Scotland’s ‘reluctant Cameroons’

In a report published today entitled 'Cameron's Caledonian Conundrum', 18 per cent of respondents in Scotland were more favourable to David Cameron than the Conservatives as a whole.

The standing joke in Scotland has long been that there are more pandas north of the border than Conservative MPs – of which the party has just one, with little prospect of that increasing in 2015.

Make no mistake about it, the anti-conservative feeling runs right across a nation scarred by Thatcherism and her use of Scotland as a Guinea Pig for the Poll Tax.

It is that same anti-Conservative feeling that Alex Salmond is now seeking to capitalise on as he advances his case for independence.

And yet despite the electoral drubbing the party has faced north of the border, the polling guru Lord Ashcroft has concluded that things might not be so bleak for the Conservatives as first impressions suggest.

In a report published today entitled ‘Cameron’s Caledonian Conundrum’, 18 per cent of respondents in Scotland were more favourable to David Cameron than the Conservatives as a whole. This compared to the 10 per cent who felt more favourable to Ed Miliband than the Labour Party.

Indeed, Cameron’s ratings are higher than Alex Salmond’s, with 16 per cent having said they are more favourable to the First Minister than the SNP as a party.

North of the border, Conservatives are also seen, according to the poll, as the party most prepared to ‘take tough decisions for the long term’. Furthermore, given the heated opposition to the bedroom tax in Scotland, the Conservatives are seen as having the best approach to reforming welfare.

Interestingly as well, whilst 49 per cent of respondents said that the Scottish government had made independence its main priority, just 3 per cent think it actually should be.

In assessing what the results mean for the Conservatives, writing in the Scotsman today, Lord Ashcroft explains:

“Despite the party’s shrinking vote share, there are potential Tories at large in Scotland. As well as the small ‘Tory Core’ – loyal Conservatives who always turn out – I found a group of what I have called ‘Reluctant Cameroons’.

“These people, one in six of the Scottish electorate, are attracted to David Cameron and trust the Tories on the economy, but most say they would not vote Conservative tomorrow.

“Another one in ten falls into the ‘Willing to Listen’ group, who currently lean towards Labour despite preferring Cameron as PM, though many are undecided.

“The Conservative Party holds three main attractions for its target voters: they prefer Cameron as PM; they see the Tories as willing to take tough decisions; and they trust the Tory team over Miliband and Balls to manage the economy.

“At the same time, they see three big drawbacks.

“First, like many in England, they doubt the Tories are really on the side of people like them. Second, they do not feel the party cares much about Scotland, and has little enthusiasm for devolution. Finally, they consider the Tories effectively irrelevant in Scottish elections. Many who would support the Conservatives if they lived in England instead vote to try to keep out whichever of Labour or the SNP they believe more disastrous.”

He concludes:

“If it sounds like a hopeless cause, consider London. In 1997, the Conservatives won just 11 of the capital’s 74 seats, 19 points behind Labour in the popular vote. A city renowned for its liberal tendencies was given a degree of self-government, and promptly elected, then re-elected, an anti-establishment leader from the left. But what happened next?”

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