HONESTY, integrity and delivery – it may sound like a LinkedIn meme, but these were three of the most common words mentioned by Scottish Conservative members when asked about their priorities for the party’s new leader.

The National approached the Tory members leaving Perth’s Concert Hall on Tuesday night, with the aim of finding out what’s driving the people tasked with choosing the UK’s next prime minister.

While experts like Martin Lewis are warning that skyrocketing energy bills and inflation are leading to a pandemic-level crisis, this was not the key concern for most party members.

"Capital expenditure"

One member, a business owner based in Perthshire, said he’d been swung towards Rishi Sunak because of his plans for corporation tax.

The National:

“You have to give greater discounts to companies which are thinking of doing capital expenditure,” the suited gentleman said. “I am thinking of doing capital expenditure therefore I think it might be quite a good idea, and also it might employ one or two people.”

Fracking, and more oil 

Another man, also a business owner, said he’d been on the fence about who to vote for – but believed Liz Truss had come across the best.

His priority was generally “getting the country back on its feet”, which is something he hopes can be achieved through fracking and further oil and gas exploration in the North Sea.

“The nationalists go on, they’ve got all the answers and none of the solutions,” he said. “They want cheaper power and everything else – well, let’s frack in the Firth of Forth, let’s get more oil out the North Sea, let’s get more gas out, because we can’t go green overnight, the technology’s not there … we can’t force the pace, because we’ll all be penniless.”

The party member said it was Putin who was to blame for rising energy costs – but could not explain why the UK’s household bills are due to go up by 215% while EU increases have been lower.  

The National: The Cuadrilla fracking site at Preston New Road in Blackpool, LancashireThe Cuadrilla fracking site at Preston New Road in Blackpool, Lancashire

Some countries like France have seen an increase of just 4%, as its nationalised system ensures the public owned energy company EDF can take the financial hit rather than its citizens.

Asked why the UK’s bills were so much higher, the party member said: “That I would like to know the answer to.”

Asked whether privatised energy firms could be to blame – as providers rake in billions in profits – he argued that not all European countries have nationalised systems and said: “We have to get to the bottom of why it’s so expensive here than it is in France for example.”

READ MORE: Inflation reached 10.1 per cent in July as cost of living soars

The lack of focus on the climate has been one of the main notable factors of this endless contest. The members calling for unlimited North Sea oil and gas exploration and demanding that Holyrood reverse its fracking ban are, unfortunately rather successfully, turning the conversation away from the urgent need to find greener ways to generate power.

The voices of young people go ignored as the candidates happily demonise renewables like solar, and avoid discussing the IPCC’s warnings that fossil fuel projects have to stop now if we have any hope of keeping temperature rises under 1.5C. Members would rather talk about the financial burden of net-zero efforts, as if the monetary, and environmental, costs of tackling the long-term effects of climate breakdown are not significantly higher.

"Sunak is keen to help the people at the bottom"

The perception that people are struggling either solely because of Putin or by some invisible, unknowable force was also clear among those supporting former chancellor Sunak.

One woman insisted that Sunak is “full of enthusiasm, keen to help people at the bottom”. This is the same man who not even a year ago cut the Universal Credit £20 uplift despite all evidence pointing to rising poverty levels.

Others argued Sunak’s plan was the best to take the UK’s economy forward, failing to note that he had been at the Treasury’s helm for two years as the outlook became bleaker and bleaker.

Do members understand the severity of the situation?

The sense after speaking to members for half an hour was that this was a group of largely older, affluent people whose views were significantly out of step with the majority of Scotland.

YouGov found this week that just 12% of Scots think the Tories are prepared to deal with the appalling cost-of-living crisis, yet members praised candidates’ economic promises and branded them “electable”.

Perhaps members have not grasped the scale of the situation. A quarter of people say they won’t be able to afford their energy bills by October – beyond the humanitarian disaster that spells, you’d expect the party of “sensible money” to fear the consequences for the economy, or for small businesses already struggling in the wake of Covid and Brexit.

The National:

Conservatives were often the loudest when pandemic measures forced hospitality venues to close in the interest of public safety. Where are their voices now, when these same firms fear they’ll have to permanently shut down as costs soar?

People are angry. A very fast-growing campaign is encouraging people to stop paying their bills altogether. There are strikes in industries across every sector. Yet members are generally happy to see the likes of Truss commit to small bill cuts here and there – after all, she appeared to generate the most support within the concert hall on Tuesday night.

These same people will be taken by surprise when civil unrest inevitably breaks out later this year.


On independence, too, the people choosing our next leader are not representative of the public.

According to the Scottish Election Survey, some 55% of voters think the result of the Holyrood election provide a mandate for indyref2 – but one of the members we spoke to gushed over Truss effectively saying “no way” to a vote.

READ MORE: SNP say no evidence to suggest party members behaved abusively at Perth Tory hustings

Asked if that would not just push people to keep fighting for independence, he branded the cause a “busted flush” and denied it would happen.

But people voted for an independence majority very recently, and it would be naive to assume that strength of feeling would disappear under any prime minister - no matter what action they take against it.

The strange system

It is not individual Conservative members to blame for this situation. The Tories won an 80-seat majority in 2019.

But it is a fascinatingly silly quirk of the British electoral system that such a small number of people can determine the country’s future.

And the truth is it could easily happen again. It almost certainly will. As Tories become more accustomed to chucking away leaders like unwanted Fringe flyers, this strange system could well become the new normal. In a way, it already has.

There’s only one clear path to ensuring Scottish democracy is properly observed, and that’s through an independence referendum. Those who are, rightfully, opposed to independence can have their say like everyone else, as they should within a proper democratic system.