The question is not “could the Tories beat Labour in Scotland?”, but “will Labour fall behind the Tories?”. The first implies some kind of Tory resurgence to overtake British Labour in Scotland. At the very least, there is far less evidence for that than there is to suggest that “Scottish” Labour may overtake their Better Together partners in the despised party stakes.
The significant factor in all of this has nothing to do with the largely outmoded political left/right divisions or the historic Tory/Labour rivalry that has inspired only spiralling apathy. What will have the most impact is the hard-line unionist contingent among Labour voters. Pretty much the only potential for any increase in the Tory vote is among those traditional Labour voters whose unquestioning fealty to the British ruling elites outweighs both their partisan loyalty and their revulsion at voting for the detested Conservatives.
This is important, not least because of the way it will shape the election campaign. In trying to appeal to the those on the extreme fringes of unionism, the Tories will tend towards a campaign that is a mix of tawdry, jingoistic British nationalism and virulent attacks on the SNP – which is identified as the political wing of the independence movement.
It will get nasty.
And, just as they did during the 2015 UK general election, British Labour in Scotland will enthusiastically join in the Tories’ vitriolic anti-SNP propaganda campaign – too intellectually crippled by mindless hatred of their political nemesis to realise that, in doing so, they are helping the Tories.
It will get doubly nasty.
The SNP itself will barely be touched by any of this. The people whose votes the Tories will try to steal from Labour by donning the most inpressively ornate British nationalist uniform are not people who were ever going to vote for the SNP. And experience tells us – although the British parties in Scotland appear oblivious to the fact – that the SNP’s support is serenely indifferent to, and stubbornly unaffected by, the deluge of anti-SNP hate-mongering.
The coming campaign is going to bring out the worst in the British parties – not to mention the rest of the British establishment. Having had a taste of what they are capable of during the referendum campaign, this cannot be other than a distinctly unappealing prospect for the people of Scotland.
But some good may come of it. As well as another SNP majority government, they outcome of the 2016 Holyrood election may be a more gereral recognition that the British parties are not fit for purpose. And that the British political system is something we would be better off out of.