While it might not be box office viewing, we should all pay close attention to the Scottish Conservative leadership contest.

Uncharitable souls might ask why it matters.

For all the overblown rhetoric about a so-called ‘’Tory revival’’ in Scotland, whoever emerges victorious is unlikely to become our next first minister.

Boris Johnson now has a hefty parliamentary majority; won outside of Scotland and in spite of Scotland. He therefore has no reason to woo or even pay much attention to the next Scottish Tory leader. Johnson has made clear since the General Election that he will focus on courting and retaining the "red wall" former Labour seats that his party won.

READ MORE: Scottish Secretary rules out Indyref2 even if SNP win Holyrood majority in 2021 

The reason why the outcome of the contest matters more than we might think lies in one of the Scottish party’s only policies.

The limited electoral success they have enjoyed since 2014 has been squarely down to their harnessing of the unionist vote. Their opposition to Indyref2 was front and centre during the General Election campaign and will be again during the Holyrood election.

At the weekend, Scottish Secretary Alister Jack said that Boris Johnson would shortly be responding to Nicola Sturgeon’s request for a Section 30 order to hold Indyref2. The Prime Minister is certain to refuse permission for another referendum. All eyes will then be on the First Minister to see what her next move is.

While it is unlikely that we will be heading back to the polls to vote on Scottish independence this year, many think Indyref2 is inevitable.

Whoever is chosen as Scottish Tory leader will play a key role in any future campaign.

Boris Johnson’s approval ratings in Scotland are woeful. Most people would struggle to pick Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard out of a line up. Any Scottish Tory leader will be central to the future No campaign, out of necessity more than anything else. Afterall, all the big players in the 2014 Better Together campaign have long since exited the political stage and everything has changed since then.

David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband were experienced politicians that worked in harmony. Let’s say for argument's sake that their Indyref2 counterparts comprise of Boris Johnson, Labour’s Keir Starmer and the LibDem’s Ed Davey. Could that trio really put the bitterness over Brexit to one side and unify in a simple pro-Union message?

If Better Together decided to get the band back together and wheel out their 2014 squad, they would run the risk of appearing like they have nothing new to say on the Union and nobody new to say it on their behalf.


Contrast that with the Yes movement, which has grown and organised itself into a strong campaigning force since 2014. It has a wealth of new talent and experienced operators to draw from and, in Nicola Sturgeon, one of the most well-known politicians in the UK.

Last weekend saw thousands of Yes supporters descend on Glasgow for a pro-independence march. The pouring rain did nothing to dampen their enthusiasm and the sight of the crowds dancing and cheering showed an energy that campaigners for the Union could scarcely dream of.

READ MORE: Mark Smith: If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. What I learned from my first independence march 

In choosing their next leader, Scottish Conservative members are also nominating a spokesperson for their beloved Union. Given the utter chaos of the last few years, making the case for the continuation of the UK has never been more difficult. Which is perhaps why only two wannabe-leaders have thus far put themselves forward.

Jackson Carlaw is the front-runner and has served as interim leader since Ruth Davidson’s surprise departure. He is an agile politician and performs well at First Minister’s Questions. He is tribal on the issue of independence but takes a more collaborative approach when it matters. His handling of the vaginal mesh scandal was impressive and when he became visibly emotional while raising the plight of the affected women, he looked sincere.

Michelle Ballantyne is the party’s social security spokeswoman at Holyrood and entered the race to ensure that members have a proper contest and not a "coronation" of odds-on favourite Jackson Carlaw. She is best known for a speech she gave defending the "fairness" of the two-child cap for tax credits, which her critics described at the time as "Victorian moralising".

It will be for Scottish Tory members to decide which of the candidates will lead their party. Whoever they pick will also be tasked with helping to stop the disintegration of the UK. On whichever side of the constitutional divide you fall, we all have skin in this game.