What are Conservative leadership candidates saying about Scotland?


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Theresa May is walking away from the top job – but who will replace her?

Theresa May has resigned as Conservative Party leader, with 10 MPs currently in the race to replace her. What are the candidates to be the next prime minister saying about Scotland, and would any agree to a second independence referendum?

Boris Johnson – ‘UK better together’

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Ross Thomson / Twitter

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Boris Johnson attempted to add some girders to his campaign in Scotland by sampling Irn Bru

Former foreign secretary and London mayor Boris Johnson was a frontrunner for the Conservative leadership before Mrs May had even confirmed there would be a vacancy.

He recently visited the North East for a fundraising event with local Scottish Tory MPs, and has won the endorsement of two of them, Colin Clark and Ross Thomson.

His leadership campaign has been fairly low-key so far, but Mr Johnson has made his position of opposing a second independence referendum fairly clear – he tweeted that “the United Kingdom truly is better together and we must never put that at risk”.

However his key pledge so far – to raise the higher rate of income tax from £50,000 to £80,000 – has come under fire as it would not apply in Scotland, so could ultimately see some Scots pay more in National Insurance Contributions.

Mr Johnson famously clashed with Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson during the EU referendum campaign, with the two representing the opposing sides during a television debate.

However, Ms Davidson has since suggested she could work with Mr Johnson if he wins the race, saying she will “genuinely judge him on the same criteria as I judge any of the candidates”.

Another long time critic of Mr Johnson – First Minister Nicola Sturgeon – has been less circumspect about his prospects, saying he would be a “disaster” as prime minister.

She said: “There is no part of me which wants to see Boris Johnson in Number 10. He would be a disaster as prime minster, and he was a disaster as foreign secretary.”

Jeremy Hunt – ‘Listen to the people of Scotland’

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Media captionJeremy Hunt says the people of Scotland are “loud and clear” on another independence referendum – they do not want it

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt is one of many leadership candidates who has visited Scotland in recent weeks, and has been rewarded with the backing of Scottish Tory MP John Lamont.

He was the first member of the cabinet to rule out agreeing to a new independence referendum, back in March, and has since reinforced that position, saying that “for me, it’s the Scottish people who are saying loud and clear they do not want another independence referendum”.

Asked if he was saying “no, never” to indyref2, Mr Hunt replied that “political leaders in Scotland and the UK should listen to the people of Scotland”.

In a Twitter video posted while campaigning in Edinburgh, he said he would fight to “maintain, preserve, protect and cherish our precious union”.

He said that the UK has sometimes “felt more like a dis-united kingdom” of late, saying that this made it “really important” to deliver “a Brexit that works not just for the 52% who voted to leave the European Union, but for the 48% who didn’t”.

Michael Gove – ‘Second referendum just plain wrong’

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Victoria Jones

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Michael Gove wore a kilt for US president Donald Trump’s state dinner

Environment Secretary Michael Gove is so far the most popular candidate with Scottish Tory MPs, having won endorsements from Bill Grant, Stephen Kerr, David Duguid and Luke Graham.

Mr Gove was raised in Aberdeen, and is often keen to underline his Scottish roots – he wore a kilt to the state banquet welcoming US President Donald Trump.

He spoke at the Scottish Conservative conference in his home town in May, where he made his stance on independence clear – “we said no and we meant it”.

Mr Gove said: “The idea that what Scotland wants now is another expensive, divisive, investment-freezing, prosperity-draining, uncertainty generating, family-separating, acrimony escalating referendum is politically reckless, democratically insulting and just plain wrong.”

Andrea Leadsom – ‘Never say never’ to indyref2

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Andrea Leadsom wants a new “office to strengthen the Union” within the UK government

Andrea Leadsom is hoping to go one better than her 2016 leadership campaign, when she made it into the final two before dropping out prior to the membership ballot.

She became the first candidate to publicly leave open the possibility of agreeing to a second independence referendum, saying she would “never say never”.

She said: “I am a big believer in devolution. I am not going to stand here and utterly rule it out because I think that that is disrespectful. But I would very strongly fight against a second referendum, which I don’t think is in the interest of Scotland and it’s definitely not in the interests of the UK.”

After a backlash from some Scottish Conservative MPs, she later tweeted that there “will be no second referendums on my watch”.

Mrs Leadsom says she is a “passionate believer in the Union”, and has outlined plans to establish “an office to strengthen the Union” within the UK government.

She has also proposed holding “cabinet away-days in each of the nation’s capitals at least once a year, to improve communication and relationships across the UK”.

