Living in the SNP stronghold of Glasgow, I have seen first-hand the devastation wrought by their disastrous governing at both the local and national level. Scotland has gone from having one of the best education systems in the world to falling behind our UK peers and being in the bottom half of the world in fields such as science. Since the SNP took power in 2007, poverty has risen to over twenty percent of Scottish citizens. They have failed to follow through on their election pledges and simply regurgitate them the next time the country goes to the polls, such as their promise to abolish council tax. Instead of dealing with a pandemic that has killed thousands, the government was busy trying to force an independence referendum as soon as possible. That, however, was only until the party became embroiled in a psychodrama involving the First Minister and her former boss.
Unfortunately, in spite of all this, there has barely been a dent in SNP support.
The SNP still boast a lead of nearly thirty percent in most constituency polls, and pro-independence parties also make up over fifty per cent of the vote in nearly every poll of regional intentions. This makes it clear that there are huge problems with our campaign, and we cannot afford to bury our heads in the sand. Although there was a slight dip in SNP support around the peak of the Salmond-Sturgeon drama, once the First Minister was cleared of breaking the ministerial code, any such dip subsided.
Though in an ideal world, Sturgeon would have been forced to resign for her corruption after a confidence vote, by tying ourselves to the idea that Sturgeon did break the ministerial code before the official inquiry was even published, we looked like a deer in the headlights when it was concluded that she did not. As a result, the Tories ended up being the only party to support her removal, and we came out of the situation with nothing but humiliation. I am mentioning this incident as I believe it is a symptom of a deeper problem within the party.
The opposition parties, in particular the Scottish Conservatives, are completely obsessed with the SNP and as a result are struggling to spread their own positive message of how Scotland should be run. For example, if you look at @ScotTories on Twitter, you will seldom find a message that does not mention the nationalists. This negativity makes us great attack dogs, but it makes us look devoid of a policy platform. Although the SNP should be opposed at every turn, by letting Scottish politics revolve around them, they are already winning. By being defined by our opposition to the SNP and not by our own vision of a better Scotland, in the eyes of voters we will be seen as a credible opposition to the nationalists, but not as a government in waiting.
However, this does not mean that the Tories do not have a vision. For example, just in education, the Scottish Conservatives have pledged to dedicate £120 million pounds to help pupils recover from Coronavirus, to hire three thousand additional teachers, and implement a national tutoring scheme to aid pupils catching up. Highlighting these positive policies are just as if not more important than highlighting the SNP’s failures. However, our policies are not getting equal footing during the campaign, and as a result, many voters will not even hear about any of them.
As I am out volunteering, I read what I am sending through people’s letterboxes; much of the time, these leaflets, many times devoid of any sort of policy pledge, are emblazoned with the exact same statements we’ve used for years and simply no longer cut through with the public: “The SNP will hold another independence referendum if they win a majority. Only the Scottish Conservatives can prevent the SNP from winning a majority”. I understand that slogans and repetition are essential parts of a political campaign, but I fear that they are missing the point. I remember what I have heard from many voters lately, mostly on the fence, but have decided against ticking the Conservative box this time around: “What do the Conservatives actually have to offer outside of unionism?”
I fear that we are going to look like the U.S Democrats, blinded by our hatred of the country’s leader and her party to the point it hampers us. I am worried that we are forgetting what I believe to be the most important part of this campaign: Not just convincing voters that we are better off in Britain, but that once we get to power and prevent an independence referendum, we actually have a plan to improve the lives of Scots. We must not repeat Project Fear. It did not work for the Remain campaign in 2016, and it will not work for the Scottish Conservatives. In the end, I fret that if we fail to change course, it will not work for the No campaign in a second independence referendum.
However, as I have said – we have the foundations of a great campaign. We have the policies; we just have to put them at the forefront. We have promised to stop the banging on about IndyRef2, but that means we must stop banging on about it, too. Being anti-SNP is not enough to win an election, and everybody knows that we stand in staunch opposition to the nationalists by now. We are much more than their opposition and are in fact a prospective party of government. Sadly, many voters just do not know that yet. If we want the people of Scotland to find that out, it is time to talk more about our plans to reskill our regions, create the jobs of tomorrow, tackle inequality, end rough sleeping, protect Scotland’s environment and ultimately, build back better.
For if we are successful, we might not just be able to deprive the SNP of a majority – but watch Douglas Ross walk into Bute House. It may seem like a pipe dream, but I truly believe that anything is possible. Our country will be better off because of it.