At the last election, Theresa May was able to form a government because the Conservatives made gains in Scotland. On the second official day of this campaign, Boris Johnson is flying up to Moray – one of the 12 Scottish constituencies gained by the Conservatives two years ago. And in perhaps the most predictable photo-op of all time, the Prime Minister will be visiting a whiskey distillery.
Moray is a calculated choice. All 32 councils in Scotland voted Remain in the EU in 2016. But the closest result was in Moray – 49.9 per cent of which voted to Leave. If the Conservatives are to hold onto any of their winnings from 2017, they will need to concentrate the Leave vote wherever it can be found. Moray is not a bad place to start. But it will be an uphill struggle.
There is one party in particular that will be cheering the news that Boris Johnson is in Scotland: the SNP. Johnson is an asset as far as Scottish independence is concerned. He helps the SNP conflate Conservatism, Unionism and Euroscepticism. Their tweets today laid this strategy bare:
Boris Johnson is the prime architect of Brexit & the utter shambles it has become. He owes Scotland an apology today, not a fleeting visit.
A vote for the SNP in this election, is a vote to escape Brexit & to put Scotland’s future in Scotland’s hands – not Boris Johnson’s. pic.twitter.com/twF7KDOTqI
— The SNP (@theSNP) November 7, 2019
The SNP got a bloody nose from the Tories in 2017, but now that Ruth Davison is out of the picture, Nicola Sturgeon fancies her chances in any straight showdown with Boris Johnson. He was booed on his first trip to Scotland after becoming Prime Minister.
Of course, Scottish voters have more choice than Sturgeon would have them believe. Labour took six seats from the SNP in 2017. The Lib Dems also made inroads, taking three seats, including Jo Swinson’s constituency of East Dunbartonshire. In general there are a number of constituencies in Scotland where three parties are competitive, such as Lanark and Hamilton East and North East Fife. But Sturgeon’s approach is clear: Scottish voters must be made to think that their choice is between the SNP and the Conservatives. An appearance from Boris Johnson just helps her to reinforce that.