Why Conservative voters might vote Labour in Scotland
Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross suggested tactical voting against the SNP
Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross caused controversy this weekend by suggesting that Conservatives should vote Labour in key seats to stop the SNP and thus save the union. “We will always urge voters to back the Conservatives,” he said. “However, the electorate is sophisticated and aware of the dynamics in individual constituencies.”
His comments have since been dismissed by a spokesman for the party in London, who asserted that Conservative voters should support their local candidate whatever the circumstances. He reportedly called Ross’s idea “emphatically not the view of the Conservative Party”.
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But isn’t Ross just being honest? Tactical voting pacts have been whispered about for years in Scotland and have occasionally been successful (Labour’s Jackie Baillie is believed to owe her narrowly won Holyrood seat to loaned Tory votes). It also illustrates how Conservatives are willing to set aside party differences to preserve the UK just as the separatists are to rend it asunder — a determination which hasn’t always been evident in the recent past.
The SNP hardly has grounds to criticise the practice, either. Indeed, the SNP-Green alliance in Holyrood is a cynically pragmatic arrangement. The former’s enthusiasm for environmental issues and the latter’s for Scottish independence were fortuitously discovered at the precise moment when the Holyrood arithmetic made plain the mutual benefits of such a deal. And the Scottish Greens have their own track record of urging tactical voting, as they encouraged their supporters to do so in 2017 to stop the Tories.
As a strategy, tactical voting certainly makes sense, at least in theory. There are many constituencies in the central belt of Scotland for which the Conservative candidate is on a hiding to nothing, and several in the borders and northeast where the same could be said for Labour. Ten SNP Westminster MPs have majorities of less than 10% and could be vulnerable — especially given the party’s current difficulties, or “growing pains” as Nicola Sturgeon calls them.
For example, a potential by-election in Rutherglen and Hamilton West, where the SNP has a 5000-strong majority over Labour and the Conservatives, could prove ripe for tactical voting. Were the Tories to cede their votes to Labour, Keir Starmer’s party could win by a narrow margin. That potential contest could be the first test of Ross’s plan.
But will it work in practice? The evidence (Jackie Baillie’s election) suggests Tories might be prepared to grit their teeth and vote Labour; but if Ross is hoping for reciprocity, he may be disappointed. The Tories, for many in Scotland, excite feelings that go beyond ordinary political antipathy and verge on the pathological. Sturgeon declared that she “detested the Tories” in one of her last interviews as party leader, thus writing off 20% of the population. Many feel the same.
Anas Sarwar, the leader of Scottish Labour, has also poured cold water on the idea of his party giving the Conservatives a helping hand, saying that he rejected any idea of a pact but will gladly accept what he sees as a Tory surrender. So it might end up being, as a spokesperson for the Conservatives was quoted as saying, “a one-way street”, with the effect limited to getting a few Labour candidates over the line.
In any event, the plan is a hard sell for moderate Tories who might be put off by Labour policies. One noteworthy example is Labour’s support for the currently stalled Gender Recognition Reform Bill, which the party whipped its own MSPs into backing.
The idea goes to the heart of what the union really is. A meaningless abstraction; a shared identity to be preserved at all costs; or a dynamic, mutually beneficial, multi-faceted arrangement? If it’s the last of these, then the advantages clearly need to be better explained.
I voted labour at the last election, but it didn’t make any difference. Would it make a difference next time around? Possibly, but do I want to know for a party that doesn’t know what a woman is? That is the big question for me.
Which election do you mean? I have had a think about this and share your concerns regarding whether or not any given candidate can answer that question. I am unlikely to lend Labour my vote at the UK election, even though they are the second party where I live. I dislike Starmer and do not want him to gain power through the SNP losing seats. Besides, Labour voters won’t reciprocate elsewhere. In terms of Westminster power, the SNP are only a problem if they were to enter a coalition with Labour.
Holyrood is different and I have previously voted for whoever might defeat the SNP (from the unionist parties) in my constituency as I can also vote in the PR based regional list. But I’m now not voting for anyone who expects women to share facilities or other reserved spaces with males.
You make pertinent observations. Indeed the UK Parliament is pretty much irrelevant as far as the SNP reach is. Different story for the local one.
Up until 10 years ago I was in favour of limited independence (minus defence) but having seen the reality of Holyrood it’s out of the question for more than a few generations, maybe even longer. Scotland has always been predominantly socialist during my lifetime, particularly in the population centres. The SNP are just brainless socialists + brainless independence obsessed. With the exception of E Renfrewshire and possibly a few former liberal strongholds, voting Labour is the only alternative in trying to rid Scotland of the cancerous affliction that the SNP represents. It’s however no solution to Scotland’s ails since socialism has lead to continuous decline and a society where ill health, poverty, dependence on benefits, non-taxpaying immigration and a resulting financial black hole are all present. Scotland’s inherent problems are unfortunately beyond repair in my opinion, witnessing this every time I’m there. Writing this from a country in the ascendency, Poland, whereas Scotland is on the same slope but descending in the opposite direction. Sometimes I wonder why the Poles I see in Scotland haven’t decided to return home.
Cos wages are still higher in Scotland and they can live frugally here and spend it in Poland. When that changes, home they will go.
Tactical voting of that type is almost always a mistake – it will backfire in the longer timeframes.
Best to sit this one out, just get the popcorn in and watch the spectacle with a bored and pitiful eye – it’s Iran vs Argentina, you don’t want either to win, you would rather both lose but sadly the rules of the game disallow that. You can though hope to get lucky and see some violent thuggery, multiple sendings-off, possibly one or both captains assault the referee.
In 2015, Norman Tebbit said to vote in Scotland for whoever was best placed to defeat the SNP, even if that meant voting Labour. The Conservative whip in the House of Lords was not withdrawn from him, indicating how very far into retirement he was by then, but even so. The far from retired or retiring Douglas Ross is saying the same thing under much less promising circumstances for the SNP.
I would no more advocate voting for any candidate for the House of Commons who even pretended to want Keir Starmer to become Prime Minister, and most of the Labour ones in Scotland would want him only because no one even more right-wing was available, than I would advocate voting for any Westminster or Holyrood candidate who was in favour of Scottish independence. But this is still worth watching.
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