Will the Scottish Conservatives face near extinction in the snap election? In recent months, talk in the Tory party has turned to what seats the party can pick up in the Midlands, North and Wales to make up for the seats they will lose north of the border. The thinking goes that a combination of the departure of Ruth Davidson, the arrival of Boris Johnson (regarded as unpopular in Scotland) and a hard Brexit policy means that the Tories will shed voters.
However, the mood among sitting Scottish Tory MPs has improved in recent weeks. The reason? The general election campaign in Scotland is being dominated by talk of a second independence referendum. ‘It’s becoming a proxy second independence referendum,’ says one Tory out on the campaign trail. ‘That means we are in a good place to unite the unionist vote.’ Nicola Strugeon’s push for IndyRef2 means that a number of Scottish Tory MPs concerned about their seats believe they have a better chance of holding on to them. While Brexit remains a big motivating factor, Tory campaigners believe that talk of a potential pact between Nicola Sturgeon and Jeremy Corbyn is focusing minds among voters. ‘Jeremy Corbyn is very unpopular in Scotland. Boris has a negative poll rating of -36. Usually that would be a serious problem but Corbyn is -42,’ says a senior Tory. Matters are also helped by the fact the Tories now have a deal to present – no deal was seen as a particularly hard sell north of the border.
Part of the reason seats in Scotland look at risk is that several have wafer thin majorities. Stephen Kerr in Stirling is defending a majority of 148 – and many campaigners are pessimistic about his chances. Likewise, the SNP are on the march in Gordon – Salmond’s old seat – where Colin Clark won in 2017. Even around Dumfries and the Borders where the Tories are viewed to have their safest seats, their highest majority is 11,000. It follows that the Tories face a tough fight in Scotland over the next five weeks – but what was once deemed a shoo-in for the SNP to storm ahead, now looks a lot more competitive. Some are even predicting Tory gains, with the Scottish blogger Ian Smart going so far as to suggest the Tories could actually pick up an extra four seats.