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What could the Scottish Tories’ factionalism mean?

Leader of the Scottish Tories, Douglas Ross (with the support of other Scottish Conservatives), has called for Boris Johnson to resign after the PM’s admission to attending a party in the Downing Street garden, May 2020. The leader of the House of Commons, Jacob Rees-Mogg, has responded, referring to Ross as “quite a lightweight figure.” Ross’ response was that Mogg was “entitled to his opinion, I don’t have to agree with him.”

All this hullabaloo has given rise to the question, what does this mean for the Scottish National Party? Is this good for the Scottish Independence movement, since it could divide the Tories? Does it provide ammunition for the SNP? After all, it would indeed be an opportune moment for them to say, “look, even Scottish Conservatives want Boris gone.” A party divided against itself cannot stand. Or will this break with the Prime Minister strengthen the Scottish Tories given that Boris Johnson, and his party in general, receive relatively little support in Scotland? A case could be made for both possibilities.

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The first (and perhaps the most likely) scenario, is that this turn of events is beneficial for the SNP, as the case for independence looks more appealing when grievances towards the current government are of a bipartisan nature. This would benefit the nationalists. Both Douglas Ross and Nicola Sturgeon would find it heartening if the premier resigned. She herself has asked, after this debacle, how Ross “can ever ask anybody to vote for a party led by Boris Johnson” after he himself has called for Johnson’s resignation. This seems to be a clear-cut, decided case. Clearly, this statement represents a sentiment that seemingly signals a loss for the Scottish Conservatives. 

But there is an alternative outcome: Douglas Ross may be strengthening the Scottish Tories (and possibly Unionism) by breaking with Boris, whose approval ratings are at a personal low of his time as Prime Minister. This break could potentially provide some credibility for Ross and his Scottish Tories. Breaking with an unpopular figure in Scottish politics would seem to be the right move to increase your favorability ratings in Scotland, besides the fact that it signals a sort of honesty to voters. It is detrimental to a political body when party members are not allowed to disagree with the party line and leads to the danger of tribalism and sectarianism. Undoubtedly, it is refreshing when a politician has the guts to call out their team when they deserve to be called out, despite the consequences of other members calling you a “lightweight” or other disparaging terms. 

But, could there be a third option? A combination of these two alternatives where the case for Scottish Independence is strengthened, and the Scottish Conservatives, although initially defeated, come out a stronger, albeit different party. A Conservative party distanced from that currently represented by Boris Johnson. It may be that the SNP has won the battle, but Douglas Ross – one step ahead – is ready for a long game. Perhaps this battle will be actualised in an independent Scotland. Time will tell.

Image via House of Commons