On Thursday, I read an article by Adam Morris in the Independent (If Boris Johnson wants to save the Union, he should stay far away from Scotland) which seems to encapsulate the appeasement and cowardice of the so-called Scottish Conservative & Unionist Party. So, I thought I’d go through it line-by-line and highlight the loserthink it embodies.
Morris starts by trying to claim that the departure of Michelle Ballantyne is a gain for the party.
Ms Ballantyne’s departure sparked accusations from a pretty vocal minority that the party was abandoning Scotland’s one million Leave voters, and should really be embracing Boris Johnson’s premiership rather than being so publicly ashamed of it.
A vocal minority. That’s The Majority, our readers, and this article he’s talking about. The one where I argue that, when faced with a choice between the real thing and a weak substitute, people will always choose the real thing. But, outside of this publication, it’s quite something to claim that one million Leave voters are not important.
In fairness to the now independent South Scotland MSP, she has being (sic) saying this proudly and repeatedly since her own leadership bid at the start of the year. But she is as wrong now as she was then.
At this point we’ll note that Mr Morris ran Douglas Ross’s ‘leadership campaign’. And who was the person who was most uneasy about Ross being anointed? Michelle Ballantyne, who after being cut out of the leadership contest, said she agreed to support Ross on the understanding he leads a “Boris backing, Brexit positive, anti-nat party”. In other words, a party that follows the same policies as the UK party. How is that working out?
If the Scottish Conservatives want to have a successful Holyrood election next May, it’s not the pro-Brexit working-class vote it has to persuade. It’s the sandstone-abiding, pro-EU middle-class voters who backed the party in 2016 and 2017 because they wanted the UK to stay together, but couldn’t stomach the idea of a hard Brexit or, in some cases, any Brexit at all.
Let me make this as plain as I can. If you want to be a LibDem, join that party. The Conservatives got an 80-seat majority by promising to deliver Brexit. They got that majority because they tapped into working-class resentment from Leave voters that they were being ignored by a political and media elite that constantly denigrated them and took them for granted. The very resentment that many Scottish conservative voters feel right now.
Having been head of media for the party in key elections from the 2014 independence referendum to the 2019 general election…
Credibility alert! Morris’s media management for the Tories nearly ended in disastrous separation. He helped lose the Scottish Elections in 2016 and had a disastrous General Election in 2019. And we’re supposed to listen to him now?
An example of how he failed: In my local constituency, Lanark and Hamilton East, the gap between the SNP and Conservative candidate in the 2017 General Election, was just 300 votes. But, in 2019, did I see a single social media ad, poster or anything at all in this area that would have swung the vote?
Nope. Nothing. Nada. Zip. Nothing to get me excited to tell people the Tories were worth voting for.
The lack of promotion was so obvious I wrote a note to an MSP offering my services as a social media ad expert (part of my ‘day job’). I didn’t expect to hear back, but I did expect to see some more ads. Nothing changed. The seat was lost by 5187 votes.
Meanwhile, Boris got an 80-seat majority. The Scottish Conservative Party’s policies, and the media produced based on those policies, failed to shift the needle in Scotland, yet Morris is now trying to say that Boris is the problem? Mate, you’re the problem.
I could see the type of people who were turning away. Candidates right across Scotland reported knocking on well-to-do doors of people they knew had voted No and for the Conservatives in recent years, but would simply not entertain either the idea of Johnson or Brexit.
Again: why the focus on the “well-to-do”?
In any case, this is actually false, because Conservative Remainers are generally still loyal to the party, with less than 10% being ‘Strong Leavers’. This is proven by the 2019 General Election result, where Tories — as I will continue to mention throughout this piece — gained an 80-seat majority. Conservative voters are willing to suck it up for the sake of the party. As we all know, SNP gains were made at the expense of Labour and the LibDems.
But, let’s take a step back and ask the question: why did it get to the stage where Morris thinks Johnson is indefensible? Because I, like many others, saw how it unfolded. The SNP kept repeating, “Johnson is bad for Scotland” and what did Davidson, Carlaw, Ross and Morris — all Remainers — do? F all.
So, now we’re in the situation where the people who didn’t defend their leader now want to hide him. That’s self-serving BS. If they had defended him then, they wouldn’t feel the need to hide him now.
It seems simple to me: Douglas Ross is asking for our trust. But how can we trust him, if he doesn’t trust his own leader?
It is a myth that the “red wall” revolution which occurred in England could have been replicated north of the border. That breakthrough was already made by Ruth Davidson, years before.
What? Ruth Davidson is, in large part, responsible for where we are now. By foolishly siding with the SNP over Brexit, she depressed the natural Scottish Leave vote, leading to years of SNP soundbites claiming “Scotland didn’t vote for Brexit”. Didn’t ANYONE on her team advise her that SIDING WITH THE SNP was a bad idea? Weren’t you on that team, Adam?
