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MARK DIFFLEY: ‘Partygate’ police probe is the worst result for Scottish Conservatives

A police inquiry into Downing Street parties: bad news for Conservatives on either side of the border.
A police inquiry into Downing Street parties: bad news for Conservatives on either side of the border.

News that the Metropolitan Police will investigate the ‘Partygate’ allegations has sent political pundits scrambling to assess what this means for the Prime Minister and his chances of survival.

Not unreasonably, many would have you believe it offers Boris Johnson a lifeline.

The delay buys him some time to rally support from his backbench MPs, the key constituency in determining his immediate future.

But while Conservatives in Westminster may, albeit wearily, see this as positive for the PM, spare a thought for the party in Scotland.

For them, news of further delays to the seemingly endless saga of parties held at Downing Street during various stages of lockdown will be far from welcome.

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross nailed his colours to the mast early as news of Downing Street parties began emerging.

Some greeted his calls for Boris Johnson to resign with applause for being principled.

But he was ridiculed by senior members of the UK government who accused Ross of being a ‘lightweight”.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, seen here campaigning in Leven during the 1997 UK General Election, branded Douglas Ross “a lightweight” figure.. Photo: Colin McPherson/Corbis via Getty Images.

Ross was right to be worried that a continued association with a Prime Minister who is already deeply unpopular north of the border could have significant consequences for the party in Scotland.

So news that a judgement on Johnson’s fate will be prolonged is unlikely to do him or the Scottish Tories any favours as they begin planning for May’s local elections.

Polling suggests Tories will struggle

The polls already show some worrying signs.

As the ‘Partygate’ revelations began to appear in the media before Christmas, a poll showed just 17% of voters saying they would vote Conservative at a UK General election.

It’s the lowest the party has polled since the last election in 2019. And it’s far below the 25% share they received at that vote.

As the drip drip of revelations has gone on into 2022, so the polling has continued to make grim reading.

The most recent survey shows fewer than one in five (19%) would now support the Conservatives at a Holyrood election.

That’s down again from the 22% support they received at the election last year.

And there are possibly even more worrying signs for the party.

Will Partygate scandals erode support for the union?

First, it is clear that the PM is a drag on support. The delay to the reporting on Downing Street events is unlikely to help.

Latest polling suggests only 14% of Scots have a favourable view of Johnson while 77% are unfavourable.

And even among Conservative voters here, Johnson discontents outweigh contents by 45% to 36%.

Boris Johnson and Douglas Ross attend a photo op during happier times in 2019. Photo: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire.

Second, while the country remains evenly split on the constitutional question, there has been a marginal uptick in support for independence in recent polls.

The worry for the Scottish Tories is that the reccurring scandals from Westminster will erode the unionist cause further.

The best result for the Scottish Conservatives is for Johnson to resign or be removed so they can move on.

The worst result is the continued delay and uncertainty which threatens their chances in May’s election and beyond.

Mark Diffley is an independent pollster and researcher.

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