Tory leader Ruth Davidson has appealed to tactical voters in Scotland to back her party as the “best bet” to halt the SNP’s independence push as the UK government was yesterday given the green light for an election on 8 June.
MPs voted 522-13 in favour of a snap poll, centred on the issue of Brexit, with SNP MPs abstaining in a crunch Commons vote.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was in London yesterday to meet her MPs and said she would be open to forming a “progressive alliance” with Labour and Liberal Democrats to keep the Tories out of office. But the move was last night ruled out by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and polls suggest such a scenario is unlikely.
Theresa May put the issue of leadership at the heart of her pitch for the election, as she promised that a Conservative victory would give Britain stability during and after Brexit.
Writing in today’s Scotsman, Ms Sturgeon said the Prime Minister’s attempt to block “our mandate to hold another referendum when the time is right will crumble to dust”.
The question of a second independence referendum is poised to dominate the campaign and Ms Davidson was accused of “desperation” after calling on anti-independence Scots to back her party, even appealing to tactical voters.
There’s no way the SNP is getting 56 [seats] this timeRuth Davidson
Ms Davidson insisted that the Tories will win more than the one seat north of the Border they secured in the 2015 general election, while the SNP will fall short of the 56 seats they won two years ago.
“We’re the strongest party to take on the SNP,” Ms Davidson said yesterday.
“If you do believe in tactical voting and if you have a principled belief in keeping the United Kingdom together and respecting the decision that we made in 2014, then actually your vote is for the Scottish Conservatives.
“You’ve got a Labour leader in Jeremy Corbyn who said he’d be quite happy to let another referendum happen, the Lib Dems just aren’t strong enough. It is very much a case, if you’re not supporting the SNP and you want somebody to stop their drive to break up Scotland then the Scottish Conservatives are your best bet.”
Ms Davidson pointed to last year’s Holyrood election when the Tories won a number of constituency seats in the south and west of Scotland, Ayrshire and the Borders, while the party also doubled its vote share in many northern areas where it finished second to the SNP.
“If you’re talking about Angus Robertson [Moray], if the line from the SNP in this general election is going to be talking about Brexit as much as they can, well 49.6 per cent of his seat voted to Leave, so you know, my strong prediction is there’s no way the SNP is getting 56 this time.”
She also indicated that party will have a “right good go” at securing the Perth and North Perthshire seat held by the SNP’s Pete Wishart.
But a spokesman for the SNP insisted that the Ms Davidson’s appeal showed that the Tories have a “pre-occupation” with independence. He added: “This latest call for tactical voting to try and keep the SNP out is a sign of desperation and shows just how obsessed with this single issue they are.
“These elections are a straight contest between the SNP and the Tories. And for all they try to wriggle out of it, Ruth Davidson’s party cannot just shrug off those ties that bind the Tories in Scotland to their colleagues at Westminster – their relentless austerity agenda, reckless pursuit of a hard Brexit and complete disregard for Scotland’s interests.”
Elections expert Professor John Curtice of Strathclyde University warned yesterday that the only hope for the Tories to make significant gains from tactical voting is if the SNP vote falls away.
He said: “Of the 56 seats which the SNP won in the last election there were 34 where they had more than 50 per cent of the vote, so pro-Union tactical voting isn’t going to win them those seats.”
A spokesman for Scottish Labour said: “If voters want to stop the SNP and its plans for a divisive second independence referendum, their only option is to vote for Labour.”
The Liberal Democrats also believe they can capitalise on the pro-Union tactical vote and add to the one seat they have, with Willie Rennie’s party just a few thousand votes behind the SNP in areas including East Dunbartonshire, Edinburgh West and Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross.