Backing #TeamRuth - across Scotland
We are now only 8 days out from the Scottish election and I am in reflective mood. So some thoughts and lessons from the campaign trail.
Back in Brussels, the snow is sweeping gently past my window. I have abandoned all attempts to eat the baguette from the canteen. I will save it for later in case I have to hammer a few tacks in to the wall. The European Parliament can do many things, but make sandwiches is not one of them. There are other things it can’t do well, but that is for another day. We are now only 8 days out from the Scottish election and I am in reflective mood. So some thoughts and lessons from the campaign trail.
Always have gloves with you. It may look bright. The sun may be shining. Folks may say it will soon heat up, but a couple of hours on any Scottish street and your hands will be a fine shade of magenta. Also, Scottish towns are peculiar. No matter which way you turn, the wind will soon be in your face. I think I am addicted to raspberry lip balm.
Arranging to be in Lerwick on a Friday and Stranraer on a Saturday may seem like a good idea at the time…
Tactical voting. At the General Election many Tories lent their votes to other parties to try to keep out the Nats. Not this time. Conservatives will vote Conservative. And so will many others: those looking for serious opposition to the SNP; those looking for a strong defence of the Union, those looking for a local champion. Many folks will be voting Tory for the first time in a long time. Others will be voting Tory for the first time.
From my travels around the land, I think I can lay honest claim to being the tallest Conservative in the Party. Annie Wells, candidate in Glasgow Provan, so far, you are the shortest. It does make for interesting photographs, which either look like an optical illusion, or make me look like a Harry Potter character. Steps help. Ruth often brings her own box to stand on.
Other issues on the campaign trail. Farmers have entirely lost confidence in the SNP, and every farmer I spoke to believes that the SNP farm minister should be put out to pasture. (That’s not quite how they phrased it, but you get the idea). A third of Scottish farmers are still waiting for their farm payments, which were due in December, including Conservative candidates Edward Mountain (Inverness & Nairn), Peter Chapman (Banffshire & Buchan Coast) and Alex Allison (Clydesdale). Farmers cannot fathom exactly how the cost of the IT system to administer the farm payments is now running at £200m, and still doesn't work.
It may surprise you to know that I am your local MEP. It has certainly surprised folks on the doorstep. Since Scotland is a single EU constituency, no matter where you live - from Stornaway to Stonehaven, Stranraer to the Beorgs of Skelberry (that one’s for you Cameron Smith up in Shetland) then I am your local representative in Brussels. Five others share this unique distinction. Without recourse to the internet, I wonder how many you can name? Fin Carson down in Galloway cheered me up recently when he told me that local fishermen couldn’t name any MEPs, but when he mentioned me by name, they clicked that I was the guy in Brussels trying to sort out the fishing issues.
This time around, Conservative candidates have really gone beyond the blue zone. Out and about in Glasgow with Annie, Adam Tomkins and the team, Cllr Alexander Stewart in Alloa or Iain McGill in Edinburgh North, we were canvassing areas that haven’t had the attention they deserve in quite some time. And the good thing about it, the response was great.
My final point, saving the best till last: Ruth Davidson has serious name recognition. Everyone has seen Ruth riding a buffalo, Ruth driving a tank, Ruth tooting the bagpipes. And alongside the recognition is respect. Ruth is already seen as the voice of opposition to a centralising, independence-obsessed SNP. Folks may smile at the photos but they also read the statements, watch the debates, and are listening to the arguments. And in Ruth they like what they see. even those with no plans to vote Tory want Ruth to do well.
Having hoofed around the country and campaigned alongside our candidates I know something which we don’t say often enough. Right behind Ruth is a fine team; good folks, clever folks, local champions, passionate, caring Conservatives from across Scotland. They will be opposition to the SNP, to centralisation, to the Named Person Policy, to college cuts, ill-planned marine restrictions and the cack-handed delivery of farm payments and all the other half-policies that emerge from a government determined to deliver independence at all costs.
I am back to Scotland on Thursday. Friday is Ayrshire and Jamie Green, Eastwood and Jackson Carlaw. Saturday is Dumfries and Oliver Mundell. (Sunday is laundry day). Monday and Tuesday up to the northeast to campaign with Alexander Burnett in Aberdeenshire West, Colin Clark in Aberdeenshire East and Peter Chapman in Buchan. (I have a meeting in Aberdeen with Oil & Gas UK too, talking about my work on the EU Emissions Trading Scheme… It can’t all be campaigning!). Then it’s back down the road to lend a hand to some of our Edinburgh candidates in the final push before polling day.
As I type, a new STV poll has emerged showing the Conservatives look set to overtake Labour as the main opposition to the SNP. Encouraging indeed, but the only poll that matters is next Thursday and there is much work to do between now and then.