A senior Conservative cabinet minister’s bold claim his party could challenge the SNP and Liberal Democrats in the country’s most marginal seat when a general election is called has been branded “pie in the sky”.
Michael Gove’s comments on North East Fife have been backed by some local Tory members who say they are quietly confident of making gains, despite coming a distant third in 2017.
The SNP’s Stephen Gethins has a majority of just two over the Liberal Democrats in a constituency held by Sir Ming Campbell for almost three decades. The Tories were a 3,653 votes behind.
Mr Gove signalled the start of what promises to be another fiercely fought contest by claiming people “in Crail and Anstruther, as well as in St Andrews (are) looking forward to Conservative representation in North East Fife”.
His comments came during a Parliamentary exchange with Mr Gethins in which the SNP MP invited Mr Gove to campaign in his constituency to face questions about Brexit, to which Mr Gove replied: “Given that he (Mr Gethins) has a majority of just two, he is a brave and principled man.”
Cupar Conservative councillor Tony Miklinski, who stood in the 2017 general election and could be selected again, said: “If we do only half as well again, then Michael Gove and I will be drinking champagne on election night. How realistic is that? In the current febrile climate, who can say?”
Mr Gethins, who was elected in 2015, described the Tory government as “dangerous”, adding their policies will “wreak untold damage” in North East Fife.
“As a result, we have seen people who voted Lib Dem and Labour in 2017 now prepared to vote SNP for the first time.”
North East Fife Liberal Democrat candidate Wendy Chamberlain said: “This is pie in the sky from the Conservatives. They don’t even have a candidate chosen yet and were miles behind at the last election.
“Michael Gove’s claim deserves nothing but ridicule as they will be losing seats in Scotland at the next election, not gaining them.”