Tory hopefuls to target Scottish votes at Perth hustingson August 15, 2022 at 9:54 pm

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Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak will pitch for the votes of Scottish Tory members at a hustings in Perth.

Sunak Truss ITVImage source, ITV/PA

Leadership candidates Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak are to pitch for the votes of Scottish Conservative members at a hustings in Perth.

The contenders to replace Boris Johnson as prime minister are taking part in a series of events around the UK.

Both have stated their opposition to a referendum on Scottish independence and want their policies to apply UK-wide.

And each has policies to challenge the Scottish government, calling for greater scrutiny of the SNP’s record.

The SNP said neither candidate was offering a solution to the cost of living crisis, and that both would boost support for independence.

The event in Perth will give local Tory members the chance to question the candidates on Scottish issues as well as other topics such as the cost of living.

Both have stated their opposition to an independence referendum, despite the Scottish government’s plans to hold a vote in October 2023.

And they have set out a series of policies aimed at strengthening the union and increasing the visibility of the UK government north of the border.

Mr Sunak has set out proposals to reform a team of advisers within Downing Street known as the “Union unit”.

The former chancellor said his future reforms would ensure “every single” government department operated UK-wide, despite key policy areas such as education and health having been in the control of Holyrood since devolution in 1999.

He has also called for Scotland’s top civil servant to testify before a Westminster committee on an annual basis, while requiring the Scottish government to publish consistent data on the delivery of key services so these can be compared UK-wide.

He said: “The future of the United Kingdom is bright but our Union must work together, each nation shoulder to shoulder, to get there.

“We must defeat the collective challenges threatening the health of our public services. Under my plans, the UK government will play its part, but the same must be reciprocated by Holyrood.”

leadership placards

Image source, Reuters

Ms Truss meanwhile has stressed that she would retain the “minister for the Union” title Boris Johnson took on as prime minister.

She said she would make changes to the Scotland Act to give MSPs the same full parliamentary privilege as MPs at Westminster.

MPs have legal immunity from prosecution over statements made in the Commons, while MSPs have a narrower set of protections against defamation claims and some court actions.

Ms Truss said giving MSPs the same status as MPs “would allow for more robust questioning for ministers” and would “increase the powers of the Scottish parliament to hold the Scottish government to account”.

She said: “For too long, people in Scotland have been let down by the SNP focusing on constitutional division instead of their priorities. That won’t happen under my watch. I’ll make sure that my government does everything to ensure elected representatives hold the devolved administration to account for its failure to deliver the quality public services, particularly health and education, that Scottish people deserve.”

Ms Truss was criticised following an earlier hustings when she described Ms Sturgeon as an “attention seeker” who was best ignored.

The first minister hit back by claiming that the foreign secretary had once asked her for advice on how to be featured in the fashion magazine Vogue.

Truss and Sunak BBC debate

Image source, PA Media

Both candidates have won the backing of a number of Scottish Conservative MPs and MSPs.

However the party’s Scottish leader Douglas Ross has said he will not be publicly backing either, saying he will “work with whoever emerges victorious”.

The SNP said both candidates should “apologise for the Tory failings that have pushed so many families to the brink”.

The party’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford said: “During the cost of living crisis, many neighbouring countries have capped energy price increases, cut VAT on bills and offered meaningful financial support to the most vulnerable, the UK Tory government has sat on its hands – and both Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss have said nothing.

“Whoever wins this leadership contest, Scotland loses. That’s why we need the full powers of independence to banish Westminster governments Scotland doesn’t vote for and to deliver for the people who live here.”

Presentational grey line
Analysis box by Philip Sim, political correspondent, Scotland

It may seem like the Conservative leadership contest has been going on for about five years, but somehow there are still three weeks to go until one of the two contenders enters Downing Street.

That means there may still be time for them to win over some crucial votes.

Scotland has not been a huge focus of the campaign so far – possibly because the contest thrives on where the candidates differ, and they are in broad agreement about affairs north of the border.

Both are critical of the SNP and the Scottish government; both would refuse to back an independence referendum; and both want to do more to push their policies UK-wide.

But some Scottish Tories have said they are still waiting to hear more specific discussion before they make up their minds.

They may also want to look the candidates in the eye and really test their attitude and tone when it comes to those issues where they have a settled position. How serious are they, really, when it comes to the union, and holding their own against the Scottish government?

To be frank, which of them will be a better prospect with voters north of the border when it comes to a future election?

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