Rory Stewart – ‘More powerful Scottish secretary’

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Media captionOn the first day of taking the job, Rory Stewart will give the Scottish secretary more powers and more money

International Development Secretary Rory Stewart has emerged as a dark horse candidate thanks to his grassroots “Rory walks” campaign, chiefly conducted through social media.

Raised in Perthshire, he served briefly in the Black Watch and now represents a constituency right next door, in Penrith and The Border.

He has declared himself to be “strongly, strongly against” a second independence referendum, adding: “I am passionately a unionist. I would have no country if Scotland left the United Kingdom. Who would I be?”

He has also pledged to beef up the Scotland Office, saying: “On the first day in office I would set up a secretary of state which would be a stronger, more powerful version of the Secretary of State for Scotland, with the money and resources behind it.

“The job would be to listen carefully to what Scotland needs and to bring all the influence and all the potential of the UK government to make sure that everywhere – from Orkney to Glasgow to Melrose – got the kind of development investment they require.”

Sajid Javid – ‘I won’t allow referendum’

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Sajid Javid inspired a Twitter hashtag when he announced he “won’t allow” indyref2

Home Secretary Sajid Javid’s position on a second independence referendum is fairly well known, after he posted online that he “won’t allow” one if he enters Downing Street.

This inspired the “permission from Sajid” hashtag to spread on Twitter with many asking Mr Javid’s permission for mundane acts, such as SNP MP Mhairi Black asking him if she could go to bed.

It also drew a response from Ms Sturgeon, who said that Scots “will not accept being told by a Tory PM that we are not ‘allowed’ to choose our own future”.

Mr Javid spoke at the Scottish Conservative conference in Aberdeen in May, trumpeting the importance of the 13 Scottish Tory MPs – he called them “the band of warriors who saved the whole United Kingdom from the threat of [Jeremy] Corbyn’s Labour”.

None of these MPs have yet endorsed his campaign, but he has won one high-profile backer in Ms Davidson, who praised his “good judgement” and character.

The Scottish Conservative leader said she could back Mr Javid “in the secure knowledge he will defend Scotland’s interests and is an instinctive and committed unionist”, adding that he would “promote the case for the union for a new age” with “vigour”.

While he is not currently among the front-runners in terms of pledges from Tory MPs, Ms Davidson warned that “you underestimate Saj at your peril”.

Matt Hancock – ‘No way Nicola’

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Media captionMatt Hancock says one of his proudest moments as a minister was when he made sure Union Jacks were used as part of the Edinburgh Festival

Health Secretary Matt Hancock may not be an obvious frontrunner in the race, but he has won the endorsement of two Scottish Tory MPs – Andrew Bowie and Paul Masterton.

His position on indyref2 is along the same lines as the others – in a tweet, he said that “the people have spoken” already, adding: “No way, Nicola.”

On Scotland more widely, he says: “I want to make sure that the Union is at the heart of everything that the UK government does. I want to see the UK government doing more to explain the value of the Union both here in Scotland and also in England.

“One of the proudest things I’ve done as a minister was when I was culture secretary, making sure we got Union jacks on the Edinburgh festival.”

The comment about flags drew a rebuke from the Scottish Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop, who said Mr Hancock’s claim was “nonsense”.

She said it would be “completely wrong for UK government or indeed any government, including the Scottish government, to try and hijack or appropriate independent arts festivals”.

Dominic Raab – ‘You can’t keep asking the same question’

Former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab has put an early exit from the European Union at the heart of his campaign, along with tax cuts and support for “the aspirational working and middle class”.

He has not had much to say about Scotland so far in his campaign, but said that he would “seek every means possible to reinforce the strength and integrity of the United Kingdom”.

In a statement, he added: “The Scottish independence referendum was promised as a ‘once in a generation’ vote for the people of Scotland.

“We must all honour that promise. You can’t keep asking the same question of voters simply to get the answer you want.”

Other leadership contenders

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Esther McVey is another candidate who has said they would not “allow” another independence vote

Former work and pensions secretary Esther McVey has also visited Scotland as part of her campaign, and said she “won’t allow another referendum on Scottish independence”.

She added: “I know the SNP don’t like accepting the result of referendums but they can’t just keep voting time after time in the vain hope of getting the outcome they prefer.”

Forest of Dean MP Mark Harper says he is “against a so called indyref2 just as I’m against a second EU referendum”, adding: “When we give decisions to the public to make we should listen to what they tell us and deliver the result.”

Two candidates dropped out before the race formally began, including James Cleverly, who had won the initial backing of Scottish MP Colin Clark – both are now supporters of Boris Johnson.

Meanwhile Sam Gyimah decided to “step back” shortly after nominations closed on Monday, having based his campaign on another referendum on Brexit – something which had caused concern among Scottish Tory MPs that it could make resisting indyref2 harder.





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