Ian Swanson: Are we really on the brink of a ‘true blue’ renaissance?

Ruth Davidson casts her vote on May 4. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Ruth Davidson casts her vote on May 4. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
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WHEN Ruth Davidson stunned everyone by winning Edinburgh Central at last year’s Holyrood elections, she acknowledged it did not mean the constituency had suddenly turned “true blue”.

Her victory – in a seat where the Tories had finished fourth at the previous election – took her by surprise as well. It was an undoubted personal triumph and came as the icing on the cake as Conservatives more than doubled their seats in the Scottish Parliament from 15 to 31.

But despite the success, Ms Davidson was careful to keep her feet on the ground. She said: “I completely understand lots of people voted for us for the first time. We’re on probation and we want to do well by them. These are very mobile votes and they can be taken elsewhere pretty quickly. One good election doesn’t make a revival.”

Have the Tories managed to maintain this perspective in the wake of last week’s council elections and as the general election looms? The results of the counts around Scotland on Friday revealed another advance for the Conservatives, overtaking Labour to become the second biggest party in local government – though only by 14 seats.

In Edinburgh, the Tories finished just one seat behind the SNP and actually won slightly more votes – 27.7 per cent to the Nationalists’ 26.9 per cent.

And the party now has several of the SNP’s Westminster seats in its sights for June 8.

But voters might feel there is a touch of arrogance and complacency in the claim it could win up to 15 Scottish constituencies at the election.

It also seems rather dangerous to be making such ambitious predictions. It means that even if the Tories do make another dramatic advance, they will not look like winners if they fall short of this new target.

It is 20 years now since the famous Tory wipe-out north of the Border, when all the party’s remaining Scottish MPs lost their seat in the Labour landslide that saw Tony Blair become Prime Minister.

The Conservative recovery has been long and slow and the party has never managed to have more than one MP in Scotland since then. So how should the current Tory surge be interpreted? One academic said after last year’s Scottish Parliament elections that the Tories had only achieved their impressive results by playing down the Conservative brand and becoming the “Ruth Davidson Party”.

It was the leader’s personal appeal and her pledge to provide a strong opposition to the SNP and oppose a second referendum which won them so many votes.

Over the past 12 months, Scottish politics has, if anything, become even more polarised around the independence question. The Tories fought the local elections first and foremost on saying No to another independence referendum. And it looks as if the general election will have a similar theme – all Brexit and independence, with other policies relegated to the margins.

It is a regrettable distortion of the political debate for everything to be concentrated on these two issues, but that seems to be where we are.

Conservative gains next month may reflect divided opinion on independence and Brexit. They should not be taken as sanctioning a “true blue” revolution.