by Colin Campbell
BLUSTERING Ian Blackford is the most divisive politician ever to hold office in the Highlands, as far removed from his decent and likeable Ross-shire predecessors as it’s possible to be. Charles Kennedy was widely admired and viewed with great affection even in his darkest days. And Conservative Hamish Gray, who held the Ross seat before him, was a gracious and kindly one-nation Tory who I doubt made a personal enemy throughout his tenure in office. Now Blackford, the SNP’s arch grievance-monger whose deep well of feigned outrage puts even Nicola Sturgeon in the shade, could have something of substance to bluster about.
Tory and Labour chiefs are said to have made an informal pact where they will give ground to Liberal Democrat candidate Craig Harrow in a major move to consign Blackford to political history.
The paunchy, sweaty-looking Ross MP will have broken out in a cold sweat over that prospect.
An Edinburgh banker who now presents himself as a humble Skye crofter, Blackford is not a popular man across his Ross, Skye and Lochaber constituency.
Many have never forgiven Blackford and his acolytes for mounting a vicious campaign against Charlie Kennedy when he was at his lowest ebb.
The one and only reason he is an MP is because he sports a yellow rosette, and SNP supporters would vote for a monkey sitting on a bar stool in the National Hotel in Dingwall to get one of their ilk elected.
So he has that level of blind support in his favour.
What he has running against him is a perception that he is a mouthy, charmless oaf who may try and make plenty noise at PMQs at Westminster, but is less assertive in trying to be of personal benefit to his broad range of local constituents.
Up to now he could rely on opposition votes splitting up between the different parties to make him favourite to regain his seat.
If that disappears – as seems highly likely – he is really up against it.
His majority at the last election was just over 5,000.
If he is confronted by only one serious opponent that could disappear like snow on a sunlit day off a December dyke.
As leader of the SNP cabal at Westminster, his public prominence might normally be expected to work in his favour. But in the case of Blackford, that does not apply.
Every time he stands up to deliver the same grievance-ridden rant….Scotland treated with contempt, disgrace, outrage, dragged out etc etc etc…it’s the same old record.
And many have got thoroughly sick of it.
He is also an entirely humour-free zone. Not once has he been heard at PMQs making any attempt to lighten the mood and crack any kind of joke, a serious misjudgement which may cost him dear. The monotonous bluster long ago became just that – monotonous. It is now met with groans far beyond the Westminster chamber. Everyone knows what he’s going to say and the tone he’ll deliver it in. The scratchy old record never changes.
Nicola Sturgeon does nationalist grievance as well as anyone, but she realises it’s occasionally necessary to inject some barbed, caustic humour into her diatribes, and is capable of raising a smile with a flash of wit, even among her fiercest opponents. Blackford doesn’t even possess the wit or wisdom to do that.
And the “big beasts” in the SNP have made a habit of being felled in recent times. At the last election Alex Salmond went down and now earns a living working on TV for the Russians, as he anticipates very serious legal matters coming headlong his way. SNP deputy leader Angus Robertson was also ousted at the last election, and disappeared from the scene for a while. He has now reappeared and ostensibly runs some kind of SNP “think tank”, a grand sounding operation probably with its HQ in his garden shed.
But Blackford would be a scalp to top them all.
He may think he can rely on Boris and Brexit to bring him home safely, or even by a narrow margin, but in the face of a united pact against him, absolutely no-one will be betting on it.
And if the perpetually outraged blusterer is kicked out at the upcoming election to a thunderclap of cheering across Ross-shire and across Scotland, I wonder just how long he’ll stay on the croft.