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22 September 2017updated 05 Oct 2023 8:00am

8 times the Scottish Tories resurrected the right-wing gaffe north of the border

With greater power comes greater gaffe-ability. 

By Julia Rampen

Ruth Davidson, a young gay female leader from a working-class background, has broken every Tory stereotype in the book. Not only that, but as a former journalist, she is articulate and witty without ever making a gaffe.

So it’s somewhat comforting for the left to note that these attributes have not spread to the rest of the party.

Instead, after a 20 year interlude, Scottish Tories are picking up where their ancestors left off, and putting their foot in it. Here are some of their recent gaffes:

1. Hive minds

Davidson was one of the most eloquent advocates for remaining in the EU. However, the new Tory MP for Angus, Kirstene Hair, has revealed that she didn’t vote in the EU referendum because there were “two arguments very strong on both sides”. 

As I’ve written before, referendums force ordinary people to make binary choices with little information at hand. But Hair is not an ordinary person. Shortly before the EU referendum, she stood as a candidate in the Scottish parliamentary elections. In other words, before 23 June 2016, she was hoping to get a job where her actual task, every day, was to look at a binary choice, and vote one way or the other.  

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She told The Courier: “I thought I would therefore go with the will of the UK which if I’m honest I thought we would remain. But I left that to everyone else.” So not a lot of political foresight either. 

2. The height of ambition

At June’s election referee Douglas Ross sent one of the Scottish National Party’s biggest players, Moray MP Angus Robertson, to spend some time off the political pitch – a victory for underdogs everywhere.

But if toppling Robertson was the start of the new Tory MP’s ambitions, it appears to be part of a rather unusual plan. Asked what he would do if he were Prime Minister for a day, Ross responded he would “like to see tougher enforcement against gypsies and travellers”.

Not only did Ross’s comments cause embarrassment for the Scottish Tories, his comments were investigated by the Scottish Football Association (he got off with a reminder to keep to the rules).

3. No-go phrases

Davidson is known for her pithy putdowns of US president Donald Trump (she once called him a “whoreson obscene greasy tallow-catch”). 

But Tory MSP Graham Simpson’s trumpeting of claims about Scotland’s “no-go areas” reminded opponents more of the greasy tallow-catch himself. The idea that parts of Birmingham and London are “no go zones” for non-Muslims is an alt-right trope.

In fairness to Simpson, he was not trying to stir up Islamophobia but instead wanted to talk about the poor quality housing in cities. His full claim was that there were “sink estates, no-go areas and people sleeping rough” because of the SNP’s housing record.

4. Tweeting twits

Two Scottish Tory councillors, Alastair Majury and Robert Davies, were suspended from the party after it emerged that the former had been making sectarian comments on Twitter and the latter racist jokes (Majury also bragged about his penis size on a dating site). 

They were readmitted in August but only after the party made it “abundantly clear that behaviour like this will not be tolerated in future”. 

5. Anti-bigots 

In the run up to the now oh-so-significant EU referendum, Tory MSP Murdo Fraser decided to up the controversy by tweeting somewhat cryptically: “The National Union of Students are voting @StrongerIn? I’m on the same side as those bigots? Eek!”

Mysteriously, Britain voted to leave days later. 

6. All’s fair in love and parking

Shortly after the local elections, able-bodied Tory councillor Jim Fullarton was spotted parking in space reserved for disabled badge holders by another councillor. Fullarton said the space was “not needed as all the councillors are fit”. His party, on the other hand, said it had “reminded him about his responsibilities as a local councillor”. 

7. Male gender pay gap

A Scottish man working full time earns on average 6.2 per cent more than a comparable woman. But Tory MSP Gordon Lindhurst doesn’t get distracted by headline numbers.

To the amusement of MSPs from more than one party, he instead pressed First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on what she was doing to make sure she had a “balanced approach” to include “the issue where it does affect men”.

8. Statue wars

In August, neo-Nazi protestors gathered in Charlottesville, United States, to protest the removal of statues of pro-slavery Confederate figures, and a counter-protestor was left dead. Most of the Confederate statues were erected during eras in which African-Americans were battling discrimination, and are viewed by many as white supremacist symbols.

While Davidson made her disgust at the Charlottesville violence clear, self-anointed wit Tory MSP Murdo Fraser (him again) tweeted: “How much longer will we tolerate the statue of the brutal tyrant and oppressor Charles II in Parliament Square, Edinburgh?”. Minutes later, the tweet was deleted. 


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