Labour’s celebration of the Tory resurgence in Scotland is not helping them in their darkest hour. Kezia Dugdale and Ian Murray bigging up Ruth Davidson’s success in the local elections as a ‘blow for Sturgeon’ only encourages more of their voters into the Conservative camp. Why bother voting Labour if the Tories do it better? If every election is a single issue campaign on indyref2, then Labour are beyond hope.
If Nicola Sturgeon seems to be remarkably calm in the face of the Scottish Tory revival, it is only partly because she don’t quite buy it. The other reason is that they quite like seeing the Conservatives as the main opposition party. The national question seems more black and white when the hated Tories are the lead party of the Union, and if Labour seems to be on the Tory ticket, so be it.
The SNP’s arch enemy for the past twenty years has been Labour and activists are too busy dancing on its grave to bother with the Tory advance. Anyway, the SNP clearly won the local elections, by 431 seats to the Tories’ 276, whatever the press headlines say.
Nevertheless, the Tory revival should be taken seriously even if it shouldn’t be exaggerated. The party itself is less of a threat than its leader, Ruth Davidson, She has detoxified the Tory brand. Something needs to be done to halt her momentum, especially in the North East where some key seats, like Angus Robertson’s in Moray, are theoretically at risk.
Nicola Sturgeon needs to retoxify the Tories. It shouldn’t be too difficult. The First Minister was the star of the 2015 general election. She was for a time the most popular leader in the entire UK, and in Scotland could hardly walk down the street without being besieged by admirers demanding selfies. She hasn’t lost her charisma, especially on TV. The fact that Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn are hiding in their caves and refusing to do debates could be a great opportunity for her to maximise TV coverage of her brand of soft-left nationalism.
Scottish voters need to be reminded that every vote for the Tories is a vote, not for Ruth Davidson, but for Theresa May. The Prime Minister’s “me me me” approach is already beginning to grate as is her contempt for parliament, and her vainglorious claim that only she can provide “strong and stable government”. May seems to be adopting the imperious mantle of Margaret Thatcher and she could be in power for another decade. Scots haven’t forgotten the Iron Lady, but they could do with being reminded about her in a few selected billboards.
The FM should hammer home that it is ordinary women who are bearing the brunt of the Tory welfare reforms. Ruth Davidson’s claim that the Scottish parliament has the power to compensate the victims of measures like the rape clause, while technically correct, seems to most voters like an attempt to divert attention from a morally unsustainable policy over which the Scottish parliament has no control.
The election of Emmanuel Macron has further isolated Brexit Britain in Europe and the world. Scotland voted 62% Remain – and one of the most articulate spokespeople for staying in the EU was one Ruth Davidson. The SNP should keep on at her to justify her support for hard Brexit.
Scottish farmers need to know what happens to their £500m in agricultural subsidies. Universities are losing students and staff. Tens of thousands of EU nationals doing valuable work in Scotland still have no secure future. Standard Life, the insurance firm that threatened to leave Scotland after a Yes vote, is now planning to move operations to Dublin. Ruth Davidson was right the first time: leaving the EU is a disaster.
This general election is not directly about independence, but it is about Scotland’s constitutional future. The repatriation of powers from Brussels in the Great Repeal Bill is going to cut a swathe through the Scottish parliament’s authority. It’s clear that the Scotland Act will have to be amended or repealed and Holyrood’s powers circumscribed.
Ruth Davidson should be challenged to provide guarantees (that she cannot give) on the Scottish parliament retaining control over agriculture, fisheries, environmental and other responsibilities. All the non-Tory parties have to be mobilised against the threat to the Scottish parliament – it is a very real one and it should begin here and now.
Ms Davidson’s success in Scotland has been built on denying the party of which she is a member. The party whose Defence Secretary says he’s in favour of first use of weapons of mass destruction. That treats millions of EU citizens as hostages. Whose bumptious Foreign Secretary, announces wars on the Today programme. That has favoured Donald Trump over Europe. That comforts the wealthy while demonising immigrants, benefit claimants and pensioners who stand to lose the triple lock. The SNP alternative to the Tory mantra of “strong and stable government” should be: “They’re still the Nasty Party”.