Conservatives need to expunge 'nasty party' tag entirely to succeed in Scotland – Scotsman comment

While Richard Leonard’s resignation has focused attention on Scottish Labour, the state of the Scottish Conservatives is equally dire.

It may have been a typical quip by Jacob Rees-Mogg but saying fish are 'happier' after Brexit because they are British while discussing serious export problems for the Scottish fleet does not help the Conservative cause (Picture: David Mirzoeff/PA Wire)

In a recent Savanta/ComRes poll for The Scotsman put Labour on 18 per cent and the Tories just one percentage point higher, with the SNP way ahead on 53. The question is not who will win the Scottish Parliament election but by how much.

Jackson Carlaw stood down as Scottish Conservative leader last year to be replaced by Moray MP Douglas Ross.

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And while he has hardly put a foot wrong, he has also not managed to change public opinion to any significant degree. Former leader Ruth Davidson is regularly lauded for her leadership skills but it took time to create the kind of public profile that enabled her to turn the Tories into Scotland’s second party.

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Ross clearly realises that Davidson’s brand of liberal, one-nation conservatism is the way to go in Scotland and has demonstrated he is not afraid to criticise Boris Johnson to underline this point.

However, others do not seem to have quite grasped that the “nasty party” image – that Theresa May once warned members against – is a vote loser and particularly so in Scotland.

For example, Glasgow Pollok candidate Craig Ross’s remarks that food bank users were “far from starving” and “fat” – which led to his suspension and then resignation from the party – did little other than the SNP’s work for them. Suggesting poor people who are over-weight often because of a cheap but high-calorie diet should live off their fat reserves when times get particularly hard is about as nasty as the nasty party can be.

And this isn’t just a fringe problem. Questioned about serious delays of Scottish fish exports to the EU, Cabinet minister Jacob Rees-Mogg declared at least the fish were happier because they were “now British fish”, while Scotland Office minister David Duguid’s response when asked how long the problems would continue – “how long is a piece of string?” – appeared to show a lack of concern or interest in the livelihoods of those involved.

As we said yesterday, democratic countries need a strong opposition party. The Conservatives need to make clear that they actually care about the people they wish to govern if they hope to become one.

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