In the years since the referendum, Davidson barely acknowledged the one million Scottish Leavers. She fought Boris Johnson and Brexit all the way, until she was practically forced to resign.
It’s also a myth to say that she was responsible for the increase in Tory votes in 2016. The main driver of that surge was the non-Tories who switched sides temporarily because they were so sick of Sturgeon banging on about independence so soon after the referendum. Since then, Scottish Tories have been losing votes. Meanwhile, Boris delivered Brexit and — all together now — got an 80-seat majority.
Even now, Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Jacob Rees-Mogg are doing a better job of defending the UK than the Scottish Conservatives. Because they have both the platform and a simple, positive, message.
In fact, one fascinating piece of internal analysis revealed that more than half the voters of a heavily working-class Ayrshire ward voted Conservative in 2019. That was not where the problem lay.
Morris admits growth is coming from working-class voters, so shouldn’t the Party be concentrating on getting some more of them? Why is he so focussed on the middle class?
The argument also neglects the fact that the kind of people in the north of England who voted Conservative for the first time last year would likely be dyed-in-the-wool SNP supporters if they lived a couple of hundred miles to the north. They might not like the comparison, but there’s barely a cigarette paper between a working-class SNP voter in Lanarkshire and their Brexity Burnley counterpart.
What evidence-free nonsense is this? These working-class voters all voted for Brexit. The SNP is anti-Brexit. And in the sentence above he said that they voted Conservative in Ayrshire.
The Scottish Conservatives certainly didn’t drop from 13 MPs to six last December because they did not embrace Boris enough – quite the opposite.
Why does Morris feel he has to lie here? The Scottish Conservative Party has never embraced Boris or Brexit.
For many middle-class Scots, Brexit was the primary issue, and they would rather lend their vote to the passionately pro-EU Nicola Sturgeon, even if it meant they would have to say no to her next time she asks a bigger question.
This is utter nonsense. In the last General Election, the Conservative vote in Scotland stayed the same. Labour votes transferred to the SNP. And why the constant focus on “middle-class Scots”?
That, too, explained the SNP’s election strategy. One, talk about independence to rally the troops, generate donations and persuade activists to go out door-knocking and leafleting in the dead of winter. Two, in the final two weeks, when the country wakes up to the fact there’s an election on, slam the brakes on separation chat and climb aboard a tour bus which reads “Stop Brexit” alongside a huge photo of the First Minister as if she were promoting a £5 Megabus deal from Glasgow to Brussels.
It was an inspired strategy, and the reward was another stunning election victory.
Sturgeon’s pitch wasn’t particularly inspired. It was a craven ploy to get votes from disaffected Remainers, despite her being quite willing to leave Europe in the event of a positive referendum result. Yet, despite this, the Scottish Conservatives didn’t think, “Hang on, by doing the opposite of Sturgeon, we can pick up all those who are for Brexit!”
The actual problem was, and still is, middle-class Remainers in the Scottish Conservative Party who can’t deliver a positive message for Brexit. This is what Douglas Ross had to say, just four weeks ago:
“There is no getting away from the fact that Brexit, and how it has been delivered, has undermined the perception that there are common shared values that unite us.“
To be clear, he said: Brexit has undermined our shared values. That sounds a lot like something Sturgeon would say.
These comments, combined with other unnecessary and foolish statements he made on the same day, praising Nicola Sturgeon’s communication skills, agreeing with SNP immigration policies and their ideas on House of Lords reform, and the ridiculous pantomime where he played Good Cop, Bad Cop over furlough funds, caused a wave of anger and disappointment among Scots Tories. Many said they had had enough of the party and more than a few cut up their membership cards.
How do the Conservatives win some of those people back?
Just a thought, but maybe start by listening to them?
It’s important that they do [try to win them back] if they want to stop an SNP majority next year.
Such a win would lead to a First Minister marching to Westminster with a fresh mandate for a second Scottish independence referendum, a mandate the UK Government would not be able to reject.
This is utterly false. Boris Johnson fought multiple legal and parliamentary challenges, delivered Brexit and — here we go again — got an 80-seat majority on a manifesto pledge to preserve the Union. Do you really think he’s going to be the PM who allows a minority of Separatists to break up the UK?
And if you don’t believe me, here’s Wings (None So blind Sept 30, 2020) :
“Johnson absolutely DOES have both the moral and political right to refuse. He has the political right because Westminster – as Nicola Sturgeon never tires of reminding us by refusing to countenance an “illegal” vote – is sovereign over Holyrood, and he controls Westminster. And he has the moral right because he stood for election just nine months ago on an unambiguous manifesto pledge of refusal, and he won a clear majority in the UK parliament on that manifesto.“
Yet, here is Morris, advocating that the person who delivered that electoral success through an unambiguous message to “Get Brexit Done”, should somehow not be allowed to bring that same winning message to Scotland.
