SCOTLAND is going through a turbulent period just now. We have seen around 1.4 million people of an electorate of 4 million vote for a nationalist party. Whilst it is a great achievement for the SNP to have 56 MP’s we have to be clear that the majority of people registered to vote didn’t vote for the nationalists. There is some glimmer of hope for us on the pro-union side then.
With this SNP victory we are at risk of having another referendum if this level of support continues into next year's election. This could have been prevented had Labour, Lib Dems and the Conservatives put up any form of acknowledgement that we won. After the referendum I was fed up reading about SNP membership surge, how wonderful the yes campaign was, how much hatred there was between Labour and the Conservatives or voters regretting their decision. It was nonsense and led to people be afraid to talk about the referendum. No voters really were let down by some on the unionist side once Better Together had put out the lights.
To give Ruth Davidson credit she has been championing the union, however with the Prime Ministers EVEL announcement the morning after, it made her appeal difficult to stomach for many.
If we want to stop another referendum happening in the next 10 years, the unionist parties need to quickly look at themselves, brush themselves down and go on the positive attack…
Without a doubt the SNP won hands down when it came to grassroots campaigning during the general election. I think the Conservatives did start to make a breakthrough, however, there is still much to do to motivate members to get out on to the door step.
Campaign staff make a big difference in supporting the work grassroot volunteers do. I think if the Conservative party is serious about the Scottish Parliamentary election much more resource needs to go in to producing a strong grassroots team. In the early days of Better Together I was keen to have a basic structure, which could be added to depending on fundraising. That is why you saw eight regional campaign organisers and then once the JK Rowling money came in we were able to end up with around twenty-four campaign assistants working under them. Real consideration needs to be taken to look at hiring eight Conservative regional campaign managers (currently three in place).
Motivating volunteers is a challenge, though we did see some new faces on out the campaign trail dyring the election. Party staff need to focus more on ensuring members make the journey from reading e-mails to knocking on doors. It can be done by ensuring the voluntary wing has more responsibility for decision making in policy debates, GOTV and general campaigning activity.
This will help our regional campaign, support the work on the ground and hopefully ensure we see twenty MSPs elected.
We can also be proud of our class of 2015 in Scotland. Attending various events, campaigning sessions and following candidates on social media, I have been very impressed with the pool of candidates selected. I think we need more people standing like David Montgomery, Derek Wann, Meghan Gallagher, Annie Wells, and Fraser Galloway (just to name a few, there are plenty more). The thing that our candidates represented for me was a group of people who the public can relate too, not the stuffy, upper class, land-owning candidates we have put forward before. This has been one of the big successes of Ruth Davidson's leadership, detoxifying the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party.
Looking into 2016 I hear plans are already happening for putting candidates through the board, showing Davidson is up for the fight. This will squash any rumors flying around that the Tories and Lib Dems are going to be merging. If these candidates have a chance of success we need to see all constituency selections take place from July-August with list rankings happening in early September.
Running a well-organised regional campaign will be key to a Scottish Conservative success in 2016. I think it would be worth looking at the SNP list campaign from 2011 where they had 'Alex Salmond for First Minister'. Using our biggest asset on the ballot paper will hopefully bring more of a diverse vote to the Conservative list ranking. Indeed 'Ruth Davidson, Scottish Conservative' will be a change and I suspect the stalwarts of the party might not like it but hey, what’s the worst that can happen?
2016 presents a real opportunity for the Scottish voters to elect a centre right, unionist party. We have the leader, we have the message, we need to work hard, raise some money, and spend it on a winning machine focused on speaking to our key mosaic groups. I am excited about the campaign in 2016, if we get the right campaign strategy we could see our MSP group grow to twenty and hopefully stop another referendum in ten years time.