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by Kirsteen Paterson
16 August 2022
Perth hustings: How will Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak woo Scottish votes?

Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss will appear in Perth in their only Scottish hustings

Perth hustings: How will Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak woo Scottish votes?

One of them will be the next prime minister, and votes won tonight at Conservative party leadership election hustings in Perth could be key.

So how will Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss seek to win over the crowd and, ultimately, the key to Number 10?

New polling released today shows that Truss is out in front with Conservative voters in Scotland. That's in line with what we're seeing for the UK as a whole.

But the research also provides insight we've not seen anywhere else, stating that around one quarter of voters will be more likely to back independence, regardless of who wins the race to replace Boris Johnson.

Local Tory members will be able to question the candidates on core issues, and it's hard to imagine the event concluding without coverage of the dominant issues in Scottish politics - the constitution and the economy.

Convincing the audience that they will be the best person to answer those questions will be key for the candidates.

Neither Sunak nor Truss has waivered on what is now a firmly entrenched Tory position - it is not the time for a new independence referendum, regardless of Nicola Sturgeon's intention to stage one on 19 October 2023, and on what the Supreme Court might say about the Scottish Government's legal case.

It's unlikely that we'll hear anything to the contrary tonight, but we can expect to hear the pair continue to challenge the SNP's record in office, and to state that the Union holds the key to overcoming the cost-of-living crisis.

On measures to strengthen the Union and bolster the UK Government's presence in Scotland, Sunak - who wants UK nations to work "shoulder to shoulder" - says he will reform Downing Street's Union Unit advisory team and bring in further change to ensure all Westminster departments operate UK-wide. That's despite the devolution of key powers like health, education, transport and more.

His proposals would also see Scotland's most senior civil servants called to testify before a Westminster committee once a year, and would also create a new system of comparison by requiring the Scottish Government to publish service delivery data to be read against UK-wide results.

Meanwhile, Truss - who has emphasised her early schooling in Paisley - has said she will amend the Scotland Act to introduce parliamentary privilege for MSPs and give them the same immunity from prosecution over statements made in the chamber as MPs enjoy. That, she said, would ensure MSPs can "hold the devolved administration to account for its failure to deliver the quality public services, particularly health and education, that Scottish people deserve".

As PM, she would also take on the role of minister for the Union, as introduced by Johnson for himself.

However, the impact of that post is questionable; did it boost either the popularity of Johnson or the Union, either in Scotland or more broadly? Conservative members will likely be looking for more detail tonight about how Truss would develop the role to boost her personal and party rankings in Scotland, and to counter the kind of No to Yes swing stated in today's polling.

Tonight's hustings will be the only such event to take place in Scotland before voting in the leadership contest begins, but there are five others to come in Belfast, Manchester, Birmingham, Norwich and London.

The sold-out event will begin at 7.30pm and those without a ticket can watch on the STV News website.

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