Analysis: Scottish unionism must tackle its age problem to become a force again

The Scottish Conservatives have an age problem.
The Scottish Conservatives are the least trusted of the three biggest parties in Scotland on domestic issues.The Scottish Conservatives are the least trusted of the three biggest parties in Scotland on domestic issues.
The Scottish Conservatives are the least trusted of the three biggest parties in Scotland on domestic issues.

Not only is it is one they must fix if they want to gain ground on the SNP, but it is one that, alongside the continual failure of Scottish Labour, is hurting Scottish unionism.

It is a well known fact – and one that surprises no-one any more – that the younger you are in Scotland, the more likely you are to vote for a independence supporting party.

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Most often this is the SNP, but the Scottish Greens have shown remarkable growth and resilience in gaining and then holding on to voters in the regional list ballot, eating in to what would traditionally be seats guaranteed for unionists.

More critically, however, is that polling shows that Douglas Ross’ party has become the party of the older generation.

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Such is the struggle to win over young voters, the most recent Savanta ComRes poll for The Scotsman shows that when asked about which party is most trustworthy on seven issues, the Scottish Conservatives come out top in an age group under 65 once.

Those issues include healthcare, education, the environment, the economy, Brexit, improving living standards and protecting jobs – several of which are traditionally reliable strengths for the party.

But, on healthcare – the issue of the day – the SNP remains the most trusted party across all age groups until a voter turns 65 when the nationalists and the Conservatives share the top spot, with 33 per cent of voters aged 65 plus trusting them the most.

Even with the economy, the Scottish Tories must wait until a voter is 55 to be within five points of the SNP and until 65 to push Nicola Sturgeon’s party down into second place.

Only Brexit, the poster-child policy of the current UK Conservative party, is Mr Ross’s party trusted more than any other at an age under 65, with the Tories six points ahead of the SNP with voters aged between 55 and 64, and 12 ahead of the SNP for voters aged 65.

The party’s lack of pull for the young vote is encapsulated in two statistics.

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On all major domestic issues, the party is trusted by less than 10 per cent of people under the age of 35.

For voters between 35 and 54, not once does trust in the party go above 15 per cent.

It is unlikely, therefore, that a young voter looking at all of the Scottish political parties will – unless they have a strong unionist view on independence – side with the Conservatives.

More worrying, the party is trusted less than Scottish Labour across all issues apart from Brexit with those under the age of 54.

That struggle to be seen as a genuine domestic alternative, rather than an anti-independence vote, is what could stall the party’s growth.

It will also make it more likely that those currently voting Labour – still hovering around 20 per cent – would jump ship to the more politically friendly SNP and, switching to vote Yes.

The Scottish population is an ageing population, but with more younger people included in the franchise it is hard to see where the Conservatives will find votes on any issue other than independence.

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