old Labour.) The Greens tend to go further to the left than Labour, and want the UK not to renew its nuclear submarines. (But then, so do lots of Labour MPs.) They also want a higher Living Wage than Labour does.

Here’s a graph that shows some policies they have in common. (Picture courtesy of campaigning group 38 Degrees.)


Infographic by 38 Degrees


Finally, in Scotland we also have the SNP: the Scottish Nationalist Party. But it isn’t a Nationalist party, or at least it is a civic nationalist party according to some of its members. Others don’t agree and want to get rid of all the English scum that live here, including J. K. Rowling, writer of Harry Potter.

The SNP have been in power in the Scottish Parliament since 2007. Until 2011, they had a minority government and had a deal with the Scottish Conservatives to get their budgets passed. (But they would never, ever do  a deal with the Tories.)

In 2014 in Scotland, we had a referendum on whether we wanted to leave the UK or stay. We chose to stay, by roughly 55% and 45%. The SNP is made up of people who have always wanted Scotland to be independent and of people who decided they wanted this in the run-up to the referendum because they didn’t like much of what the Coalition government did in the last 5 years – and because they hate Labour. They hate Labour because they used to love them, and believe New Labour let them down.

dayglostikThey especially hate Labour because in the run up to the referendum, the parties who wanted to stay in the UK campaigned together. Those were mainly Labour, the LibDems and Conservatives. (The parties who wanted to leave the UK also campaigned together, but that was different.) It was not okay for Labour to campaign with the Tories. It made them Red Tories, and the LibDems Yellow Tories. (The SNP’s colour is also yellow, but much brighter than the LibDems’ and they are not Yellow Tories.)

Even though Labour have not been in power in Scotland or in the UK for several years, the less-than-civic of the Nationalists want the Red Tories Out. They want them not just out of power, but out of Scotland altogether, with everyone that’s left in the SNP instead. Yesterday two men who were nothing to do with the SNP, and definitely weren’t members, were suspended from the SNP for harassing people at a Red Tory rally. One of these men has been “hunting Red Tories” for months, videoing activists and shouting when they talk to voters.

The SNP would never do a deal with the Tories (except when they did) so they want Labour to win the election in 2015 – except in Scotland. Here, even the party leaders want to kick Labour out of Scotland and have everyone vote SNP. The SNP says that if we get a Tory government again it will be the Red Tories fault – because  – well – it’s always the Red Tories’ fault.

Everyone else says, “What can you expect from the Tartan Tories?” Because, as I said at the beginning: we are all Tories in Scotland.

The SNP are Tories because they voted down a Labour government in 1979 – though none of the people who did that are still politicians. They are also Tartan Tories because traditionally the party supporters were prosperous farmers (or similar.) Now the party’s policies are similar to Labour’s (they even copied many of Labour’s policies in their manifesto) though their record in office is more similar to New Labour with some actions similar to – um – the Tories.

Update: For the Scottish Parliament Elections, the SNP are telling us not to just hope for a better Scotland, but to vote for it (ie vote for them)  – in spite of having been in power for 9 years. This slogan is apparently a direct copy of one used by the Conservatives back in 1979, when the SNP – um – voted down you know who, and when the Tories were led by Margaret Thatcher, who SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon claims to hate. However, it would be unfair to claim this slogan is entirely inspired the Tories – in 1979, they were not in power, whereas the SNP are so perhaps the inspiration is not the Tories at all, but actually the UKIP slogan of: Vote for change by voting back in the politician(s) you had before!

So to recap:

In Scotland we have:

Blue Tories – the real ones.

Red Tories – Labour.

Yellow Tories – the LibDems.

Tartan Tories – the SNP.

So the only people in Scotland who aren’t Tories are the Greens and UKIP.

And in Scotland we have no Tories because everyone hates them and wants them kicked out of Scotland (even though we haven’t got any.) That almost as many people voted Tory as voted SNP at the last General Election just proves they don’t exist. And – although everyone hates the Tories, everyone loves Ruth Davidson, the leader of the Tories in the Scottish Parliament. Because – she drives tanks and plays bagpipes and because – well – because she’s cool.

So there you have it: Scottish politics in a nutshell.

Breaking news! Twitter users have struck back at Rupert Murdoch’s newspaper The Sun, by posting photos of themselves eating unattractively with the hashtag: #JeSuisEd

Update: At the 2015 General Election, the Conservatives won an outright majority and so are  in government, not in coalition with anyone. Scotland retained only one Labour MP,  one Liberal one Conservative, with the rest being SNP. Since then, two SNP MPs have been embroiled in financial scandals, and resigned from the party, but remain as MPs. The outcomes of inquiries into these situations are not as yet known.


  1. Quite the funniest thing I’ve read in an age. Brilliant and easy to understand. Now if only I could vote in Scotland I’d be so comfortable with my decision. In the way it was always the case that whoever won the referendum war would lose the peace, I suspect whoever wins tomorrow will lose the peace that follows. Happy days. I said I couldn’t wait for your take on the election and you haven’t disappointed!!

    1. Author

      Glad it gave you a giggle Geoff. And yes, it’s pretty easy to vote in Scotland since we’re all Tories! Though I have to say if you understood this, you are probably doing better than most of us in Scotland! 🙂

  2. Looks like a choice between the devil and the deep blue sea! My head hurts now, especially reading about the Bedroom Tax!!

  3. Hit the nail on the head , well thought out piece and very funny , well done

  4. Author

    Roshni, the Bedroom Tax is pretty awful. I hadn’t actually realised quite how bad until I looked it up for this post. It affects disabled people quite badly, and sadly it’s going to stay now that our election is over.

  5. *chuckle* Your politics and U.S. politics seem very similar–but then many of us are descended for your relatives. (that includes me, by the way)

  6. Pingback: Jury Service For Absolute Beginners (Sorry.) | Yvonne Spence

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