Analysis: Tory leadership hopefuls will need more than indyref2 grandstanding

In June 2019, I found myself eating fish and chips on Peterhead harbour as Jeremy Hunt sought to paint himself as the saviour of the Union.

Way back then, Mr Hunt was battling Boris Johnson to become the next Conservative leader and inhabitant of Number 10.

His campaign visit included a stop off at his 99-year-old great-aunt Betty’s, just outside Aberdeen, as well as a stroll along the Granite City’s windswept esplanade.

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The former cabinet minister told journalists he would support the Union “with every drop of blood” in his veins.

Jeremy Hunt in Peterhead during the 2019 Tory leadership election. Picture: PA
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He even sipped a can of Irn-Bru while answering questions in Peterhead. “It is a new experience, and it’s very pleasant," was his unconvincing assessment.

A poll that morning had suggested support for independence would climb to 53 per cent if Mr Johnson became Prime Minister.

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Of course, that’s exactly what happened. And while support for independence hasn’t hit the heights hoped for by the SNP, there is no doubt the Union is in a fragile condition.

It is an issue that is already looming large in the latest Tory leadership psychodrama.

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Both Mr Hunt, who is once again running for the top job, and Sajid Javid have suggested it should be at least ten years before another referendum is held.

Penny Mordaunt has said another “divisive” vote is the “last thing Scotland needs”.

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Meanwhile, Tom Tugendhat has argued the pro-independence side “can't keep on asking the same question hoping for a different answer”.

He has spoken of a “clean slate for the Conservative Party”, stressing: “Scotland is a key part of the levelling-up agenda.”

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Setting out a compelling vision for the future of the Union will be among the most important tasks awaiting whoever wins the Tory leadership race.

Mr Johnson’s deep unpopularity north of the border meant he was never the man to do this, despite styling himself “minister for the Union”.

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But if Conservative and unionist politicians want to effectively combat the Scottish Government’s latest independence drive, they need to do more than grandstand.

Talking tough on a second referendum is all very well, but simply saying No won’t cut it.

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Scotland is a divided nation. The next Prime Minister will need more than a taste for Irn-Bru if they want to address that.

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