For Scottish Conservatives, 2016 is going to be hard to top – however you feel about Brexit, blowing the ceiling off expectations to seize second place and 31 seats in the Scottish Parliament after so many years in the wilderness was a spectacular achievement for Ruth Davidson and her troops.
Nonetheless, there are a couple of items from the Herald this week which suggest – with all the usual caveats attached to augury – that 2017 could be a good year both for Conservatives and Unionists.
The former should be heartened by the fact that Labour appear to have not yet hit their floor in terms of Scottish support. According to leaked internal polling the party is now down to 15 per cent, against 25 per cent for the Tories and 45 per cent for the SNP.
One party source quoted in the paper says: “Of those who voted Labour in last general election, around half won’t do so again with most going to the Tories”, and another adds that “the internal polling also tells us there is no such thing as a core Labour vote anymore.”
Apparently they’re even pulling resources out of Glasgow, once their flagship council, where the Conservatives are hoping for a healthy increase in their representation (they currently have just one councillor) after securing two MSPs last year.
Unionists meanwhile can take heart from the fact that not only has support for independence failed to rise since the Brexit vote – a fact we’ve noted previously – but a new poll finds Scots ‘overwhelmingly’ opposed another independence referendum this year.
This is bad news for the SNP. As I wrote in the autumn, Brexit has trapped the Nationalists between their activists and the electorate. The former are raring for a rematch – and Nicola Sturgeon, perhaps having drunk too much of the Project Fear kool-aid, fired them up with her comments the morning after the EU referendum.
Now the clock is ticking: it will soon be past the point where Scotland could hope to disentangle itself from the UK before the UK leave the EU – thus scuppering any illusion of ‘ongoing’ membership – even if a referendum were held tomorrow.
The SNP’s attempts to wriggle out of this trap to date have not gone well: the First Minister’s half-way house plan to keep Scotland in the Single Market was shot down by one of her own advisers, whilst Spain has rubbished claims by her Brexit minister that they had opened talks on a separate Scottish deal.
All the while domestic policy issues – such as education and transport, to pick two from this morning’s headlines – aren’t going away either, and the devolution of tax powers is making it harder for the Nationalists to mask their don’t-irritate-anyone governing style with blame-shifting and radical rhetoric.
Of course, if 2016 taught us anything it’s that the unexpected can happen. The oft-prophesied separatist surge may yet materialise. But at the minute it looks as if the SNP’s best hope for an escape route is the sort of ill-planned concession Westminster has come to specialise in. Happily, at least so far, it doesn’t look like they’re getting one.