Scotland politics

Johnson v Hunt: Who came out on top in Perth?

Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson fought for votes in Perth on Friday night

The two Conservative leadership contenders have faced Scottish party members at a hustings in Perth.

Who did the local Tories think came out on top, and how will they be casting their votes?

From the get-go, the two men who are vying to be prime minister were afforded a warm welcome in a rather wet Fair City.

Pro-independence campaigners draped a large banner reading "End London Rule" over one of the bridges over the Tay as Jeremy Hunt's helicopter swooped overhead.

And a local cafe made a fuss about handing out free milkshakes, "perfect for quenching your thirst while waiting for Boris".

Mr Hunt was actually asked about this, and said he likes milkshakes - probably not the most controversial position he'll take during this race. He does think they should be "consumed" rather than being "projectiles", mind.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Jeremy Hunt arrived first and gave a speech in a nearby hotel

Mr Hunt got a fairly friendly reception once he'd safely landed his helicopter in a nearby park, giving a speech to a collection of supporters in a hotel ballroom bedecked with "Has to be Hunt" placards.

They were probably supporters, anyway. One man pronounced himself "genuinely undecided" after leaving the rally.

That might not be an entirely unusual position either, despite the fairly advanced stage of the race. One MSP, who has presumably been following matters fairly closely, also said he was "open-minded".

Perhaps that's why both sides were so keen to sign up backers inside the hustings venue itself, with activists on both sides frantically doling out stickers and badges. The 'Back Boris' side even had a giant "pledge card" encouraging members to physically sign up to leaving the EU by 31 October at the latest.

And while Mr Hunt may have arrived in Perth first - Mr Johnson did his afternoon event in Glasgow before choppering up - it was his predecessor as foreign secretary who made the bigger splash when he arrived. Mr Johnson posed with his thumbs thrust aloft amid a cheering group of supporters waving placards bearing his name.

Image caption Supporter Berni Wilson is backing Boris Johnson

In the thick of this action was Berni Wilson, who said she had backed Mr Johnson "for years" and that he could "unite our country right now".

She said suggestions that Mr Johnson could prove divisive north of the border were "very wrong".

"He unites people," she said. "He's positive. Laugh and the whole world laughs with you, cry and you cry alone. So as far as I'm concerned he's positive, and he's good for business."

Image caption Young Tories Dillon Kennedy (left) and John White wanted to hear what the candidates had to say

Attempting to woo fellow members in the opposite direction were John White and Dillon Kennedy, who both back Jeremy Hunt - although they acknowledge that he's the underdog.

"I'm hoping he's going be able to overtake, because I think he can send a good message to Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP," said Mr White.

"I campaigned for Remain in 2016 and I feel like Jeremy Hunt has laid out a good plan for Brexit. I feel like Boris Johnson is all slogans, there's no detail."

Mr Kennedy agreed that Mr Hunt was a "fresh" option, with a "good powerful message" and "a clear, concise plan for what he wants to achieve as prime minister".

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Boris Johnson met a warm welcome from some in Perth

At the hustings itself, it was clear which issue was closest to the hearts of members. By far the biggest applause-winning lines for both men were about the union, and opposing independence.

Conservative Party members, being by and large conservative sorts, are not generally much given to whooping. But that's exactly what they did when Mr Hunt said he would never sign up to a second independence referendum.

Other issues cropped up too - such as some knotty questions about the specifics of Brexit planning - but the issue of the union was never far away.

As if to illustrate this, a group of protestors had gathered outside waving Saltires and Yes flags, and blasting Proclaimers songs from a large speaker.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Protesters were waiting outside the venue for the two candidates

Two members stood out in particular during the audience questions section of the event, both directing sharp queries to Mr Johnson.

One - who introduced herself as Flora, an "undecided voter" who was "leaning Boris", questioned whether "a good prime minister needs to be a loyal husband and father".

Mr Johnson has been dogged by these sorts of character questions, and gave the same answer he always does - that "I just don't comment on that stuff." Flora didn't look like she'd been won over.

'Goodwill and bluster won't achieve it'

The other big question mark members seem to have over the front-runner is exactly what his Brexit plan is.

One man took him to task over his claim that he can solve Brexit by the end of October, saying that "goodwill and bluster won't achieve it".

He said: "Let's tell everybody the truth. I'm sure Boris is full of good intentions, but we haven't been able to do it in three years, never mind three months."

This straight talking sparked an impassioned response from Mr Johnson, who replied that the "awful truth" was that "the UK has not really tried to leave", having "devised its own incarceration" through the Withdrawal Agreement.

He warned that the party faces "long term destruction" if it doesn't get Brexit done - but said that "the momentum is with exit" and predicted that "it'll be a great success and we'll move on".

Image caption Nick Tulloch, Chris Ahern and Anne Jarvis were ready to make their decisions after hearing from the final two candidates

So what did local members think of the candidates? Had what they'd heard changed their mind?

Anne Jarvis said she had "almost" decided beforehand, but had now firmly made up her mind to back Boris Johnson.

"He is a bit of a waffler, but he had a lot more meat in what he was planning on doing," she said. "I think he's got the skills to get in there in the negotiations.

"I just found Jeremy Hunt to be so bland. We've had bland and it didn't work. He needs to be a bit more forceful."

'Fluff and blunder'

Another local member, Nick Tulloch, said he had also firmed up his decision - for Mr Hunt.

"What swung it for me is that I think Jeremy has a much better grasp of detail," he said.

"I think Boris is a fabulous entertainer, and I laughed a lot in the last hour. But I don't think he's got a great grasp of some of the finer points that were going to need to understand to have a successful Brexit."

This was echoed by Chris Ahern, who said: "I was undecided this morning, I was leaning towards Hunt and I think I'm going to vote for Jeremy.

"Boris just came out with a load of ideas, but nothing concrete. He was all fluff and blunder, he didn't even answer all the questions. I don't think he would be a very good leader, having listened to what he said on the stage there."

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Image caption "Fluff and blunder": Boris Johnson was described by a Tory party member as "a fabulous entertainer"

But with Mr Johnson leading in polls of Tory members, do Mr Hunt's backers think he's in with a chance?

Mr Ahern said Mr Johnson's apparent leaf was down to "absolute stance on Brexit".

However he said that "we haven't heard a lot more concrete about what he's going to do for this country, for the union, after Brexit."

'Brexit not as easy as Boris thinks'

Mr Tulloch added: "Boris has got the charisma and personality, he's the better known of the candidates, this has become a polarised decision and he has got that Brexiteer camp behind him. But there's so much more to it.

"I'm not sure Brexit is as easy as Boris thinks - you can't just say we're leaving on the 31st and it's all done, I don't think planning is anywhere as near as complete as is described."

But Mrs Jarvis told her fellow Perth Tories that "you've got to see through the waffle".

She said: "There was plenty in there that he's planning on doing, I think he has a very workable plan and I think he'll make a very good prime minister."

Image caption The men are aiming to grab the keys to 10 Downing Street

So the Tory leadership bandwagon moves on to further hustings and debates, and within three weeks one of the two men could be moving into Downing Street.

Will they be going with the goodwill of Scottish members?

In general, from hanging around the hustings, it felt like many Scottish Tories instinctively felt warmly towards Mr Hunt - especially when he was talking about the union - but they are just more energised by the man everyone knows simply as Boris, no matter how divisive his "waffle" can be.

For a lot of these members, it felt like Jeremy Hunt might have their heads, but Boris Johnson hits them right in their hearts.

The question is - which are they going to vote with?

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