Co-operation and civility in politics would return if a referendum on Scottish independence is averted, Conservative leader Douglas Ross has said.
In recent years, politicians in Scotland have spoken of the febrile nature of political debate north of the border, with a Holyrood magazine poll earlier this year finding that 70% of 67 MSPs asked had feared for their safety since they were elected.
The antagonistic nature of discourse in Scotland has been on show during this campaign, which has seen three tense televised debates between party leaders, which have been peppered with testy interruptions and aggressive exchanges from all involved.
Speaking to the PA news agency last week, Mr Ross said: “We have seen that politics has become more adversarial, less collegiate and what have we achieved as a result?
“I want to look at the areas where we can work together and there’s no doubt that if we can get rid of the threat of another independence referendum, then we can focus and work together on recovery and rebuilding.
“We might have slightly different paths to achieve what we think we need to, but there will be opportunities to work together.”
Mr Ross also admitted he does not believe TV debates help to persuade voters, but rather hamper their desire to engage politically.
“If we can’t have a civilised debate that people can follow, then we’re wasting everyone’s time,” he said.
Addressing in particular tense exchanges in the Channel 4 debate last week, Mr Ross said: “I don’t think you could pick one party… it was everyone in that debate and that’s why I don’t think they’re changing people’s minds, in fact all they might do is drive people away from politics.”
The Covid-19 pandemic, Mr Ross said, has hindered his and other parties’ ability to shift public opinion by going out and meeting voters, although the recent easing of restrictions had made the process easier.
Piled on top of the pandemic, the new leader also has to combat low approval ratings and having only held the job since last August.
“If it wasn’t hard, I wouldn’t be singing Atomic Kitten’s Whole Again to Colin Mackay,” he said, referencing an incident with STV’s political editor in an Edinburgh beer garden.
“But, genuinely, people have seen all the leaders during this election campaign, clearly Nicola Sturgeon has been on people’s televisions for the last year, and that has provided her with viewers that maybe traditionally she wouldn’t have had because of the pandemic.”
In between bites of mint chocolate ice cream from Prestwick beach in South Ayrshire, Mr Ross added: “It’s been different, not just since I became leader, but it’s been a different style of politics for the last 12 months now.”