Vote of no confidence: Scottish Tories face further electoral damage after Boris Johnson vote, says pollster

The Scottish Conservatives face further electoral damage following Boris Johnson’s confidence vote, a polling expert has said.

Mark Diffley, director of the Diffley Partnership polling company, said Douglas Ross and his party have been left "in the worst of all worlds".

He said the longer the Downing Street drama lasts, "the worse that is for the Tories in Scotland".

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Boris Johnson and Douglas Ross
Boris Johnson and Douglas Ross
Boris Johnson and Douglas Ross
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Murdo Fraser, a senior Tory MSP, said there was a concern the party’s electoral prospects would be damaged “if the Prime Minister continues in office much longer”.

Mr Johnson’s leadership was wounded on Monday evening when he survived a confidence vote, with 148 Conservative MPs voting against him.

These included four of Scotland’s six Tory MPs. Mr Ross, the Scottish Tory leader, was among them.

He previously called for Mr Johnson to go before changing his mind due to the war in Ukraine, but said he could not “in good faith” support the Prime Minister.

Mr Fraser, his party’s Covid recovery spokesman in Holyrood, told The Scotsman: “What we saw in the recent local election result was that undoubtedly there was an impact on local Conservative candidates because of Boris Johnson and Partygate, and he was acting as a drag on the party’s performance.

"It certainly is a concern that if the Prime Minister continues in office much longer, our future prospects will be damaged by that.”

However, Mr Fraser said talk of how the party would campaign in any general election was “an entirely hypothetical situation”, adding: “I think most people who were betting on it would bet that the Prime Minister is not going to see out the year, never mind being there at the time of the general election.”

The next UK election is expected to be held in 2024, but Mr Johnson could use his powers to call a snap election before then.

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Sir John Curtice, the polling expert and professor of politics at the University of Strathclyde, dismissed the prospect of this happening unless Mr Johnson "wishes to commit political suicide on behalf of his party".

Mr Diffley said a decline in support for the Conservatives in Scotland could be traced back to the Partygate scandal hitting the headlines at the turn of the year.

He said: "It's difficult to see how either Douglas or the party more broadly in Scotland recovers from this.

"I just think they are in the worst of all worlds at the minute, because this is going to drag on.

"History tells us that northwards of 40 per cent of your own MPs having no confidence in you – they are not just going to fall into line now.

"I can absolutely see why the Government is trying to get on the front foot and so forth, but the reality and the history of this would tell us that this still has a long way to run.

"And the longer it runs, with Johnson sort of digging in, the worse that is for the Tories in Scotland."

Mr Diffley added: "What they needed from this scandal, if you like, was a) a quick resolution to it, and b) that the Prime Minister would be replaced.

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"And neither of those appears to be happening, so you've basically got a situation where the thing that appears to be hurting them the most is going to drag on and, at this stage, not have the result that would benefit them the most.

"It's pretty unthinkable to consider a general election being called and Conservative candidates across Scotland being put in front of the media, or in front of constituents at meetings and asking people to vote for a Prime Minister who they don't have any confidence in – or some of them do, some of them don't.

"And we know that voters don't like divided parties. I know it's a cliche, but it's based on polling evidence.

"If you're seen as being divided on something as fundamental as who the guy at the top should be, then my suspicion would be that you've not got a hugely positive story to tell in terms of asking people to give you their vote."

Mr Diffley said Labour and the Liberal Democrats could stand to benefit from voters moving away from the Scottish Tories.

He said voting in Scotland was divided along constitutional lines, adding: "So the beneficiaries of all this, of course, are going to be Labour.

"You won't find many, if any, Tory supporters drifting off towards the SNP, but you will find them drifting off towards both Labour and the Lib Dems, I suspect.

"We've already got some actual evidence of that in the local council elections, but I suspect if there were a general election now, or indeed a Holyrood election, then I suspect you would see more and more of that.

"That's what the polling would suggest."

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Sir John said the debate around whether the Scottish Tory party should "go for a more quasi-autonomous position" could be revived in the aftermath of the confidence vote.

Former party figures such as ex-MSP Adam Tomkins have vocally backed a split from the UK party.

Sir John said: "I guess the good news for Douglas is that there isn't another election until probably the next UK general election, by which stage the issue should have resolved itself one way or the other."

One MSP said there was anger and frustration within the party “that there wasn’t a majority of MPs who were prepared to recognise the damage that was being done to the party – not just in Scotland, but across the whole UK – by maintaining in office a Prime Minister who is deeply unpopular and whose conduct has, in the eyes of a large section of the population, fallen below the standards that people would expect”.

They said: “I think, given the outcome of the ballot, the clock is ticking down on Boris Johnson’s premiership. But it is frustrating that there weren’t more MPs prepared to step up and say, at this stage, time is up – because it certainly would have made our lives a lot easier if they had.”

Ross Thomson, a former Tory MP and Scottish campaign manager for Mr Johnson, said the Prime Minister “needs to start building bridges” in Scotland.

Mr Johnson’s authority faces further blows with tricky by-elections on June 23 in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, and Tiverton and Honiton in Devon.

The SNP called on Tory MSPs to hold a vote of no confidence in Mr Ross’s leadership, accusing him of lacking credibility.



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