Tactical voting about the Union and the prospect of a second independence referendum will decide the general election in Scotland, not the personalities of Boris Johnson and co, writes Murdo Fraser.
Political commentators regularly tell us that we are in an era of personality politics. If that is so, it is something of an irony that all our major political figures in the current General Election campaign have as many negatives attached to them as positives.
Last week the left-of-centre periodical the New Statesman failed to endorse Jeremy Corbyn in the election, declaring him not fit to be Prime Minister. For a periodical that has been so associated with the Labour Party throughout its history, this was a significant message.
It is not just The New Statesman who have recognised the risks of a Corbyn government. Former Labour MPs, including Tom Harris, Michael McCann, and Ivan Lewis, have all declared they are voting Conservative, concerned about the lurch to the left by Labour and the woeful failure to tackle anti-semitism within its ranks. If so many former Labour politicians cannot contemplate a Corbyn premiership, then why, one wonders, should the voters?
At the start of the campaign, many thought that the Liberal Democrats would be the beneficiary of Labour extremism. In reality, the Lib Dems have seen their poll ratings slide, largely due to the personal unpopularity of their leader Jo Swinson. The more the public have seen of Swinson, the less they have liked her. If she holds her seat on Thursday, it is hard to see her surviving as Lib Dem leader much beyond that point.
Nicola Sturgeon might be popular with SNP voters, but for the majority of Scots who still believe in the United Kingdom, she is a toxic figure. It is no surprise that she features prominently on Scottish Conservative literature in this election campaign, and the more she appears on our TV screens, the more the Conservative vote in Scotland grows.
Scotland has different key issue
When it comes to the Conservatives, it is fair to say that the jury is out on Boris Johnson. Having been Prime Minister since just August, he still has to prove himself in office. But there are many still prepared to vote Conservative, because there are wider issues at stake than the personality of the incumbent of 10 Downing Street.
In Scotland, this has been a different election from the one that is played out south of the Border; the key issue being not Brexit, but independence, or more specifically the threat of a second independence referendum. Sturgeon has made it clear that every vote for the SNP is a vote for another referendum. The SNP has a sole focus on the constitutional issue and, with this in mind, it is little wonder that we see the ongoing decline in public services such as education and health, reflected in latest polling disclosing that public dissatisfaction with the SNP’s record in these areas is on the increase.
Across much of Scotland, the challengers to the SNP are the Scottish Conservatives. Labour Shadow Minister Paul Sweeney confirmed at the weekend that an arrangement between the minority Labour administration and the SNP involving a second independence referendum was a possibility, making it clear that Labour cannot now be trusted with defence of the Union. With the Liberal Democrats largely irrelevant in Scotland, and the Brexit Party having disappeared entirely from view, there are pro-Union voters across Scotland who will be casting tactical votes for the Scottish Conservatives.
How Johnson will tackle in-work poverty
I didn’t vote for Johnson to become Conservative Party leader and am not a natural supporter, but some of the rhetoric that has been deployed against him by political opponents has been ludicrous. Far from standing on a right-wing manifesto, some of the policies being proposed by the Conservatives at this election could easily be borrowed from a moderate Labour Party playbook: a proposed cut in corporation tax to 17 per cent has been dropped, as is the plan to increase the threshold for paying higher rate tax to £80,000.
The National Living Wage will be raised to two-thirds of medium income, projected to be £10.50 per hour, amongst the highest rates in the world. The benefit freeze will end, and the threshold at which the low paid commence paying National Insurance will be increased. Taken together, these measures will tackle low pay and in-work poverty, and hardly seem the measure of a hard-right government.
That said, there will still be voters in Scotland who have reservations about both Conservative policies and personalities. The question they have to ask themselves as they go to vote tomorrow is a very simple one: do they wish Scotland to remain part of the UK, or do they wish Sturgeon to get a boost in her plans to break up our country?
Whatever the election is about south of the Border, in Scotland it is focussed on one single issue: the future of the Union. To paraphrase the famous slogan, independence is for life, not just for Christmas. Whatever your take on Brexit, or on Boris, if you don’t want another independence referendum, you have to vote for the Scottish Conservatives.
Don’t wake up on Friday morning to see Corbyn installed as leader of a minority Labour government, backed up by a smiling Sturgeon who has now secured permission for a second independence referendum. Many people will be tactically voting Scottish Conservative for the first time – be one of them.
Murdo Fraser is a Conservative MSP for Mid-Scotland and Fife