ANALYSIS: Why Scottish Tories believe a snap election could be 'catastrophic' for the party

Posted On: 
7th August 2019

Last weekend, The Sunday Times reported what it claimed was Dominic Cummings's strategy for winning a majority in a snap election.

Boris Johnson meets Nicola Sturgeon outside Bute House in Edinburgh.
Credit: 
PA Images

According to the paper's impeccably plugged-in political editor Tim Shipman, the Conservatives aim to become the Brexit Party in all but name, with a pledge to take the UK out of the EU come hell or high water on 31 October.

They are then prepared to sacrifice up to 30 seats to the Lib Dems, safe in the knowledge that they will scoop up traditionally Labour-voting seats in Leave areas across the north of England, the Midlands and Wales.

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"That's how the next election is going to be run," a source told Shipman. "(Dom) has seen a pathway where the left are split and Boris wins through the middle."

There did seem to be a major omission from this battle plan, however. No consideration appears to have been made for how a snap election could play out in Scotland, where the Tories scooped 13 seats in 2017. Without those, Theresa May would not have been able to govern, even with the DUP on board.

Senior Tories north of the Border fear that an election before Brexit would precipitate a near wipeout, denying Boris Johnson up to 11 precious seats.

"Any snap election before brexit is delivered is pretty much catastrophic," said one insider. "We'd be reasonably confident of saving two seats with a possible two more in play, so returning anything between two and four."

An autumn election after a no-deal Brexit on 31 October - something Johnson has repeatedly insisted he is prepared to deliver - would be similarly problematic for the Scottish Tories.

The SNP would, understandably, argue that Scotland was crashing out of the EU against its will and at the behest of a right-wing Tory government. The verdict of Scottish voters would surely be unforgiving in such circumstances.

Scottish Conservative strategists are more sanguine about a snap election against a backdrop of a relatively smooth Brexit, although they accept that some of their 13 seats would still be lost.

Their best hope, it appears, is for the current Parliament to last all the way to 2022 and, in a repeat of 2017, paint themselves in the subsequent election as the only party who can defend the Union. In those circumstances, they believe they could even make some gains, given they were within 1500 votes of victory in another half dozen seats.

But there are so many variables between now and then - not least the small matter of a Holyrood election in 2021, and the possibility that support for independence will continue to grow - that they would be ill-advised to get their hopes up.

Dom Cummings may well have found the magic formula for Tory victory in England and Wales. But without a similar plan for Scotland, his boss may well come up short whenever the next election happens.