Can the new Scottish tory leader save the union?

Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom has long been debated, with nationalist ideology becoming increasingly popular in recent years. 2014’s independence referendum for Scotland has had a lasting impact upon Scottish politics. Scotland overwhelmingly voted to stay within the European Union and the uproar that Brexit has caused created even more divisive views of Westminster’s rule.  

However, the leadership and organisation shown by Sturgeon and her government during the COVID-19 pandemic have been praised by many, improving both her public image and the hopes for the country. 

Last week’s IPSOS Mori showed that 58% of Scots support independence, a record high for the nation. Compared to 2014’s result of 55% in favour of remaining in the United Kingdon compared to 45% for independence, it appears the tables have turned, and Scotland has decided where it’s heading. That same report revealed the public’s huge support of Sturgeon, with 72% being satisfied with her role of First Minister.  

With the Scottish General Elections in May next year, the SNP will be hoping to not only to extend its majority but also secure independence.  One man in Westminster stands in the way of this aspiration… Prime Minister Boris Johnson has already refused to transfer power north of the border, giving Scotland the chance to hold a referendum earlier this year, stating that “the Scottish people voted decisively to keep our United Kingdom together”.  

It seems inevitable that Scotland will be granted another referendum in the coming years. It, therefore, begs the question: What might save the union? Or rather, who? 

Douglas Ross could be that man. The 37-year-old Moray MP was appointed as the leader of the Scottish Conservatives in August following Jackson Carlaw’s resignation. It comes as quite a surprise as Ross made news in the summer after resigning as a Junior Minister over Dominic Cummings’ defence of his trip Durham from London during strict lockdown measures.  

In his resignation statement, Ross said:  “I have constituents who didn’t get to say goodbye to loved ones; families who could not mourn together; people who didn’t visit sick relatives because they followed the guidance of the Government. I cannot in good faith tell them they were all wrong and one senior adviser to the Government was right.”  

The decision was bold given his place in the Scotland Office, but widely respected by peers across parties. Ross seems to be a man of integrity, loyal to his constituents and he has announced big plans for his party.  Earlier this month, he announced that the Scottish Conservatives will support free university tuition for Scottish students in the next Scottish General Election. Ross told a virtual Young Conservatives event, “this group of young people have had their education disrupted like no other.. [students are] losing out on life-defining experiences and they’re going to be entering the job market at the most difficult time.” 

Scottish Tories have previously called for students to contribute to higher education in their last two elections, making this reversal of policy to be massive. The party know they must appeal to younger voters, those benefitting from current tuition paid by the government if they have any chance to win new votes.   

It seems clear that another victory for the SNP is impending, but Douglas Ross and the Scottish Conservatives will not give up without a fight. We can expect to hear more from this story throughout the year. 

By Felix Richardson

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