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Why I'm Backing Ballantyne

Member Views is a series of opinion pieces written by Blue Beyond members.

Leadership elections are fast becoming part of the normal discourse of UK politics. As if we haven’t had enough voting for one decade, the Scottish Conservatives have kicked the new decade off to a resounding start. Ruth Davidson resigned due to family circumstances, and do you know what? I don’t blame her. The national turmoil taking place during her fantastic reign as leader would be enough for anybody. She deserves to be happy, and I wish her well with her new family.

The Scottish Conservatives now face a huge challenge to fill the massive void Ruth leaves behind. Her passion, drive, and charisma are unbeatable. With her resignation, though, comes a requirement for change. By change, I don’t mean a new face leading the party or a new name on our letterheads. I mean a new motive, a new drive, and a new outlook. For far too long, the Scottish Conservatives have played a single party piece, opposition to the nationalist plans for a second independence referendum. Yes, it plays well to some of the party faithful but on the doors, phones and in supermarket conversations, our message is becoming as laborious as the nationalists’ one itself. When out on the doorstep, people ask me what we stand for. That question is getting incredibly more difficult to answer.

So, what do we do? My response is simple; we become more than a single-issue party, and one that offers its members more. During the 2019 General Election, not only did members in my local association face some awful weather but we were campaigning for an excellent MP with a brilliant and electable track record, but we were let down time and time again by a narrow minded, one trick campaign. I for one, felt highly embarrassed posting leaflets that spread the same mail-merged message as the last twenty when our own MP seeking re-election had fought hard to mitigate the ‘Nat-Tax’ on forces personnel, raised awareness of US tariffs to whisky produce and worked tirelessly to help constituents – we saw nothing on that. As campaigning continued, familiar faces from the party that have always been cheery began to lose their oomph as more and more ‘No2Indy2’ material came along. This was a wakeup call to me, and many other members. We need to change this, and now in well time before the 2021 Scottish Parliamentary election where we should be challenging the for the top job. It’s in our grasp – we just need to do this properly. The public want policy and the members want be empowered, with a party structure tailored to each of Scotland’s unique regions.

Michelle Ballantyne is my choice for the next leader. She faces a continuity candidate who seems very keen on paying lip service to change, saying all the right things but really means ‘more of the same.’ Michelle is different. Not only is Michelle a fresh face, but she stands for the Blue Collar Conservatives, the same people who backed Boris Johnson in the North of England last month which ultimately led to the landslide election victory. They are the workers who make the effort, who wants to protect their pay packet so they can provide for their families and future. The workers who don’t necessarily take in the national political scene but care greatly about their bins getting emptied, or the grass getting cut at their local park, the activities and the education their child gets. These are all fractions that the Scottish Conservatives have left behind recently. But, it’s not too late. We need Michelle. We need a leader who is going to highlight this and make this the forefront of our campaign in 2021; we need to highlight the failures of the past 13 years, we need to present ourselves on a platform of government that includes everyone from every walk of society. Sure we will inevitably mention our opposition to Independence but we are worth a lot more than that now and it’s a topic that should now be a bullet point on the literature, people know. We have a capable group of MSP’s that will make brilliant Minsters if we do this right. I want a party that puts ordinary, hardworking people first and positivity at its very core.

On a party level, Michelle is proposing changes that will shake up associations that haven’t been touched in decades and in some cases are no longer fit for purpose. Michelle is looking at giving members a voice to change our policy and debate it to form a common goal in policy forums. I’ve been a member since 2015, and I am enthused at the proposition that my ideas could actually form a policy and shows people would be listening. I am delighted to see a stronger link between Holyrood, Westminster and local council groups, pulling resources together and making sure we offer the electorate the very best we can offer by working together. Other headlines include adding a variety of voices to the Party’s Board, this makes sure every single corner of the Scotland from Thurso to Coldstream, Stonehaven to Castlebay on Barra, voices of members up and down this country could have a voice on the highest of tables putting concerns and visions to the forefront.

People sat behind desks have made crucial decisions based on polling and figures for too long. We have a chance to give the members a shot, the same members who knock hundreds of doors and make thousands of calls every election, the foot soldiers that face the wind and rain to abuse on the doors. Surely, we cannot expect these people to do that and be relatively ignored nationally. Members should be rewarded and included for their efforts, without the members this party does not exist. That is why I am not willing to play the safe option of a ‘tested, experienced leader’ who lost over half our Scotland seats of an election after 15 months in charge, of ‘more of the same’ and ‘we’ve done so well’ when we have quite publically slipped. I am taking the leap of faith, but I wouldn’t do it if I genuinely didn’t believe in Michelle and the vision she has presented for the party.

We can change, but we have got to do it now. We’ve got to harness the wave that Ruth unleashed. Voters are out there, waiting on an alternative after being let down for so many years. We can do it and the only way we can is backing Michelle Ballantyne in this leadership election.

Craig Stewart-Toner