And, by default, he’s saying that those who think Brexit is a bad idea should be unopposed, and, it seems, be advised to agree with the Nationalists.
Appeasement is not a winning strategy. In a choice between people with conviction and those trying to copy them, people will choose those with conviction every time.
The people they need at the ballot box are the middle-class pro-Union voters, and whether or not they return to the fold probably depends on how leaving the EU plays out in the next few months.
Is that what your focus group told you? FFS.
The Covid-19 pandemic will probably muddy those waters, which means the less said about European constitutional affairs in that period, the better.
Run away, run away!
Morris’s whole article is like that scene in Monty Python and The Holy Grail, where the knights keep running away from a terrible predator, revealed as a fluffy rabbit? To paraphrase one of the knights:
“Perhaps if we run away faster, it’ll confuse Sturgeon more?”
Losing Ms Ballantyne – who was the most right-wing of the 31 Tory MSPs – will help that drive.
Ballantyne is pro-Brexit, pro-Union and vocally anti-Nationalist. All of which are mainstream Conservative positions. She and Oliver Mundell also showed some backbone in voting against the SNP’s damaging lockdown restrictions, while almost every other Tory MSP voted with the SNP. Tell me how voting with the SNP is a Conservative position?
Ross’s job isn’t to agree. It is to fight them. ALL THE WAY.
Ballantyne isn’t out of step with the Scottish Party. The Scottish Party is out of step with her, and with UK conservatism.
We will shortly see more moderate voices put forward, not least near-daily appearances from Douglas Ross MP. And that is good news – he is highly competent, holds the line brilliantly, and won’t make gaffes.
LOL. Scottish Tories had high hopes for Ross, but he has already alienated his base with his unforced errors. Every time I think that I could publish something positive about him (and we have in the past), he ruins it with an unforced error.
Perhaps it’s his LibDem tendencies, or he’s being poorly advised, or maybe he’s not all that smart. But, whatever the reason, his favourability amongst Scottish Tories is dropping like a stone.
With an election coming up, it’s a leader’s job to energise their base, so that they will go out and convince their friends and families that we can finally beat the Nationalists. You can’t do that if you’re constantly turning half of them off.
His refereeing credentials (which political opponents envy despite pretending otherwise).
Envy? Don’t be ridiculous. This is laughable.
help him break through to working-class and urban Scotland
They don’t. Nobody likes the referee.
while his farming background and teuchter accent buy him favour everywhere else.
I thought calling someone a ‘teuchter’ was a hate crime these days. But, in any case, none of that matters. What matters is how he fights in the political arena.
Do not expect to see too much of Ruth Davidson. She may be a big asset on the campaign trail, but there is the awkwardness of her campaigning for a production from which she is departing.
Her acceptance of a place in the House of Lords is another completely avoidable shot to the foot.
And now that Ms Ballantyne is off the stage completely, there is less danger of party sources and disaffected candidates mouthing off about bad strategies and botched campaigning.
And what of Mr Johnson? Regrettably, he can’t be banned outright, because that would become a “thing” in itself.
Yes, banning <checks notes> The Prime Minister of the UK might just be ‘a thing’.
Two visits maximum, I would say. One at the start and one a couple of weeks out from polling day, probably to a secretive factory or perhaps some kind of early-morning fishery establishment (assuming Brexit goes well for that group). They cannot afford to see more of him than that.
Very generous of you. If I was Boris, I would eject you from the party immediately, for disloyalty. And visit anywhere in the UK, wherever, whenever, I’d like.
If the election is painted as a choice between Nicola and Boris, there’s only one person the public is going to choose.
This is infantile logic. Boris Johnson is the ultimate weapon against Nicola Sturgeon. He can get headlines every day. His comments on devolution caused days of welcome discussion for those of us who see Holyrood as a failure. (No doubt Morris was one of the people who got his panties in a bunch over his comments.)
The battle Morris is actually suggesting — Sturgeon vs Ross — is the losing one. Ross simply cannot match Sturgeon’s cult of personality and ‘rock star’ status. Only Boris Johnson has the majority, the presence and the authority to slam Sturgeon every time — and yet Morris wants him to hide?
Instead, we will probably see the visits of more palatable Conservatives from England, such as the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak.
