Scotland poses a challenge for Boris Johnson, admits Tory MP

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Tory leadership favourite Boris Johnson realises he faces a “challenge” in winning over voters north of the border, a Scottish Conservative has said.

Stirling MP Stephen Kerr said his conversations with the former foreign secretary show he is aware “he has to project a different image to the people of Scotland”.

With Theresa May almost certainly in her last days in Downing Street, Mr Kerr also stressed whoever replaces her as PM must be a unifying force within the party, and someone who is committed to strengthening Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom.

Mr Kerr told BBC Radio Scotland that Mr Johnson will be a “major player” in the leadership contest, and a “very strong candidate”.

With the former foreign secretary and leading Brexiteer having indicated his intention to stand in the contest to replace Mrs May, the Stirling MP added: “For me and my Scottish Conservative colleagues, strengthening the union must be a very strong theme in the prospectus that any prospective leader offers the Scottish Conservatives.

“I think Boris is aware, from my conversations with him, that he has to project a different image to the people of Scotland, there’s no doubt about that. He recognises that challenge.

“The reality is that Boris is a major player in this contest, but whoever is going to lead the Conservative Party, whoever puts themselves forward to lead the Conservative Party, is going to have to be a unifier.

“It’s going to have to be someone who brings a ticket that spans the breadth of the church that is the Conservative Party.”

He insisted strengthening the union “has got to be a major theme in this leadership contest”.

He suggested Environment Secretary Michael Gove could be the next Conservative leader, saying: “Michael Gove’s commitment to strengthening the union is intuitive to him because he is a Scot. And the fact is he was one of the leading figures in the Leave campaign.”

With major differences in the political agendas north and south of the border, Mr Kerr also called for a loosening of ties between the Scottish Conservatives and the party in London.

Stirling MP Stephen Kerr (UK Parliament/PA)

“We are a unionist party, we stand foursquare with the union, we also need to be very clear about our priority – which is to serve Scotland and to serve the best interests of Scotland, we are a Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party.”

Loosening ties between the Scottish party and the national organisation would benefit Tories north of the border, he argued.

Mr Kerr said: “I think it will strengthen the Scottish Conservative Party even further in the minds of our compatriots, if they know that we are firmly, as we are, a Scottish political party, that we’re doing what is right and best for Scotland, that is why we continue to stand foursquare for Scotland’s place in the union.”

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