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Election Comment: Terry Murden

Nicola: why she must learn to love the Tories

Nicola SturgeonThere are more of us in work than ever before, and the economy is on course to become bigger than Germany’s.

Whisky and oil, two of Britain’s biggest industries, have been handed the tax cuts they demanded in the Budget. Income tax thresholds are at record highs.

But, of course, we hate the Tories because they don’t really do anything for us, do they? And least of all for Scotland.

They have become the villains in a political pantomime that at times verges on the hysterical, fuelled by post-referendum fever that must be worrying even to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

As the turnout at her grand rallies becomes ever larger and louder, the level of expectation on her shoulders is rising every day.

Ms Sturgeon has many positive attributes, but she is the main protagonist in the “Hate the Tories” campaign which has reached an unhealthy level of derision. The weekend claim, therefore, that she preferred David Cameron to Ed Miliband as Prime Minster, has left her dangerously exposed, not least within her own party.

Her task in the remaining days of the campaign is to make a hasty recovery which will involve denying everything and focusing on the positives. But she faces a major dilemma, the biggest being the possibility of having to work with the Tories in a Westminster government. She may have an instinctive hatred of the Tories , but she is going to have to learn to love them a little bit. And it may be to her huge advantage if she does so.

Ms Sturgeon famously turned to politics in her teens because she despised how Margaret Thatcher was tearing up Scotland. This has underlined her political thoughts ever since.

Yet she must have known even then that the Tories were her biggest ally.  To achieve power it was no use throwing stink bombs at them. She and the SNP had to overthrow the powerful Scottish Labour party, thereby weakening its position at Westminster, and the only way to do that was by cosying up to the Tories. It has taken 20 years or more, but the collapse of Scottish Labour is imminent. All she has to do now is send sweet-nothings to Mr Cameron.

On the face of it, a combination of the two really is the ultimate political absurdity. Yet, in an election that will most likely feature more tactical voting than any that has gone before, it makes perfect sense – the proverbial win-win situation for both camps.

The Tories have nothing to gain from fighting a battle in Scotland that has long been lost. They have everything to gain from abandoning their Unionist traditions and surrendering to the nationalists’ wishes, particularly with Scottish Labour facing the prospect of following the Tories’ into oblivion. If Labour loses perhaps 30-35 Scottish seats to the SNP, it would put David Cameron’s party into an unassailable lead at Westminster.

If the Tories secure a majority on 7 May, the presence of so many SNP MPs on the backbenches should be enough for the Scots to demand an instant transfer of powers north of the border. This is something they could not achieve if the General Election is won by Labour which will hope and, indeed need, to rebuild in Scotland.

With the nationalists packed off to Holyrood, happy with a new constitutional settlement, Mr Cameron would be left to run the rest of Britain until he decides to hand over to his successor.

Ms Sturgeon’s discomfort over these latest revelations is clearly understandable, but commentators noted how she and Mr Cameron avoided engaging in too much hostility in Thursday’s leaders’ debate, both of them preferring to focus their attacks on Mr Miliband.

Whether or not this was a deliberate pincer movement on Labour it may have had the desired effect of edging us closer to a nationalist-unionist alliance at Westminster that will serve short-term objectives for both sides.

Unfortunately, Ms Sturgeon has backed herself into a corner. Publicly supporting the Tories would be akin to a Rangers supporter campaigning to get the Pope elected to the Rangers boardroom.

The result of the Hate the Tories campaign has not elevated Scottish politics, it has plunged it to new depths. The underlying debate has shifted from sensible debate about the economy and public sector services, to one based on personal abuse and misguided assumptions. The Tories are disliked, not because they have mismanaged the economy (they haven’t) but because the party is run by toffs. No one (sic) supports them because they are ‘not interested in Scotland’, despite spending more per head north of the border than they do on the English.

The referendum campaign apparently made us more politically aware. Okay, a big tick for that. What it has also done, is awaken every nut-job in Scotland who wants to mouth off about his or her prejudices and present them as legitimate argument.

The level of political debate has not improved, it has become a cauldron of hatred and mockery which has extended to insulting journalists trying to do their job and online campaigns aimed at undermining those who challenge orthodox opinion.

The Tories’ principal fault is their failure to live up to their own mantra that “we are all in this together” while loading the burden of the austerity measures on those lower down the ladder, confirming to their critics that the party is only interested in those who are already better off.

This is one way in which it has played directly into the hands of Ms Sturgeon’s “fairness and equality” agenda and created the real point of distinction in the General Election campaign. Ms Sturgeon has also managed to steal clothes traditionally worn by Labour whose leader is struggling to persuade the public that his party these days is anything other than a Tory-lite party.

Labour has unashamedly pursued a Tory agenda since Tony Blair reinvented it as New Labour. Its policies are barely distinguishable from the Tory plan, save for a red tinge that is completely see-through and damaging. It claims to support enterprise, while penalising business with higher taxes, caps and controls that will undermine competitiveness.

So do we really hate the Tories? Listen to the campaigners and pundits and you would think the population of Scotland would rather take up Morris dancing than vote Tory.

But look at the facts: At the 2010 General Election 491,000 Scots voted for the SNP, 412,000 for the Tories. It was the electoral system that denied the Tories seats, not the electorate.

Those figures are likely to widen this time, but the seating arrangements may still favour the Tories in Westminster. If Ms Sturgeon really wants more power for Scotland she should put away the sticks she uses to beat them.



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