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Sketch: Rishi Sunak tries to get the Scottish Tories out of a rut

Credit: Iain Green

Sketch: Rishi Sunak tries to get the Scottish Tories out of a rut

Alister Jack wants to make Scotland “Nat zero”, or so he tells the Scottish Conservative conference. But much like the net zero targets, this seems overly ambitious from a Scottish secretary whose party is not really that committed to it because they benefit from fueling the fire.

One method for getting rid of Nats while gaining ground is simply winning them over. Lisa Cameron was the first, a “truly, truly great signing”, Jack says. The former SNP MP is in the crowd, attending her first conference as a Tory. One wonders whether she will become ‘no great loss’ to the Conservatives, too, when she loses her seat.

Perhaps another Nat-turned-Tory could come in the form of Ian Blackford. Give that humble crofter a lordship and he’ll surely be putty in Rishi Sunak’s hands. It worked for former MSP Donald Cameron – he was more than happy to ditch his seat in Holyrood to take one up in that other place and become a peer.

Win for Rishi! Is it a slogan that could catch on?

“Those Camerons – and I include in that the returning foreign secretary [David] – prove there is a path back,” says Jack. A path back to where? 2010? Well, I suppose that was a better time for the Conservatives, before infighting brought them into total disrepute.

But Jack’s main ambition is to make Sunak proud. “Day in, day out, I witness our prime minister making decisions to strengthen the United Kingdom,” he says. “It’s why we must win more seats for him come the general election.” Win for Rishi! Is it a slogan that could catch on or does it sound more like a line from a pantomime?

Talking of which, the main man is up next. Sunak tells the room that there is only “one party trying to move Scotland forward”. But he and his colleagues are always banging on about the threat of Scottish independence, so he can’t mean the Tories. But why is the Tory PM talking to Tory delegates at the Tory conference about Labour?

Anyway, he goes on to criticise the pesky Nats for their money-grabbing. There’s nothing Sunak hates more than taxes. He cannot believe the SNP is raising them for anyone who earns more than £28k – which, to be fair, probably seems like pocket change to him. He prefers to make families poorer by overseeing an economic crisis which raises the cost of bills and food.

Next, he takes aim at both the SNP and Labour for putting “virtue signalling ahead of energy security”. Which is ironic from someone making a virtue out of oil and gas jobs, pretending it would be simply immoral to move workers into less polluting industries. Maybe, just maybe, the people who are virtue signalling on energy security are the folks claiming to protect energy security by opening up new North Sea oil fields that categorically won’t do that, since North Sea oil doesn’t tend to be used in the UK.

He and his colleagues are 'putting their shoulders to the wheel' – an apt description, since the Tory vehicle has become so mired in mud

Labour is on an “ideological quest,” argues Sunak, refusing to acknowledge the ideological questers in his own party. That’s why it’s important to “stick to our plan that is starting to deliver the change that people want to see”. Indeed, everyone wanted to see a recession. He’s got his finger on the pulse of public opinion.

And the choice in Scotland is “even more stark” because if Labour wants to take the UK back to “square one”, the SNP “want to go back 300 years”. The recent SNP conference must have passed a motion supporting time travel. To be fair, Humza Yousaf successfully building a time machine feels more likely than him securing a referendum.

Sunak insists he is best placed to “end the SNP monopoly” in Scotland. Which is why he and his colleagues are “putting their shoulders to the wheel” – an apt description, since the Tory vehicle has become so mired in mud that is needs a lot of help to get out.

“Let’s stand up for our country, our United Kingdom…. and let’s send the Nationalists home,” he concludes ignoring the fact that he is standing on Nat home ground. The applause in the room is polite. Not even his most loyal supporters seem convinced. Perhaps a seven-minute speech wasn’t quite long enough.

Trying to persuade the PM to stick around a bit longer to at least appear like he cares about Scotland, Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross invites him to take part in a Q&A. With himself. It goes roughly like this:

  • Ross: Rishi, why are you so great?
  • Sunak: Well, Douglas, it’s because I like to cut taxes. I just love it. Can’t get enough of it.
  • Ross: And Rishi, why are the Nats terrible?
  • Sunak: Well, Douglas, unlike me they love raising taxes. Can’t get enough of it. Then they fritter that cash away on ferries and campervans, ha ha ha, do you get my very clever joke about campervans? I’m so funny and relatable and I definitely know what’s going on in Scottish politics.

And with that, Rishi rushed off back to Downing Street to make a statement on the “beyond alarming” George Galloway and how to heal divides…

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