Surprise victories in Scotland helped save the Conservative Party in the 2017 election but Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson is in danger of losing those gains next week, forcing him to look elsewhere for a parliamentary majority.
“This time is going to be very, very tight,” Stephen Kerr, the Conservative MP for the Stirling constituency, in central Scotland, told AFP.
The Tories snatched the seat from the Scottish National Party in 2017, with a majority of just 148.
Kerr now runs the risk of losing it in the December 12 vote, like many of the 12 other Scottish Conservatives who made spectacular gains two years ago, largely thanks to the party’s then leader in Scotland, Ruth Davidson.
“With Davidson we went not only from one MP to 13 MPs, but we went from about 100 councillors to 300 in local government,” Kerr added, as he prepared to go out campaigning.
“The Tory revival in Scotland in 2017… saved Theresa May’s skin,” said Politico’s Charlie Cooper, allowing the then-PM to cling to power, despite losing her majority in parliament.
Two years on, the Conservatives could see their success disappear into the mist.
Scottish results “could be the difference between a Johnson majority and a hung parliament,” added Cooper.
– Whisky and William Wallace –
Johnson will no longer be able to count on the charismatic Davidson’s talents following her resignation in August for personal reasons.
She was a vocal opponent of Brexit, which is unpopular in Scotland despite Johnson’s efforts to convince those north of the border with England that it will benefit them.
One of the prime minister’s first campaign events was a visit to a whisky distillery in Moray, northeast Scotland.
Among copper stills, he promised that, after Brexit, the tariffs imposed on whisky and other European products by the United States would no “longer be applied to this country”.
But on the streets of Stirling voters do not appear to have warmed to Johnson.
Stirling is a castle-filled constituency that starts just north of Glasgow to the west and Edinburgh to the east, stretching up through the Trossachs National Park into the Highlands.
The city itself was one of the scenes of the medieval struggle for independence popularised by the film “Braveheart”.
The monument to the 13th-century Scottish independence hero and scourge of the English, William Wallace, is a major tourist attraction overlooking the city.
“Conservative is wrong,” said Gary Tasker, a 48-year-old landscape gardener, calling them “a rich people’s party”.
“Most of the people in Stirling are working class,” he added.
Retired hospital worker Dorian, 70, said: “To be honest with you, I just cut it off all together and I don’t even think I’m going to vote this year.
“I don’t think anyone represents Scotland in (the British parliament in) Westminster.”
– Tory image problem –
With the SNP gunning for Stirling, the Tories are also under threat in the fishing communities of northeast Scotland.
They initially supported Britain’s departure from the European Union in the hope that the end of EU quotas would boost their business, said Michael Keating, at the University of Aberdeen.
“They are beginning to realise that they have very little to gain from Brexit because they sell 85 percent of their catch into the European Union,” said Keating, a specialist in Scottish politics.
He says it is “difficult to see where” Johnson can compensate for these losses, other than in the struggling “post-industrial constituencies” of northern England.
These traditional bastions of the main opposition Labour party voted largely in favour of Brexit. The December 12 election will put their historical allegiances to the test.
The Tories, according to the centre-right think tank Onward, are banking on winning over so-called “Workington man” — an older, white, northern English non-graduate who voted for Brexit.
“It is in these northern towns that voters will give Boris Johnson his Christmas victory, or hand him a lump of coal,” Will Tanner, director of Onward, recently wrote.
Conservatives are as a result focused on winning those areas while at the same time trying not to lose their Scottish seats.
But for Kevin McKenna, political commentator for the Scottish newspapers The Herald and The National, Johnson’s image presents as much as a problem as Brexit.
“To many Scottish voters he represents a particular type of English conservatism that is unpalatable to them: arrogant, entitled and elitist,” he warned.