That didn’t last long did it. Just a few days ago the usual suspects were crowing that Ruthie Davidson was the most popular politician in Scotland, all on the basis of a shonky poll from SkyNews which didn’t even pretend to represent a balanced sample. But that didn’t stop them from hailing Ruth as the chief buffalo girl. And then along comes a proper opinion poll, one carried out by no less a person than the Tories’ former paymaster Michael Ashcroft, a poll which puts Ruth a long way behind Nicola Sturgeon in the popularity stakes in Scotland. So that’s Fraser Nelson’s thesis buggered then.
Ruth’s supposed popularity was always a product of hype. If you tell people often enough that she’s the most effective and most popular politician then she’ll become so. Unfortunately that was only ever going to work if there was more to Ruth than looking good on the panel of Have I Got News For You and posing for amusing photo ops with buffaloes, fish, and other dumb creatures – like most of the Conservative MSPs. Behind the glossy image of Ruth as a new type of Tory, a modern Conservative for the 21st century, there is a policy vacuum. A vacuum in which all you can hear is a scream “no one wants another referendum”, despite abundant evidence that a great many people do.
Ruth is defined by being opposed to whatever it is that the SNP stand for, but remains silent on what she stands for herself. That’s because what she really stands for is whatever her bosses in the Conservatives at Westminster stand for, and she’ll turn 180 degrees in her views depending on the way the windbags of Westminster are blowing. Naturally her pals in the media don’t press her too closely on this uncomfortable truth. Ruth is a walking irony, a shouty politician who shouts so loudly in order to cover up the fact that she’s saying nothing at all.
The myth is that Ruth appeals to a broad spectrum of the Scottish public. She doesn’t. She appeals to Conservatives, she appeals to that minority of Scottish opinion which has an ideological and emotional commitment to the United Kingdom come what Theresa May. That’s always going to be a relatively small minority of Scottish voters. During the independence referendum of 2014 I was constantly struck by the number of people who said that they were voting No, not out of any sense of loyalty to a British state that they knew had no loyalty to them, not because they believed themselves to be British to the core of their beings, but simply because they felt that the time wasn’t right, or that the risks were too great. Ruth can’t appeal to those voters. She can only make her pitch with any success to the diehards. That’s why even though she’s being touted in the British media as the woman who will save the Union, she will ultimately fail. She’ll fail because for many many Scots her party represents everything that’s wrong with Britain.
Ruth rails against the divisions in Scotland but she has no answers to them. The Tories don’t have the slightest idea of how to heal the divisions that they claim are fracturing this country. They think that the way to deal with division is for everyone who doesn’t agree with them to shut up and to suck it up. It’s meaningless cant born of desperation, because the Tories know that they have no solutions and no ammunition for contesting another independence referendum. What are they going to say? Their strongest argument last time round was why risk independence when you can have the safety and security of the UK, and they’ve destroyed that argument all by themselves. Brexit dominates everything in UK politics now, so attempting not to talk about Brexit in the context of a second independence referendum is going to be doomed to failure.
Despite this, Ruth is described as “ecumenical” in sympathetic write ups in supposedly left of centre and liberal newspapers like the Guardian. Who knew? Well there’s me discovered a new synonym for “shouty”. And just as in the referendum of 2014, we discover that when the Guardian has a choice between defending social democratic values, or defending the British establishment, they’ll go for the British establishment every day of the week.
Now the Tories have revealed their election strategy for the local elections. It consists of avoiding talking about local issues. The Tories want you to waste your vote in the local elections. They want to turn it into a referendum on not having a referendum. Use your say in order to say that you don’t want a say. And once you’ve done that, you can elect some Tory councillors who will destroy your local public services and won’t be able to prevent a referendum being held anyway.
So in the upcoming local elections use your vote wisely. Use it to rank all the candidates who are standing in your ward, give your first preference to the pro-independence candidate of your choice, then work your way down the list, give your next preference to your next favoured pro-indy candidate, and so on until you’ve run out of pro-indy candidates. If you are, say, an SNP supporter, don’t stop once you’ve ranked the SNP candidates. Give your next preferences to other pro-independence candidates, Greens, Socialists, or pro-independence independents. Equally if you’re a Green, don’t stop after you’ve given your first preferences to the Green candidates. Rank all the pro-independence candidates. It means that they have a better chance of getting elected ahead of any Unionists.
You can, if you want, stop there. It won’t damage the pro-independence cause any, but equally it won’t help to prevent a Tory getting elected if there are only anti-indy candidates still in the running.
So if you want to use the rest of your preferences, you can use them to minimise the chances of a Tory getting elected. Next rank those who are neutral on the issue of independence. There are some Labour candidates who are neutral on independence, there are even some who privately support it. There may be independents standing in your ward who are neutral on independence. Then rank the other Labour candidates or the Lib Dems, and then and only then rank the Tories and Ukip and your actual fascists lowest of all.
You might say “I’m never going to vote Unionist under any circumstances.” And that would be fine. Putting a smile on Jackie Baillie’s face is distasteful, I get that. But by the time you get to your final preferences, any chance of a pro-indy candidate getting elected will already have gone. All those pro-indy candidates who were going to get elected will already have been elected. What this is about is minimising the chances of any Tories getting elected. Any Tory who gets elected will view it as a vindication of Theresa May and her message to Scotland to get back into its shortbread tin.
You don’t have to rank all the candidates. You don’t have to rank any Unionist candidates at all, and that’s just fine. It won’t do any harm, but it won’t make it less likely that a Tory gets elected. A winning candidate still has to be voted in. You’re not going to minimise the chances of a Tory getting elected by failing to express a preference in what will by the time all other preferences have been counted have become a contest between a Tory and another candidate who isn’t pro-indy. Vote indy first, then later choose the lesser of two evils, and that means ranking someone else above a Tory. Then we can send our own message to Ruth. And that message is that Scotland does want a referendum, and it doesn’t want Tories.
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