The Conservatives have good chances of holding Stirling. They captured the seat by 148 votes from the SNP in 2017, who in turn took it off Labour in the great Nationalist surge of 2015, so anything could happen, especially as many voters are still undecided.
But there was no sign in these conversations of the Nats developing the momentum needed to regain Stirling, and indications that on the contrary, Brexit has become a serious problem for them.
In the Back O’Hill bar, beneath Stirling Castle and next to the Raploch council housing estate, which is officially described as “undergoing regeneration” and where life expectancy is much lower than in the prosperous districts of the constituency, a retired joiner said that because of Brexit he will abstain instead of supporting the SNP:
“I voted to get out of the EU and they want to stay in. And that’s the reason I’m not going to be voting SNP.
“And I couldn’t vote for a Tory, the reason being I haven’t been brought up that way.”
He is “definitely pro-Scottish independence”, but also definitely pro-Brexit, so will not support the SNP “this time”, and knows “a hell of a lot of people”, including his wife and their daughters, who think the same as him.
Further back, he was a Labour man. His father, grandfather and uncles were miners, but his father said to him, when he left school: “No, you’re not going down the pit.”
He asked who this article was for, and on being told ConservativeHome, exclaimed with an incredulous smile: “You’re just winding me up!”
He remarked that “all these pits were owned by Tories, Willie Whitelaw and all the rest, all the big landowners, in those days they were all just arrogant.”
He is a Nationalist because he cannot bear being controlled by other people, and now he finds that if Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP leader, gets her way, “we’re going to end up with the euro and all that. To me that’s not very nice at all. We should have our own money if we’re independent. Plus now we’re going to have someone else [the EU] telling us what to do.”
The proprietor of a grocery store a few hundred yards along Drip Road from the Back O’Hill said as he carried small quantities of stock from the back of his car into the shop: “I’ve never voted Tory but I’m voting Tory this time.
“I voted SNP last time. I will never ever do that again. They sold us down the river, the SNP. They’ve taxed us more than the rest of Britain. They put council tax up. I pay £60 a month more because of the SNP. It’s ridiculous.
“I’ll vote Tory. They’re the only ones who are going to do anything for landlords [he owns some rental property]. Corbyn’s going to set the rule that tenants can buy at a discount. It’s a joke.”
A woman in the shop said in a defiant tone: “I want to go independent. Vote SNP!”
A second woman said: “I’ll be SNP. The Tories just want to make themselves richer and make us poorer. You [the interviewer] sound like you’ve got money. You’re loaded. I can see it.
“We’re all up shit creek no matter who gets in. Let’s be fair, that’s the truth.”
Michael Forsyth held Stirling for the Conservatives from 1983-1997, by majorities of over Labour of 703 in 1992 and 948 in 1987. The predominantly rural constituency, which stretches all the way to Loch Lomond, includes a considerable number of natural Conservatives.
A retired soldier in the Back O’Hill said: “I’m ex-forces. I won’t be voting Corbyn.
“I’ve been voting Tory for years. Not that I’m a fan of Trump, I mean Johnson.
“I class the two of them together. A complete pair of buffoons.
“I voted to leave [the EU]. It’s taking too long to get things organised. It’s getting a bit of a bore now.
“I’m not into Scottish independence. I’m British.”
Johnson was mentioned more often than any other politician, but no one had a good word to say about him. A visitor from Springburn, in Glasgow, said of Brexit: “Get it done and dusted. I just feel as if the Conservatives have made a complete balls up.
“This change of leader and then bringing Boris in and him lying to us, telling us that come what may we’ll be out of the European Union by the 31st, and then he gets to the 31st and tries to close Parliament down.”
ConservativeHome: “But if you want Brexit, isn’t it logical to vote Conservative?”
The visitor: “Aye, but I don’t see him as a leader. He’s just lied time and time again. He went to the Queen and told her a lot of rubbish and asked her to close Parliament down. It was proven unlawful.
“I used to vote SNP but I just don’t think the country could do with another referendum. I’m thinking of voting for Labour this year because they’re thinking about doing away with the Universal Credit thing, which is a good point.”
In Vinney’s Bar, at the other end of Drip Road, a man reading the racing pages of the Daily Record and keeping half an eye on the television said: “As long as my horses win I dinnae care.
“What do I think about Brexit? Not a clue. What difference is it going to make to us?”
A second man said: “To be fair I’d like Britain to stay as a whole kingdom rather than split up.”
He pointed out that pubs have been damaged by the smoking ban, and by the zero tolerance approach in Scotland to drink driving.
Few people mentioned Stephen Kerr, the Conservative who won Stirling in 2017, and who also stood there unsuccessfully in 2015 and 2005.
Nobody expressed strong feelings either way about him, and nobody at all mentioned Alyn Smith, the SNP challenger this time, who has been an MEP since 2004.
A young Dutchwoman studying at the University of Stirling said most of her friends there are Labour supporters.
Stirling’s tremendous castle looks across to the Wallace Monument, commemorating William Wallace, victor over the English at the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297.
Here for many centuries was the lowest point at which the River Forth could be bridged, and it was said with that whoever held Stirling held Scotland.
The SNP would dearly like to regain a seat it held as recently as 2015-17, having won it by a majority of 10,480 from Labour, with the Tories trailing another 1,250 votes behind.
But the SNP’s battle cry, the demand for a second referendum on independence, does not yet seem to excite voters in Stirling; not, at least, on the Raploch, which one might have expected to be fertile territory.
These conversations instead suggest the SNP is losing support to both Labour and the Conservatives.
To be pro-independence but also pro-EU is a message that is perhaps more easily assimilated by Sturgeon than by some of her followers.
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