Politics

Downing Street ‘chaos’ hurting Scottish Tories, former party chair Peter Duncan warns

A FORMER chair of the Scottish Tories has warned “continuing chaos in Downing Street” is damaging the party north of the border and risks seat losses in May’s council elections.

Peter Duncan, who was the only Tory MP in Scotland for four years in the early 2000s, said Tory councillors felt like the “fall guys” for “incompetence” in Number 10.

The Scottish Tories made the biggest gains in the last local elections of 2017, more than doubling their numbers to 276 councillors under then leader Ruth Davidson.

The party now helps run seven of the country’s 32 local authorities.

However writing in the Sunday Times, Mr Duncan said the fall-out from Boris Johnson’s “devastating sequence of disastrous missteps” in recent weeks could well change that.

Besides suffering by association, the Scottish party also lacked an “indyref turbocharge” to boost its support, as a second referendum currently felt like a distant prospect.

He said it had made the long-mooted idea of a separate Scottish party, which he supports, “much more likely”.

He said: “The omnishambles of recent months confirms that there is, indeed, nothing as powerful as an idea whose time has come.”

The former Galloway MP wrote: “After a devastating sequence of disastrous missteps this autumn, from Owen Paterson to Downing Street parties, from northern rail U-turns to Covid strategy division, the PM heads into 2022 under pressure like never before. 

“And, once more, it’s hurting the Conservative cause in Scotland. Of the alternative leaders now emerging, it’s difficult to see that pattern changing, and instinctively there seems little chance of a change of UK leader before the local elections in May. 

“Anxious Scots Tory councillors are contemplating a campaign where they feel like the fall guys for Downing Street incompetence. 

“On current poll ratings, significant losses look likely, not least of all because the party in Scotland needs another indyref turbocharge to their campaign, at a time when that second referendum feels a bit further away than it has done for a few years.”

In 2011, Ms Davidson was elected leader after vehemently opposing a break with the UK Tory party, the key policy of her main rival in the race, MSP Murdo Fraser.  

However Mr Duncan said there was now a growing appetite for the proposal as problems south of the border were manifestly “hurting the Conservative cause in Scotland”. 

He wrote: “That option, on the table for over 20 years, is inevitably attracting new supporters from across the party membership. Yes, there may be risks to a split with the UK party – but are they any greater than the risks inherent than in the status quo?

“One thing is certain, continuing chaos in Downing Street is holding back Scottish Tory prospects and will put at risk good, hardworking Scottish Conservative councillors and MSPs unless something changes.”

READ MORE: Nationalist or Unionist, here’s three ways to break the stalemate in Scottish politics

Like Mr Fraser a decade ago, Mr Duncan backed a “more grown up arrangement” akin to the German model of distinct national and regional parties of the centre right.

It should be a “fundamental re-alignment of the centre and centre-right in Scotland,” he said, not a superficial “rebranding exercise”.

He said: “The Scottish party has no shortage of innovative thought on policy, and no shortage of ambition to change the negative backdrop. 

“There has never been, and is not now, any shortage of financial support for a centre-right force that can change the stagnant nature of political debate in Scotland.

“I don’t underestimate the scale of the challenge such a move would present. It won’t be easy, indeed it might be painful, but would be the move that all the other Scottish parties would least like to see. For that reason, and many others, it deserves revisiting.”

Last week former Tory MSP Adam Tomkins also wrote in the Herald that all the opposition parties at Holyrood should cut their apron strings to their London-based parents.

None would get near power “until they break free and divorce themselves from London”.

Professor Sir John Curtice, of Strathclyde University’s politics party, told the Sunday Times that recent poor polling for the Scottish Tories suggested Mr Johnson’s “recent travails have indeed cost the party significant support”.

But he warned: “Re-launching and re-branding a political party is not an enterprise that is likely to be successfully delivered in the four short months between now and May’s election.”

A spokesman for the Scottish Conservatives said the existing party was “the only opposition that is strong enough to stand up to the nationalist coalition”.

An SNP spokesman said: “It’s good to see that even the Tories have come to the realisation that they too need independence from Westminster in order to survive.”

 

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