Has Cameron “detoxified” the Tories in Scotland?

The man in charge of the Tories' Scottish election campaign claims the party's been "detoxified" and is on course to improve on the 17 MSPs currently held.

David McLetchie, the former leader of the Scottish Conservative party who is now co-ordinating the party’s efforts for elections in May, has said that under David Cameron’s leadership, the Scottish Conservatives have been “detoxified” and are on course to improve on the 17 MSPs they currently have at Holyrood.

Speaking to the Scotsman, he claimed:

“By the election we will have had a year of the Tories in government and whatever grumbling there is, people will recognise that the government has done positive things.

“It’s going to be the first Scottish Parliament election in which we’ve had a Tory prime minister at Westminster.

“Scots are reasonable people and many more people will recognise what the UK government is doing. We will improve our seat return compared to 2007 and will proudly proclaim what the UK government is doing.

“We’re not going to run away from a defence of the difficult decisions being taken by the UK government.”

His words, however, have been met with both curiosity and derision from political opponents, not least after the release on Sunday of new polling by YouGov, reported in the Sunday Herald, which found:

• Of those certain to vote, Labour was on 41% of the constituency vote (+8.8 from 2007), the SNP were on 32% (-0.9), the Conservatives were on 15% (-1.6), the Lib Dems were on 8% (-8.2) and 4% planned to vote for another party (+1.9);

• In respect of the regional/list vote, Labour led with 40% support (+10.8 on 2007), the SNP were on 26% (-5), the Tories on 15% (up 1.1) the Lib Dems on 7% (-3.3), the Greens were on 6% (up 2) and all others were on 5% (-5.6).

The polling comes just weeks after Ipsos Mori reported that the SNP were ahead of Labour by just 1%; either way, the figures for the Conservatives were not good, compounding the questions around Mr McLetchie’s assertion.

Responding to his remarks, Scottish Labour MP Thomas Docherty accused McLetchie of being “delusional”. He said:

“To suggest the Tory-Lib Dem coalition government’s policies are popular in Scotland is delusional. Scotland suffered at the hands of the Tory governments in the 1980s and 1990s, with a raft of pit and shipyard closures.

“Now the Tories in Scotland are yet again backing the same failed Thatcherite policies.”

McLetchie’s comments follow those of William Hague who, during the General Election, predicted a “breakthrough” for the party in Scotland. In the end, it returned just the one re-elected MP in Scotland.

David Torrance, who has written both a biography of Alex Salmond and a book on Margaret Thatcher’s relationship with Scotland, said of McLetchie’s comments:

“Conservative prime ministers are rarely an asset north of the border (Sir Alec Douglas-Home was probably the last), and David Cameron is no exception.

“Despite a good start, Mr Cameron has noticeably cooled on his ancestral homeland since last May, and will probably put in no more than a token appearance at the party’s conference in Perth in a few weeks’ time.

“Far from ‘detoxifying’ the Conservative brand in Scotland, as McLetchie claims, there’s a real danger that – in the eyes of many Scottish voters – the Tory-led government is simply conforming to type, or more accurately stereotype in the context of Scotland.”

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