Tory leadership contest: What do Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss say about Scotland?
The next six weeks will be full of blue-on-blue action as Conservative leadership candidates Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss trade blows as they bid to become the next UK prime minister.
With only one hustings to be held north of the border – in Perth on 16 August – Scottish Conservative members will be especially keen to hear what both of them have to say about Scotland and the Union…
Both contenders have insisted they would continue to say no to holding another referendum on Scottish independence.
Wrong priority at the worst possible moment
Writing in the Scottish Daily Mail yesterday, Sunak said it would be “the wrong priority at the worst possible moment”.
But back in 2017, he did go on record saying a vote would be “hard to block”. Then, he argued the timing should be pushed until after Brexit “so the choice is clearer for people”. “A good [Brexit] deal will strengthen the case for the Union,” he added.
After those comments resurfaced last week, a spokesman said the former chancellor had “absolutely no intention” of granting a section 30 order.
Sunak has also denied claims published in the FT that he once told a colleague Scottish independence would be in England’s best financial interests.
I don't think we're through that generation yet
Meanwhile, Truss has echoed the “now is not the time” line from No 10.
Pointing to the 2014 referendum being described as one in a generation, she said: “I don't think we're through that generation yet.”
On strengthening the Union
Referendum or not, it is clear that support for the Union needs to be strengthened in Scotland if the United Kingdom is to be sustained.
Truss said Scotland was “a very important part of the DNA of our country”.
Making people’s lives “better” is how she says she will connect with Scots, but she is yet to outline any specific policies.
“The important point is not about how many meetings we have and how many visits we do – which of course are important and it’s an important part of ministerial life – is what we actually deliver for people and are people’s lives better, do they have more opportunity?” she said.
The most active UK-wide government in decades
Sunak, on the other hand, has sought to distance himself from the so-called “muscular unionism” strategy of Boris Johnson, pledging to address the “Westminster 'devolve and forget' mentality”.
“The most active UK-wide government in decades” is how he describes his approach to the Union – much to the chagrin on SNP politicians who have labelled such a move a “power grab” because it could spill over into devolved areas.
A spokesperson told Holyrood: “He will invest directly in local communities, demonstrating how the UK Government is delivering for Scotland. Westminster and Holyrood don’t hold the monopoly on what's best for Scottish communities – local communities know best.”
On Scottish attitudes
Sunak has come under fire for seeming to avoid scrutiny in Scotland.
He did not attend the Scottish Conservative conference in March this year. His keynote speech was instead a two-minute pre-recorded video, which included no new announcements.
In June, he refused to speak to various media outlets during a visit to Aberdeen to discuss plans for a windfall tax with the oil and gas industry.
Probably some Scots love me
Truss describes herself as a “child of the Union” because she lived in Paisley as a young child. She has spoken after the lack of love Scots felt for her party at the time, saying: “Even at that age, we knew it was simply unpopular to be a Tory in the West of Scotland.”
But she seems confident that she can help turn that around. Asked if Scots love her, she said: “Probably some Scots love me, I can tell you that.”