Sunday Column: The next Scottish Conservative leader must not dance to the SNP's tune.

Sky News

By Derek W Gardiner

On Thursday we were all taken by surprise by the welcome news that Jackson Carlaw had resigned as leader of the Scottish Conservatives. I had warned back in the leadership election in February that Mr Carlaw was unsuited to the task, having already lost half of Scotland's Conservative MPs when he was acting leader and so backed his opponent, Michelle Ballantyne. Unfortunately, the party machine was behind Carlaw and he won despite his already bad record.

The coronavirus pandemic could not have gone worse for Carlaw, he had a golden opportunity to hold the SNP's feet to the fire; to question why they had kept Scotland in lockdown longer than the rest of the UK, to question why children were being left uneducated for 6 months, why unemployment in Scotland was rising at a faster rate than the rest of the UK and why the SNP were still ploughing ahead with independence despite the economic damage brought by COVID. Instead, he spent six whole weeks of First Minister's questions focussing on a single issue, testing in care homes, it was only grassroots outrage at the SNP's plans for part-time learning which finally forced him to change the record. Carlaw seemed to be content with a managed decline for the Scottish Conservatives and as a result, the SNP were allowed to run roughshod over the country virtually unopposed, this certainly wasn't helped by the woeful leadership of Richard Leonard who should swiftly follow Carlaw out the door.

The next Scottish Conservative leader, who looks likely to be Douglas Ross, who is not an MSP in the Scottish Parliament, must set the agenda for the country and not allow the SNP to do so. He must not see the SNP as the voice of public opinion in Scotland, the way Carlaw did and provide real rather than token opposition. That starts with pointing out that Scotland's approach to coronavirus and all the intrusive restrictions imposed on our lives have not been the roaring success that the SNP claims it has. Scotland has had the third-worst excess death rate in Europe, he must oppose Sturgeon's threats to close down the hospitality sector again, putting hundreds of jobs and businesses at risk and he should challenge any attempts to impose a quarantine on English travellers to Scotland and if necessary fight it in the courts. He should not be afraid to rock the boat, this is no longer about public health, this is about Sturgeon having the excuse she has always wanted to nanny this country and drive a wedge between Scotland and England, this disgraceful conduct must be opposed at every turn.

On independence, the new leader of the opposition must give the full facts that the SNP won't mention. The picture has changed since 2014, the UK has left the EU and if Scotland became independent, it would not automatically be an EU member state. That would mean trading solely on WTO terms with no trading agreements at all, something the SNP have said would be a "disaster" for the whole UK but seem happy enough for it to happen to an independent Scotland. It would mean no control over the pound sterling and a requirement to join the Euro should Scotland succeed in becoming an EU member state and it would mean different trading arrangements in Scotland and the rest of the UK leading to the potential of a hard border between Scotland and England. Alex Salmond's white paper for an independent Scotland in 2014 could only have worked if the price of oil stood at $110 a barrel and a few months ago oil companies were paying people to take oil from them. The new opposition leader needs to get this message out to the people of Scotland before it is too late.

Face coverings must not become normalised

Face coverings are now being likened to wearing a seatbelt, a motorcycle helmet or driving while sober as a justification for making them compulsory in shops, busses, trains and even churches, but of course not in restaurants or pubs because that would be impractical. The thought of this becoming as normal as putting a seatbelt on absolutely terrifies me. I remember that some people wore surgical face masks prior to the pandemic and I thought this odd and certainly not something I would ever do. Now I am forced to wear one by law and would not do so if I had a choice.

The utility of face-coverings is the equivalent of putting flowers beside someone's bed at hospital to avoid them catching the plague. Indeed, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jenny Harries said in March that wearing a face mask actually put you more at risk by trapping the virus and increasing the chances of it moving into your mouth and nose. They have done precisely nothing to stop infections, with infection rates creeping up around the time they became compulsory.

Perhaps the government is only forcing people to wear them so that they will feel some sense of security when going out. But as usual, individuals, however, informed they might be are not allowed to use their own common sense and judgements. We need to make sure that this is only temporary and once this pandemic is over we will return to government advice coupled with individual decision making rather than conformism.