Alex Massie

Easy Populism

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In her speech yesterday Annabel Goldie decried the cheap and easy populism that she, rightly, described as the SNP's approach to government. Fair enough. A shame, therefore, that she resorted to just that kind of easy, headline grabbing, rhetoric herself. Her announcement that the Tories a) respect the right of judges to decide matters for themselves and b) propose madatory two year prison terms for anyone guilty of simply carrying a knife was both contradictory and disappointing. Also sadly predictable.

But it's a measure of the hole the Scottish Tories still find themselves in that this easy populism was the "major" part of her speech. Just as revealing was her plea for voters to judge the Tories on their merits now, not on the perceived wickedness of their past. One senior Tory disputed my suggestion that the party had been in a defensive crouch for the past dozen years: "We've been feart, but I don't think we are any more".

Perhaps so, but there was a contradiction too between Goldie's notion that "our broken devolved politics" needs fixing and her previous, and accurate, assessment that Scotland is better served by minority government than the previous Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition.

And what constitutes success for the Scottish Tories? Senior party figures are happy to suggest that the 3/1 Ladbrokes offer on the Conservatives winning seven or more Scottish seats is good value. Well, maybe. But most party activists would be happy with four victories at the next election.

Dumfries and Galloway should turn blue next year, but there are precious few Tory-Labour contests and in some of them, such as Stirling, much depends upon the nationalist vote. The estimable Bob Dalrymple, one of the brightest and more promising youngish Tories faces a toughish task in Michael Forsyth's old seat but if there really is a Tory "wave" then his is the seat that will prove its existence.

Nonetheless, many of the Tory target seats are currently held by the nationalists and that too highlights the Tory difficulty: they need to fight on two fronts. The UK picture demands that they take the fight to Labour, but in places such as Perth Peter Lybrun, the improbably, nay impossibly young, Tory candidate needs to knock-off an SNP incumbent.

And of course the Tories task is complicated by the fact that many SNP voters would, if they were English and voting in Essex, be conservatives. Which is another way of reminding folk that the Scottish Conservatives have a tough task that is not merely the consequence of their own failings.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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