In retrospect, there is obvious suspicion that Douglas Ross, the only Tory minister who had resigned because of the Cummings affair, had not previously been known to have had a fair idea that his propensity to lead was imminent and that he was half-distance Boris Johnson's government would prove beneficial to Scottish voters.
But if that's true, doesn't it seem strange that he apparently gave Michelle Ballantyne the assurance that he would lead a "Boris support, Brexit positive, anti-Nat party"? In a word, no. Leading candidates often rave about their party's worst instincts as they try to be elected before (as American experts would say) "turn around" in the harness. In Ross’s case, he’s unlikely to see Ballantyne as a threat to his chances – instead, the goal is to avoid delaying a controversial election.
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Given that Ross appears to have been chosen by Ruth Davidson for his new role, we shouldn't be too skeptical about the "anti-nat" part of his promise to Ballantyne – in fact that's all too plausible. And if the goal of the exercise is to just hold the seats that the Tories already have instead of winning new converts, there may even be strategic logic.
Polls have often shown that existing conservative voters are almost unanimous in their opposition to independence and contempt for Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP – although we have to add the small caveat now that some of them have their opinions somewhat influenced by the events of the Pandemic. A poll commissioned two months ago by my Scot Goes Pop blog found, very surprisingly, that the people who voted for Tory in last year's general election were practically in the middle of whether the Scottish public was more secure or not would be less certain if the powers of the British government over the block were transferred to the Scottish government.
The part of the promise that "supports Boris" would almost certainly be far more problematic. On the surface, the Scottish poll published by YouGov a few days ago could give the impression that the Prime Minister is an asset to the Scottish Tories, as 70% of 2019 conservative voters have a positive opinion of him. The flip side of the coin, however, is that 29% have an unfavorable opinion and Ross simply cannot afford to cast a quarter or a third of the Tory votes.
He is unlikely to replace these voters with Boris fans of other parties, as the only other significant reservoir of sympathy for the prime minister is found in the LibDem vote, and some of these people could be Tories, the LibDem about a vote coordinate tactical basis to stop the SNP. So I suspect that Ross can try both ways by occasionally making loyal comments about Boris, but not hugging him too tightly.
READ MORE: Douglas Ross rewrites the story with the Indyref2 claim
On the Brexit front, it is much more difficult to assess how likely the pitch is likely to be, not least due to Ross' complex voting history. He voted for Remain in 2016, but then demanded that the will of the people (of course, more the British than the Scottish people) be respected. He also voted against Theresa May's withdrawal agreement, indicating a preference for a tougher Brexit. But that could have been an indication of his unusually Brexit-friendly constituency in the Moray constituency, which he no longer has to worry about as a leader – provided he is rumored on the regional list.
Perhaps we can then expect a reversal of the Davidson approach, in which we constantly ask for moderation in Brexit, but never actually take a stand if these appeals are ignored as always. And given the largely pro-Brexit nature of the Scottish Tory vote, this may not be a bad way to keep seats, although it is a pretty hopeless way to get to the center of a solid remain country.
If a fully throttled "Boris Backing, Brexit Positive, Anti-Nat" approach really worked, we would already know because Jackson Carlaw's tenure would have been a tremendous success. (It is somewhat ironic that Michelle Ballantyne was Carlaw's greatest critic since he did exactly what she claims to want.)
Ross is almost certainly ambitious enough to at least partially break his promise to Ballantyne, but he is probably not ambitious enough to really think outside the box and break the glass ceiling with the support of Scottish Tory. At best, we can expect a lot of running to stop.
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