I’ve said it before: Sunak is not safe. Nationalists will just demonise him like they demonise everyone else. It’s what they do. They demonise Conservatives. They demonise Labour. They demonise Brexit. They demonise the UK. They demonise Boris. They’ll demonise the next PM and will continue to demonise everything they are against. And they’ve been so successful at it, that they’ve got the Scottish Conservative Party agreeing with them!
Appeasing Separatists doesn’t stop them. It encourages them. Trying to be like them doesn’t stop them. They’ll rightly call you a fake and take your voters. Voters who will happily move, because they will always choose the real thing over inauthenticity.
What stops them is the word, “No”. Try it.
Ultimately, this has to be a campaign fought and run in Scotland, as the 2016 one was.
This is also false. The break up of the UK concerns all UK citizens, as it will diminish us all. As the Prime Minister of the UK, Boris Johnson has the authority to say “enough is enough” and put the Separatists back in their box. Douglas Ross simply doesn’t have the same authority.
If Mr Johnson wants an election campaign to undermine and jeopardise, there are plenty of local government and mayoral elections in England at the same time.
Aside from parroting an SNP talking point, this is unbelievable arrogance and disloyalty.
The pro-Brexit, pro-Johnson vote – where it exists at all – will probably turn out for the Scottish Conservatives anyway, especially when they realise the extent to which the Union is at stake here.
And there we have it. Another arrogant fool dismissing his party’s core vote and taking them for granted. That’s quite a position to take when 22 of 26 Conservative MPS are elected through list seats, and those list votes are definitely up for grabs.
If the Scottish Tories don’t get their act together, their voters will either not turn out to vote, or they will go to other list parties, such as Alliance For Unity or the Abolish The Scottish Parliament Party.
Voting for either of those parties is not only a statement against the SNP, but a rebuke to the Tories, Labour and LibDems who won’t do what is necessary to fight against Scottish Nationalism.
Even if they do not, there are far greater numbers to be gained in middle Scotland among people who might feel betrayed by Brexit, but will be equally anxious about the prospect of the UK’s break-up. Those people are there for the taking.
“Might” is doing a huge amount of work in that sentence. Voters who might feel betrayed by Brexit are apparently more important and numerous than the voters who are actually concerned about the break up of the UK.
A hapless Richard Leonard-led Labour party won’t be speaking to them, and – unless they live in a select few pockets – neither will the Liberal Democrats.
The fact that the Liberal Democrats are not hoovering up all these imaginary pro-UK, disaffected Remainers might give you a hint that they don’t exist.
Abandoning your principles to chase an imaginary focus group with policies that alienate your core votes is a sure route to electoral disaster. It’s not as if you don’t have an example: ask Labour.
At least Starmer is finally cottoning on that the UK’s pooling and shared resources are something worth fighting for. Scratch that, it seems Starmer, also badly advised, is now offering more appeasement, in the vain hope that the crocodile eats him last.
The fact that some hard-right members and candidates are fleeing the scene makes success – whatever that looks like in the bonkers world of Scottish politics – all the more likely for Douglas Ross.
The word ‘hard right’ speaks volumes here. Brexit is not a ‘hard right’ policy. It was voted for by 17 million people. It is the policy of the UK Conservative Party.
We get it, Adam. You’re a disaffected, middle-class Remainer who doesn’t like Boris, and you’ve bought into the SNP’s Bad Boris schtick. But the vast majority of Tories are not like you. If you want to be a LibDem, go for it. I’m sure they’ll be happy to have more members. But stop pretending that you are a Conservative, while actively subverting the party’s leader and flagship policy.
Most Scottish Tories see Boris and his team as the ones who delivered Brexit and are working for UK interests right now. They see Boris questioning Devolution, they see Gove strategising on how to strengthen the UK, and they see Rees-Mogg and others sticking it to the Nationalists every day.
But when they look at the Scottish Tories, they see appeasement, disloyalty and loserthink. They see a last-stand-of-the-Tory-Remainers enclave that is subverting the UK party, ignoring one million Scottish Leave voters, and, in trying to distance themselves from the UK party, actually furthering the aims of Nationalists. They see yesterday’s men with yesterday’s plans.
We’ll know who’s right in a few months. It’s likely that the opposition will ignore their base and not work together to create an electoral pact. And, despite representing the majority of voters, they will once again hand victory to the SNP.
Given Ross’s performance to date, it’s highly likely a huge chunk of Scottish Tories will either stay at home or go to other list parties, and the Tories will lose many list MPs.
We will expect to see Mr Ross’s resignation the morning after the election. Maybe then the Scottish Conservatives can get back to the business of supporting their base, supporting UK policies and fighting, rather than agreeing with, the SNP.
Or maybe Boris should just close the Scottish Party altogether. With ‘friends’ like them, he doesn’t need enemies.
Mark Devlin is the publisher of The Majority
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