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Analysis

Who are the Scots Tories and what do they mean for Brexit?

by Luke Lythgoe | 14.06.2017

Ruth Davidson’s baker’s dozen of new Scottish MPs are expected to vote as a bloc on Scottish issues. But hopeful Remainers should not assume this guarantees 13 votes against Theresa May’s hard Brexit.

When Davidson marched down to Westminster on Monday after her general election success, she made a point of pushing for a softer Brexit. She is also remembered for her gusto performance against Boris Johnson in televised referendum debates. But the leader of the Scottish Conservatives won’t be sitting in Parliament; her party’s power at Westminster lies with the 13 MPs she leaves behind.

The new intake joining re-elected Scotland minister David Mundell in the Commons won every seat in the Borders and almost wiped out the SNP in northeast Scotland around Aberdeen. Among their number are former members of the Scottish parliament (MSPs), ex-local councillors, a fresh-produce businessman, a former Navy officer with anti-piracy experience and an assistant football referee. Like their backgrounds, their views on Brexit are diverse.

Take Ross Thomson, the new MP for Aberdeen South. He was a prominent spokesman for the Vote Leave campaign in Scotland. He was one of eight MSPs to vote against Remain in the Scottish parliament last May and has continued campaigning against SNP attempts to overturn the referendum decision.

On the opposite side of the Brexit spectrum is Luke Graham, who served as finance director of Britain Stronger In Europe.

David Mundell was himself fairly prominent in the referendum campaign. The Scotland secretary warned against the “false freedoms” being promised by Brexiters and Scottish nationalists alike. He also found himself on the opposite side of the debate to his son, MSP Oliver Mundell. Since the Brexit vote, however, David Mundell has tried to find the positives for Scotland in Brexit.

We also know the Brexit views of two other former MSPs, John Lamont (now MP for Berwickshire, Roxburgh & Selkirk) and Douglas Ross, who beat the SNP’s Angus Robertson in Moray. Both voted for Remain in the Scottish parliament last May.

As newcomers to top-level politics, the stance of the other eight Scottish Tory MPs on Brexit is not always apparent. There are many different visions of Brexit floating round Westminster currently, and any views expressed during the referendum may have changed. It is also worth remembering that each Tory candidate campaigned for Theresa May’s hard-Brexit manifesto, even if the Scottish arm of the party went to lengths to forge a distinct identity.

There are other factors, too, which suggest these new Tories might not oppose Brexit. For example, each Scottish Conservative candidate signed a pledge from the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation to leave the EU and its Common Fisheries Policy. Performing a U-turn on this campaign promise will be particularly damaging for MPs in the fishing communities of Scotland’s northeast.

The Scottish Tory MPs will bring a new dynamic to their party and Parliament as a whole. But their potential influence in averting a hard Brexit should not be overstated.

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Edited by Alan Wheatley