IF EVER you needed an illustration of the current condition of Scottish politics, it was on view at Perth Concert Hall on Tuesday morning. The SNP high command had gathered for the launch of their manifesto, with nearly 1,000 supporters joining them for the occasion. Those who queued in the rain to enter the Concert Hall were greeted by a phalanx of blue-clad Scottish Conservative activists, standing behind a forty-yard stretch of Tory placards, proudly proclaiming “No to a Second Independence Referendum”.
Arrayed like Saxon warriors behind a shield wall, the local Conservatives present were a mix of ages and genders, among them some unlikely protesters: a 90-year-old former consultant surgeon, resplendent in navy blazer and club tie, and at least two retired army brigadiers. The SNP activists standing in the queue across the road were so surprised that they were unclear how to react; the more sensible ones doing their best to ignore us, whilst the more rabid resorting to jeers and abuse. A few of the dafter individuals present got up the chant of “If you hate the traitor Tories clap your hands”, which was filmed for the BBC news and broadcast live at lunchtime, much to the annoyance of the SNP leadership. Overall, however, the atmosphere was one of good-natured banter, with one Perth Tory councillor even taking time to dance a jig with an SNP counter-demonstrator.
It was a tangible sign of the growing confidence of Scottish Conservatives, that more than 20 local activists were prepared to turn out on a Tuesday morning to picket a 1000-strong SNP gathering. Such a move would have been unthinkable even this time last year, but how Scottish politics has changed in that period. Perth is now Tory territory, the Scottish Conservatives having taken control of the Council at the local elections last month, with huge swings from the SNP in some areas. This was the SNP encroaching on our city, and we were going to let them know it.
The symbolism was not lost on many of the media observers present. The veteran BBC political correspondent Norman Smith, more accustomed to reporting on the general election campaign in England, reflected on air that Scotland is now like another country, with the SNP in government now facing a protest from the opposition, insurgent Conservatives.
He was right. Here, it is the SNP who have a track record of 10 years in government to defend, and it is the Scottish Conservatives who are on the attack. What a difference from the dynamic of the General Election campaign south of the Border, and what an illustration of how divergent our political discourse has become in Scotland from that elsewhere in the United Kingdom.
When, some time ago, the writer David Torrance commented on the “Ulsterfication” of Scottish politics, he was derided in some quarters. And yet that surely is what we are now seeing, with the 55 per cent of Unionists increasingly falling in behind the Conservatives, as a counter to the 45 per cent of 2014 Yes voters, largely supporting the SNP.
More evidence of this came in Wednesday’s Ipsos-Mori poll for STV news, showing a rise in Conservative support to 25 per cent, and a decline for the SNP (to 42 per cent). Most striking was probably attitudes towards the various political leaders, with Nicola Sturgeon now in negative territory for the first time ever, a catastrophic collapse in her personal popularity from where it stood even this time last year, to the extent that the SNP leader is now the least popular figure with the public amongst major Scottish politicians.
As we enter the last few days of the 2017 General Election campaign in Scotland, one issue still dominates above all: that of Scotland’s constitutional future. The SNP’s obsession with holding a second independence referendum, whilst neglecting the “day job” of sorting out our economy, education and health service, continues to deprive them of support and drive voters towards the Scottish Conservatives.
Scottish Labour has proved that it cannot be trusted on the independence issue. Almost on a daily basis, Jeremy Corbyn has been making comments suggesting that he is happy to deal with the SNP in the event that he becomes Prime Minister, and that he is prepared to discuss the prospect of a second independence referendum. One can only imagine the distress this is causing to poor Kezia Dugdale, doing her best to shore up her unionist credentials.
On Wednesday night, the Shadow Defence Secretary Emily Thornberry was at it again, refusing time and time again to rule out a coalition deal with the SNP after the election. And yet, with all the talk of a “progressive alliance”, and with so much in common between two Parties who wanted to borrow billions more to fund unrealistic spending pledges, is it any wonder that there are those in both these Parties wanting to keep their options open?
As Scottish voters make up their minds who to support in this election, it is clearer than ever that only the Scottish Conservatives can be trusted to stand up to the SNP, whilst a vote for Labour only risks splitting the unionist vote, and letting the SNP back in. Only we will stand firm against a second independence referendum, and we are the ones demanding that Nicola Sturgeon gets on with the day job,. Let’s make sure that next Friday it is the insurgent Scottish Tories who are the ones smiling, and the SNP’s decline continues.