Liz Truss: Can this 'child of the Union' gain support in Scotland?

She describes herself as a “child of the Union” and spent some of her formative years in Paisley.

But Liz Truss, the favourite to be the next prime minister, appears to be struggling to gain support among Scottish Conservatives.

Party insiders have dismissed her as lacking in charisma and “too close to Boris”.

On Thursday, Ruth Davidson, the former leader in Scotland, became the most high-profile figure north of the Border to back Rishi Sunak for the Conservative leadership.

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss. Picture: Aaron Chown/PA Wire

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It may come as a source of frustration to a politician who would be the first Tory prime minister since Alec Douglas-Home to have lived in Scotland.

Ms Truss, 46, was born in Oxford in 1975 but moved to Paisley when she was four, where she attended West Primary and lived in the affluent Castlehead neighbourhood.

Her father, John, was a lecturer at Paisley College and her mother, Priscilla, a nurse. Both were left-wing, the Foreign Secretary has said.

Writing in The Scotsman in 2018, she recalled playing Margaret Thatcher in a primary school mock election in 1983.

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"I jumped at the chance, and gave a heartfelt speech at the hustings, but ended up with zero votes,” she said.

"I didn't even vote for myself – even at that age, we knew it was simply unpopular to be a Tory in the West of Scotland.”

Things are different now, she wrote. “Being a Tartan Tory is back in vogue”.

After attending secondary school in Leeds, Ms Truss went to Oxford University, where she was an enthusiastic Liberal Democrat. Amusingly, an old BBC clip shows her campaigning against the monarchy in Brighton in 1994.

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She first ran as a Tory parliamentary candidate in 2001 and was eventually elected to Westminster in 2010. It was not long before she entered government, first as an education minister and then as environment secretary, justice secretary, chief secretary to the Treasury and international trade secretary.

She was appointed Foreign Secretary in 2021 under Boris Johnson – the third prime minister she has worked with.

Despite backing Remain in 2016, she is seen as the Tory right’s favoured candidate.

David Mundell, the former Scottish Secretary, served in Cabinet with Ms Truss and found her to be “very much her own person”.

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He told Scotland on Sunday: "I found her very easy to work with at the Treasury, when she was chief secretary, because you knew what she would be expecting of you. You knew exactly where you stood with her.”

He said Ms Truss has acknowledged she is "not the slickest media performer". But off camera, he describes her as "quite a fun person" and "jocular and charming".

Mr Mundell will not reveal who he is backing in the leadership race, but dismissed claims Ms Truss would be bad for the Union.

"Boris Johnson's premiership shows that actually the Union is not as personality-based as some people suggest,” he said.

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He added: "My experience is that she feels strongly about keeping the United Kingdom together.

"She recognises that we have to continue to show the benefits of being in the UK and what the UK government is doing in and for Scotland.”

Mr Mundell said the Foreign Secretary’s Scottish connection “will certainly be to her advantage in terms of doing the job”.

He said: "My view is we have two people going forward now to the members, and it is for the members to decide. And both of those two people could do the job from day one."

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One senior Scottish Conservative described Ms Truss as a “survivor”. They said: “In some ways the person that she might remind people of the most would be a Theresa May-type, in that she’ll read her brief, she’s quite assiduous, there’s no problems in terms of her work ethic or anything like that.

"I think the issue would be that publicly she doesn’t come across as lively and engaging as she does in private.

"She’s actually a bit warmer, a bit sparkier in private than you maybe see on the telly.”

They said she was “quite fearless” and “will go out and bat for the party’s position irrespective of knowing if she’s going to get brickbats thrown at her”, whereas quite a few of her colleagues would rather let others take the “incoming fire”.

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They added: “She’s good at saying the line. She’s maybe not quite as good at thinking on her feet. But she’s capable.”

The source said Ms Truss probably engaged with Scottish issues most when she was heading up the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, adding: "She came and did some stuff with farmers and fishermen up here, because that was the brief, so it’s not like she gets a nosebleed north of the Watford Gap.”

Ms Truss has pledged to take on the economic “consensus” of the past two decades and allow government borrowing to increase to fund her tax-cutting plans. Mr Sunak has accused her of “something-for-nothing economics”.

After a series of votes by Tory MPs, party members will now decide who gets the keys to Number 10. Polls indicate they favour Ms Truss.

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Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross will work with “whoever emerges victorious”, while Scottish Secretary Alister Jack will not publicly back either candidate.

Mr Sunak is currently more popular among MSPs, although many have yet to declare. Douglas Lumsden and Oliver Mundell, son of the former Scottish secretary, have said they are leaning towards Ms Truss.

The Foreign Secretary held an online call with MSPs on Friday afternoon, with her campaign team insisting “the strength of the Union is a core part of Liz’s agenda”.

Pollster Mark Diffley said there is nothing in any of the existing evidence to suggest she will prove popular with voters in Scotland.

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Ms Truss might be the favourite to win, but how she fares in her former home remains to be seen.

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