It's Scotland vs Sturgeon – and Scotland is winning

It's Scotland vs Sturgeon – and Scotland is winning

by Murdo Fraser
article from Friday 5, May, 2017

IT WAS THE LOOK on the faces of the SNP activists this morning which told the story. At the election count in Bells Sports Centre, Perth, the scene of so many Nationalist victories over the years, they could only watch in dismay as swathes of their once heartland territory of Perthshire turned Tory blue.

Long-standing SNP councillors, in with the bricks, were dislodged by eager Tory newcomers. There were huge swings in the country areas in particular – in Blairgowrie, home of John Swinney and Pete Wishart’s shared Parliamentary office, the swing was over 20% from SNP to Tory. With Ian Duncan needing a swing of 9% to beat the SNP incumbent in 5 weeks’ time, it was no wonder that Wishart was looking worried.

The Tories are now the largest Party on Perth & Kinross Council, with 17 seats to the SNP’s 15. But the seat distribution masks the fact that in share of the vote, we were well ahead. If we had run another 2 candidates we had enough votes to get them both elected in addition.

It was the same story across the country.  In areas of Fife that hadn’t seen an elected Tory for decades we gained seats – Cowdenbeath, the last part of Scotland represented by a Communist, now has a Tory councillor. In places like Clackmannanshire and Midlothian our representation soared.

In Shettleston, in Ferguslie Park, in the Highlands, even in the Western Isles, there is now Tory blue on the map, in some cases for the first time ever.

What the Scottish Conservatives did so well in this Election is make it all about a 2nd independence referendum.  Day after day, week after week, we were told by voters on the doorstep that they had had enough of SNP arrogance, they were fed up with Nicola Sturgeon’s plans for a re-run of the 2014 referendum which was supposed to be ‘once in a generation’, and what they wanted was a Government that concentrated on the day job.

Every time Sturgeon appeared on TV talking about independence, the Tories gained momentum. With Labour seen as no longer credible on the constitution – and precious little else – it was the Conservatives that people turned to, to provide a strong unionist opposition under Ruth Davidson.

History will tell us that Sturgeon woefully misplayed her hand in the wake of last June’s Brexit vote. By coming out of the traps so quickly saying that another referendum was ‘highly likely’, she simply inflamed Scotland’s unionist majority. This week, they gave their answer.

The 2015 General Election, when the SNP won 56 out of 59 Scottish seats, was clearly the high water mark of SNP success. Last year they were set back by resurgent Scottish Tories, and set back again this week. The General Election on 8th June is suddenly all the more interesting, with results in places like Perthshire, Aberdeenshire and Moray suggesting that there is all for us to play for.

There have already been mutterings from some in the SNP about Sturgeon’s misjudgements on strategy. Loyal party servants who have lost their seats are looking for someone to blame, and know from doorstep conversations that it was Sturgeon who cost them votes (and, in some cases, their livelihoods). It may be too early for Alex Salmond to be brooding on a comeback, but another bad day at the polls next month and the men in grey kilts will be starting to circle.

The SNP tried to frame the debate ahead of the local elections as Scotland vs the Tories. Not for the first time, they misjudged the public mood. 

As far as the Scottish people are concerned, it is now Scotland vs Sturgeon. And, in that battle, there is only ever going to be one winner.

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