Scottish independence: Liz Truss's lazy plan to 'ignore' Nicola Sturgeon is a PR coup for the SNP – Scotsman comment

On August 16, Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak will take part in the only hustings for the Conservative leadership elections to be held in Scotland.

A topic of particular concern for many party members in the audience will be how the two candidates plan to win over hearts and minds to the cause of unionism and diminish support for independence. A planned nationalist demonstration outside the event, to be held in Perth, will only to underline the importance of the issue.

However, while both Sunak and Truss may be barracked by those outside, the latter could also face uncomfortable questions from within the hall.

For although her fighting talk at a hustings in Exeter on Monday about ignoring Nicola Sturgeon – “she’s an attention seeker, that’s what she is” – may have gone down well with that audience, who responded with cheers and applause, others were also listening. Perhaps it seemed like a good idea to fire up her ‘base’, but it also handed a propaganda coup to the SNP.

Rhetoric and reality are often not the same things – presumably Truss would talk to Sturgeon if she becomes Prime Minister – but it still enables nationalists to start building a demonised image of a potential leader in Westminster in the mould of Boris Johnson, that most unwitting of SNP recruiting sergeants.

Polling by Gordon Brown’s think tank Our Scottish Future last year found Scotland was divided into three camps: roughly equal numbers of committed nationalists and unionists with 40 per cent in the middle who feel more Scottish than British but are “not, or at least not yet, nationalists”.

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As Brown wrote in the Scotsman, “if asked to choose between the two, they would choose Scotland rather than Britain… But, crucially, they don’t want to make the choice between being Scottish and British”.

Liz Truss addresses the second Conservative party membership hustings in Exeter on Monday (Picture: Finnbarr Webster/Getty Images)

Truss’s remarks suggest she is willing to turn the debate into a mindless clash of nationalisms – Scottish and Brexiteer – and such a tribal fight would increasingly push people towards picking a side based more on emotions than reason.

If the next Prime Minister truly wants to preserve the Union, they cannot lazily ignore the SNP but must instead engage them in debate, pointing out their shortcomings in office and making a positive, reasoned case for Scotland within the UK.

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