Douglas Ross doubles down on tactical voting despite SNP's disarray. Scottish Conservatives need a better plan – John McLellan

If, as Oscar Wilde said, the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about then perhaps Scottish Conservatives should be happy that Sunday’s BBC Scotland news led with a story about the ongoing party dispute over tactical voting.

It’s not as if there weren’t other stories from which to choose, like ex-First Minister Nicola Sturgeon making a plea for privacy on Saturday night, which BBC news executives might have felt it was only decent to honour. After all, it’s not as if there were any unanswered questions following the Mail on Sunday’s revelation that police had impounded a £110,000 campervan at the home of her 92-year-old mother-in-law, on the day her husband, Peter Murrell, was arrested and released without charge as part of the investigation into the whereabouts of £600,000 the SNP raised for a second independence campaign. It is, of course, unwise to speculate during a live police investigation into potential fraud.

There was also the Sunday Mail’s exclusive on how Ms Sturgeon had allegedly closed down debate about the SNP’s finances at a meeting of its national executive in 2021, but again it would be rude to pry after the week she’s had – “quite traumatic at times,” she told reporters outside her Uddingston home at the weekend. And there were the revelations about how the hierarchy led by the husband-and-wife team vetoed more transparency recommended by then deputy leader Keith Brown, whose subsequent reward was the sack by the Continuity SNP standard-bearer Humza Yousaf. After eight years of presiding over all of this, and the Alex Salmond affair to boot, who could doubt Ms Sturgeon wanted a breather?

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So, throughout Sunday, BBC Scotland led on a follow-up to a Sunday Telegraph story about Conservatives in London distancing themselves from Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross’s plea for tactical voting at the next general election to defeat the SNP, which first broke the previous weekend. After the week the SNP had endured, it was quite something for this still to be the state broadcaster’s most important item, and it was still top of the online BBC Scotland news on Monday morning. At least BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland decided the most important story had moved on, to Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer supporting his party’s personalised attack on Rishi Sunak, claiming he did not believe in jailing adults convicted of sexually assaulting children.

Scottish Conservatives leader Douglas Ross out canvassing event in Edinburgh ahead of the local elections last year (Picture: Peter Summers/Getty Images)Scottish Conservatives leader Douglas Ross out canvassing event in Edinburgh ahead of the local elections last year (Picture: Peter Summers/Getty Images)
Scottish Conservatives leader Douglas Ross out canvassing event in Edinburgh ahead of the local elections last year (Picture: Peter Summers/Getty Images)

There’s no question a difference of opinion between Conservatives in London and Scotland over electoral tactics was a story, just that even by Sunday morning it was hardly the biggest issue of the day. But, as the SNP imploded, Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross kept it going with articles for the Conservative Home website and an interview with the Telegraph in which the encouragement to vote for the party most likely to beat the SNP was repeated. There is little doubt the Scottish Conservatives are best placed to oust the SNP in many northern and southern constituencies, and polling shows the party picking up one or two more rural seats, but sticking to the tactical voting approach effectively says it is OK for Conservatives in urban Scottish seats to vote for a party which is essentially accusing the Prime Minister of being an apologist for paedophilia, just to unseat an SNP MP. Sorry, Douglas, no Conservative should vote Labour on this basis alone.

It also means Conservatives in places like Edinburgh South voting for a party pledging to impose VAT on private school fees, which will not only burden hundreds of Conservative-voting households with extra expense, on top of the SNP’s punitive levels of income tax, but potentially create a crisis in Edinburgh’s already over-stretched state school system. With fees rising over ten per cent as it is, another fifth will leave only shrapnel in change, if any, from £20,000 a year per pupil and having to find £40,000 out of taxed earnings for two children is bound to see more families staying in the state system, most of whom live in the catchments of already over-subscribed comprehensives. Yet Conservatives are supposed to ignore this to see off a party which by the admission of its president is facing an existential crisis. In Edinburgh South-West, where Conservatives are strong, it just causes confusion.

It is true independence won’t go away as believers won’t stop believing just because the main vehicle has lost its wheels, but without the independence Sword of Damocles, there can be a more constructive debate about Scotland’s future within the United Kingdom while the SNP tears itself apart as the less-than-saintly truth about the Sturgeon era is laid bare. Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar ─ whose family trust can easily cover Hutchesons’ Grammar School fees for his kids ─ made clear yesterday they are fighting both nationalists and Tories, so Scottish Conservatives should similarly be taking on hypocritical (a criticism Mr Sarwar accepts) socialists and separatists.

The 15 or so SNP renegades, with Kate Forbes and Fergus Ewing prominent amongst them, show there is a market for right-of-centre alternatives which prioritise private sector-led economic growth, but they can never be its champion while wedded to a party now more left-wing than Labour. While they are also wedded to independence they will never be Conservatives, but in this era of broken play, as they say in rugby, in which the shards of the shattered myth of SNP moral superiority lie all around, there is an opportunity for new thinking across party lines about Scotland’s future for those with vision and imagination to fill the void which thousands of voters were duped into believing the SNP was filling. That will take a lot more than tactical voting to deliver, but there is still time. As Oscar Wilde also said, experience is the name we give our mistakes.



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