It’s official – Sturgeon doesn’t speak for Scotland

It’s official – Sturgeon doesn’t speak for Scotland

by Murdo Fraser
article from Friday 31, March, 2017

IT IS THE QUESTION that has haunted the Scottish Conservatives for some three decades: how to make a Conservative Prime Minister popular with the Scottish people? Ever since the days of Margaret Thatcher, who despite her many attributes was never loved by the majority of Scots, Conservative Prime Ministers have had an image problem north of the Border.

No matter how many visits to Scotland were made, no matter how many positive speeches delivered, regardless of the photo opportunities, the sum spent on private polling and focus groups, the speech writers, and the image consultants, the result was always the same: a firm thumbs down from Scottish voters towards a Conservative Prime Minister.

If only we had known then, what we know now. For it seems that all it takes to make a Conservative Prime Minister truly popular with the people in Scotland is for her to say a firm No to Nicola Sturgeon. For the consequence of Theresa May’s rebuttal of the SNP’s demand for a second independence referendum has been a boost to the Prime Minister’s personal popularity in Scotland.

We have known for some time that Nicola Sturgeon’s personal ratings have been sinking. A sequence of recent polls has shown that Ruth Davidson is now, by some margin, the most popular politician in Scotland, with approval ratings outstripping those of the First Minister. What the latest poll has shown is that Ruth Davidson is not the only Conservative leader more popular than Nicola Sturgeon: she has been joined in that position by Theresa May.

Given the history of the Conservative Party’s relationship with Scotland over the last four decades, it seems extraordinary that we are now in a position where a Conservative Prime Minister in London is more popular than the SNP First Minister of Scotland. That illustrates, perfectly, the mess that the SNP has got itself into with the Scottish public in its handling of the Brexit situation, and the massively unpopular demands for a re-run of the 2014 independence referendum.

Nicola Sturgeon and her colleagues were banking on the fact that the 62% of Scots who voted Remain in last year’s EU referendum would be so outraged at Scotland “being dragged out of the EU against its will”, that they would change their mind on the constitutional issue, and move towards supporting Scottish independence. But there has been no evidence of that switch happening, indeed support for independence appears to be shrinking.

Confirmation of this came on Thursday with the publication of the latest report from NatCen Social Research on attitudes towards the EU in Scotland and the UK. This found that, contrary to numerous assertions from the SNP, the views from people in Scotland towards Europe differ very little from the views of those elsewhere in the United Kingdom.

According to the poll findings, 93 per cent of Scots are in favour of maintaining free trade with the EU after Brexit, compared with 88 per cent across the UK as a whole. Some 65 per cent of Scots think EU immigrants should be treated the same way as non-EU immigrants, compared to 68 per cent across Britain.

And, crucially, the study found there is very little support for the differentiated deal for Scotland with the EU that the SNP are demanding. Nearly two thirds (62 per cent) of Scottish voters think that after Brexit, the rules on trade and immigration should be the same in Scotland as they are in the rest of the UK. Moreover, there is very little difference in the percentages of those who would support free movement of people, with 61 per cent of Scots saying the UK should “definitely” or “probably” allow free movement of people in return for free trade, compared with 54 per cent across Britain.

Summing up the report, its author Professor John Curtice stated that: “Much of the debate about Brexit in Scotland has assumed that voters North of the Border want a much softer Brexit than voters in the rest of the UK. Indeed, the Scottish Government’s demand for a second independence referendum rests on such an assumption.

“However, this first systematic study of attitudes towards Brexit in Scotland shows that for the most part voters in both sides of the Border want much the same outcome – free trade, immigration control and retention of much of the consumer and environmental regulation currently afforded by the EU. This means that on immigration in particular, voters in Scotland seem to be more in tune with the stance taken by the UK Government than adopted by the Scottish Government”.

What this important research does is explode the myth that Scotland thinks differently from the other parts of the UK when it comes to the Brexit negotiations. It is on the back of polls that consistently show there is no appetite for a second independence referendum.

So, once again, we have conclusive proof that when Nicola Sturgeon stands up and demands a distinct EU deal for Scotland, she has very little public support behind her. Just as when she demands a second independence referendum, she does not speak for Scotland.

Out and about knocking on doors for the local Council elections in a few weeks’ time, the level of hostility towards the SNP, and Nicola Sturgeon in particular, has been astonishing. Sturgeon and her colleagues have woefully misread the public mood on the issues of Brexit and a second independence referendum, and I have no doubt that they will pay the price when the voters get the chance to have their say on May the 4th.

Pool photo by Russell Cheyne.

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