Leader: Tories' successful strategy plays part in division

If the Scottish Conservatives' strategy for the local elections was considered audacious, it was nothing compared to what was to come. Only a matter of hours after celebrating her party's best result north of the border for decades, Ruth Davidson was back on the campaign trail '“ in the heart of Alex Salmond's Westminster constituency.

Ruth Davidson celebrates with newly elected Tory councillors at Meadowbank Stadium, Edinburgh. Picture: Neil Hanna
Ruth Davidson celebrates with newly elected Tory councillors at Meadowbank Stadium, Edinburgh. Picture: Neil Hanna

After the Tories won council seats in Ferguslie Park, Ravenscraig and Shettleston, it was said that there were no longer any no-go areas for the party. Davidson underlined that point yesterday with her appearance in Inverurie.

However, she would need a political earthquake way beyond anything witnessed at the end of last week if her party was to topple the incumbent, who holds a majority of just under 9,000 over the Liberal Democrats, a seat where the Conservative candidate trailed the former first minister by 21,000 votes just two years ago.

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What Davidson is hoping is that unionists will rally behind her party in the general election, to take some SNP scalps and then conclude that demand for a second independence referendum is on the wane. The effectiveness of this strategy was unarguable last week, and it is now being extended with a bid to form pro-Union alliances to thwart SNP control of councils.

The Conservative strategy can succeed again at the general election, although Davidson might have picked a different destination yesterday by acknowledging the strength of the Liberal Democrats in Gordon instead of dismissing them by stating that the constituency is a “two-horse race” between the SNP and the Tories.

That said, the Conservatives could cause significant damage elsewhere in Scotland on 8 June, and senior SNP figures Angus Robertson and Pete Wishart have reason to be concerned.

What is not in doubt is that this general election has become about Scottish independence, when it should have been about Brexit. Exiting the EU is the biggest political upheaval of most people’s lifetimes, but even that seismic scale of turmoil cannot shift the focus in Scotland away from our own constitutional conundrum.

However, perhaps we should not get 
too hung up about Scots being distracted when they should be giving a verdict on Theresa May’s request for a mandate to 
allow her to press on with Brexit negotiations. What last week’s local elections also told us is that May is heading for a landslide victory at the polls, regardless of what happens in Scotland.

In contrast, Scotland is likely to remain split down the middle on independence, and possibly even more polarised than before. For all that Davidson’s tactic is effective and legitimate, it also serves to reinforce the existing stalemate. In five weeks’ time, we may well be no further forward.