At the start of the election campaign, William Hague predicted the Scottish Tory party was “on the verge of an important breakthrough”; as leaders in Scotland went head to head in a special Sky News debate on Sunday, polling data suggests not only that William Hague was way off the mark, but that the Conservative and Unionist Party itself poses the biggest threat to the Union.
The polling, conducted by YouGov for Sky News, revealed:
• On voting intentions for the general election Labour remains at 36 per cent, the Liberal Democrats rise 1 point to 24 per cent, The SNP rise 1 to 22 per cent and Tories are unchanged at 15 per cent;
• Asked how they would vote if there was a referendum on independence tomorrow, 31 per cent said they would vote yes, 54 per cent said they would vote no;
• Asked how Scots would vote in an independence referendum if David Cameron was prime minister, 43 per cent would oppose independence, 40 per cent would support it; and
• Asked how they would vote at the elections to Holyrood next year if the SNP were to do business with the Conservatives in a hung parliament, 8 per cent said they would be more likely to vote SNP compared with 31 per cent who said they would be less likely to vote for them. However, asked how they would vote if the SNP were to support a Labour government, 19 per cent said they would be more likely to vote SNP and 12 per cent less likely.
The Sky News poll makes clear that despite David Cameron’s pledge that any Government he leads “would govern Scotland with the respect it deserves”, the Scottish Conservatives remain deeply unpopular, still scarred by Margaret Thatcher’s decision to use Scotland as a guinea pig for the poll tax.
Despite the Conservative manifesto pledge (page 83) that it would not put the union at risk, the poll findings suggest calls for independence would grow considerably under a Tory Government, leading one to conclude the break up of the union would be more likely if David Cameron were to enter Number 10.
However, before the SNP get too pleased with themselves, the polling data cannot be seen to be any resounding success story for them. Aside from the fact the SNP have been edged into third by a resurgent Liberal Democrat party, support for independence seems tied not to them winning the ideological or economic argument, but out of a distrust of and desire to rebel against a deeply unpopular Conservative Party in Scotland.
Meanwhile, David Cameron made clear Northern Ireland would be the first area of the country to feel the pain of the Conservative plans to cut public spending. Questioned by Jeremy Paxman about where the Conservative axe on public spending would be felt, Cameron said:
“The first one I think I would pick out is Northern Ireland.”
His comments will serve only to raise still further questions about the ability of the Conservatives’ electoral allies in the Ulster Unionist Party to stand up for Northern Ireland and its interests.
Responding to his comment, Anna Lo, candidate for the non-sectarian Alliance Party in Belfast South, said:
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“This comment shows the Tories’ true colours on Northern Ireland. We all know that the Tories are the slash and burn party and they proved us right with these remarks. People here will be angry that the Tories are virtually labelling us public enemy number one on spending.
“This also shows how weak a hand the Ulster Unionists have in their link-up. They have sold their soul to the Tories for next to nothing. These comments from David Cameron show perfectly that if people want the best for Northern Ireland they should ignore the Conservatives and Unionists.”