Scottish Election 2021: Unionists need to find a clearer vision of Scotland's future in the UK – Scotsman comment

Politics is a complicated business that is routinely reduced to the simplest of slogans.

But given "Get Brexit done” was the mantra that helped give Boris Johnson a hefty majority in the 2019 general election, it’s not hard to see why election gurus place so much store in soundbites repeated ad nauseam. If only they can find the phrase that “cuts through” the debate, then victory is assured.

In his speech to launch the Scottish Conservative election campaign last month, Douglas Ross used variations of the word “division” a total of 15 times as he argued that voting for his party was the best way to stop the SNP’s plans for a second independence referendum and it is clear that this line will be a major theme of the election.

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However, while this will chime with some voters and could be an effective election tactic, it is not likely to change the hearts and minds of the electorate in the long term.

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Speaking to The Scotsman, Ross has now said that in the aftermath of the 2014 referendum, the vast majority of unionists “downed tools” in the apparent belief that Scottish politics would simply move on. Many may regard that as naive, particularly given the SNP remained in power at Holyrood, but it is an admission that the case for the Union has not been made with sufficient verve in the years since.

The vision of Scotland as a Scandinavian-style nation is often promoted by the SNP and appeals to many voters on the centre-left. Unionists need to develop a contrasting idea of Scotland’s place in the new nation that is Brexit Britain which speaks to the hopes and aspirations of a strongly pro-EU electorate.

This is something that Scottish Labour under Anas Sarwar has so far seemed better able to express by focusing on the very real problems that Scotland is facing amid the Covid pandemic and how to deal with them. “Division” gets a mention but the emphasis is on solutions and recovery. Amid the back and forth between Douglas Ross and Nicola Sturgeon on independence, he is coming across as the reasonable one in the middle.

Amid the back and forth over independence between Nicola Sturgeon and Douglas Ross, new Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar is starting to look like the reasonable one in the middle (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Simplicity of message can be powerful, but politics is complicated and ultimately requires substance, not soon-to-be-forgotten soundbites.

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