Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak came to Perth to try to win the hearts at minds of Scotland’s most dedicated Tory activists and supporters. They came in drips and drabs, the farmers, landowners, shopkeepers, country lawyers, Edinburgh fund managers, Glasgow entrepreneurs, Aberdeen property developers. Most were smartly dressed in the uniforms of their urban or rural callings. Each and every one was booed by a crowd of around 2,500.
The noise was great The flags and placards many and varied. The intention? In essence to let the Conservative party know that Scotland is not amenable to their creed. Given the attention the Scottish and UK media has paid to these hustings it is important to remember that Scotland has just six Tory MPs. It’s a party that close to 70 years ago lost its majority of Scottish Westminster seats. In the past 40 years it has not come close to recovering its old status. The best it managed in recent times is 12 MPs. At Holyrood it has never been anything other than a minority party. Even when it held the second biggest number of seats in Edinburgh it was still many miles distant from, first, Labour and for the past 15 years, the SNP.
Scrutinising Holyrood but not their own party’s behaviour
And do they hate Holyrood? Yes, they do. And do they hate devolution? The most certainly do. Sunak and Truss have swallowed wholesale the idea that Holyrood should be accountable to Westminster. Last night in Perth they repeated calls for Holyrood ministers and officials to appear before Westminster to be scrutinised.
This from a party that has refused to explain what happened to £37 billion spent on a failed test and trace programme. A party that has refused to publish the report into Russian interference in the 2016 Brexit referendum. A party putting pressure on MPs to try to stop the investigation into Boris Johnson’s alleged lying to parliament. A party that bent the rules to try to save the skin of Owen Patterson, the now disgraced former Tory MP.
None of that matters a great deal. That’s the way of the post-Brexit Conservative and Unionist Party. What matters a great deal is the dismissal of Scottish voters. The simple democratic reality that the majority of Holyrood seats were won in May 2021 by parties that want another referendum seems to matter little to these Tories. The 2016 Brexit referendum is sealed in aspic as the will of the people, never to be questioned or challenged. The 2021 Scottish parliament election? That is entirely disposable, the simple view of a simple people. Not real democracy at all, say Truss and Sunak. “Never, never, never,’ they cry, like some latter-day Ian Paisley or Margaret Thatcher.
Deft crowd management by Police Scotland
The Daily Express has reported that eggs were thrown and people spat at as party members walked to the hustings venue. “Three hundred protestors were faced by a large police presence,” says the Express. I arrived just after six. There were at least 2,000 protestors and the number grew in the three hours I was there. I saw no spitting. Police Scotland handled the event with a deft hand and deserve some praise. Even when a handful of people broke though crowd barriers and sat on the ground the police took an intelligent attitude. It was obvious no one sitting down was a threat to those in the hall and being all officious and high handed might have turned a wholly peaceful protest into something quite ugly.
The worst the evening got was cries of “Tory Scum.” Even that was too much for some of the more genteel among the protestors. All human life was represented by the Perth protestors, from Waitrose to Sainsburys, from Asda to Aldi. The Tories might not like it, but being anti-Tory is a pretty classless pastime in 21st century Scotland.
Scotland’s card-carrying Conservative and Unionist Party members are a reticent lot. In total, I asked about 15 of them if they had decided who to vote for. Two said they had but would not divulge a name. The rest either dismissed my enquiry with a wave of the hand or stated they would decide having heard the rival pitches. I was not convinced. I’ve an inkling few Scots Tories will publicly say who they preferred, lest the subsequent administration of the winner is a total disaster.
Perhaps only Scottish Tories could bring out the well-mannered and terribly polite pro-EU types, fiercely revolutionary Socialist Workers, pro-Union Labour, Extinction Rebellion, immigrant support groups, energy poverty groups, a variety of Yes to Independence activists and some highly specialised independence campaigners that included Bridges for Indy. They have developed the art of hanging the Saltire and banners calling for independence from bridges over motorways and arterial roads. Don’t mock. It can be a very effective technique.
Handfuls of extremists inside and outside the hall
There were, of course, a few extremist groups out in Perth last night. Some were in the crowd outside and others inside the hall giving solace to two not very impressive contenders for the premiership of this so-called United Kingdom.
The runes were not good for the hopefuls or their party. The venue is advertising two forthcoming shows. Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors and Big Girls Don’t Cry.
On a wall adjoining the next-door museum are two other posters. The first advertises an installation by the artists Walker and Bromwich that asks visitors to “think about capitalism in our society and what the alternatives might be.” Next to that is a poster for “Sin.”
To quote from the Perth Museum blur:
“This exhibition looks at theological ideas and depictions of ‘sinful’ everyday behaviour that blur the boundaries between religious and secular art. A concept that is universal, but at the same time highly personal, the exhibition asks you to define your own meaning of ‘Sin’.”
Last night in Perth those inside and outside the hall were defining their own meaning of Scotland. Which vision triumphs may not be known this side of the next General Election.
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