Anyone who has been paying even passing attention to the Scottish independence debate has known for some time that the only strategy that the Conservatives have in order to fend off independence is to ignore all demands for another referendum in the hope that this entire independence thing will just give up and go away. That’s it. That’s the strategy, that’s the ‘positive case for the union’. They have nothing else. However this creates an essential contradiction as it is balanced by the political imperative to maintain the traditional foundation stone of Scottish unionism that the United Kingdom is a voluntary partnership of nations and that the people of Scotland have the sovereign right to choose the form of government best suited to their needs and to end the union if they see that as being in Scotland’s best interests. This is what permits opponents of independence to scoff at any suggestion that Scotland is treated like a colony and to insist that Scottish democracy is fully respected within the UK.
Negotiating this contradiction requires that Conservative politicians must pay lip service to Scottish democracy in order to maintain the political viability of two mutually exclusive political positions. At the Conservative hustings in Devon last night, Truss with her attention seeking comments, aimed at playing to the gallery of an audience of Conservative party members who hold the key to the next stage of her advancement, the would-be Prime Minister blew this carefully maintained contrivance out of the water by insisting that the best thing to do about Nicola Sturgeon is to ignore her, and then doubled down when it was put to her that Nicola Sturgeon is the Scottish First Minister who commands a democratic mandate in the Scottish Parliament by dismissing the First Minister as an “attention seeker”.
Even former Scottish Conservative MSP Mary Scanlon was appalled by Truss’s comments, saying that as far as she was concerned Truss is completely finished because she had “crossed the line” explaining that even if you don’t respect an individual you have to respect the office they hold due to the operation of the democratic process. That is what Truss failed to do.
Before Truss began answering the question about a Scottish independence referendum, another audience member called out, “build a wall,” to laughter from the audience. The Tories accuse the SNP of “ripping” the UK apart, of “destroying” the Union of “separatism”. but it’s English Conservatives who call for a wall to be built. The hypocrisy is off the charts.
Being called an attention seeker is pretty rich coming from Liz Truss, who wasted over £500,000 of taxpayers’ money by chartering a private jet to take her to Australia in January on an official visit and spent more public money on a photographer to take a series of carefully staged photos to burnish her public image. With that one unguarded phrase she reduced the entire Scottish constitutional debate to the vanity project of a single individual and to make matters worse made it clear that the outcome of Holyrood elections mean nothing to the Westminster Conservatives. The cheering reception given by Devon Tories to Truss’s destruction of traditional Scottish Unionism means that she will double down on her comments in future hustings. All that matters is that what she says plays well with the middle class golf club bores and the Daily Mail reading angry old men of the Conservative party membership, it is irrelevant to Truss that it further undermines an already fragile so-called union. It is gob smackingly stupid for Truss to dismiss the leader of the party which has crushed the other parties – including Truss’s – in every Scottish election since 2014 as an “attention seeker”.
Whatever you think of Nicola Sturgeon she has more democratic legitimacy in her little finger than Truss possesses in her entirety. If as seems likely she does win this leadership contest it will be on the back of a few thousand Conservative party members in Scotland. For The potential future Prime Minister stating that she will ‘just ignore’ the First Minister of Scotland, a devolved nation within what they keep telling us is democratic partnership of nations, is absolutely terrifying and disgusting. We no longer need to worry that with Johnson no longer the Prime Minister the independence movement has lost one of its biggest assets.
This highlights the reason why this undemocratic farce is guaranteed to produce a winner who is unsuited to be Prime Minister. In order to win the Tory leadership contest the candidates have to say things and adopt positions that make it impossible for the eventual victor to be a successful Prime Minister.
Truss’s comment operated under the assumption that there’s this big horrible hateful divide between non-nationalist unionists and vile spittle flecked nationalists in Scotland . But the reality is that a lot of people in Scotland are on the fence, or simply don’t engage much with the constitutional issue. Things like this don’t help the anti-independence cause. I’d imagine that the number of those on the fence is somewhat smaller today. Even BBC Scotland, which normally assiduously avoids any issue which might boost support for independence, was forced to cover Truss’s insult to Scottish democracy. You know it’s bad when that happens, even though the Conservative state broadcaster desperately tried to limit the damage by suggesting on its Tuesday lunchtime news that only “independence supporters” were angered by Truss’s comments. By the evening the BBC had shifted to wondering if it was ever going to be possible for the Scottish and British Governments just to get along, in effect positing a moral equivalence between the ignored and the ignorant.
On Tuesday morning the Tories added fuel to the fire by sending out Jacob Rees-Mogg, who’s what you’d get if you mashed up Pinhead from the Hellraiser movies with a Bertie Wooster novel, to insist that his Conservative colleagues in Westminster would “hold Nicola Sturgeon to account”. Holding the Scottish Government to account is the job of the Scottish electorate, not a political party which has not won an election in Scotland since the 1950s, more than twenty years before Liz Truss was even born. It is now commonplace in Scottish political discourse that the principles of basic democracy need to be explained. That’s how low the Tories have gone. Rees-Mogg repeated a series of clichéd tropes about Scottish people which are widespread in England, the First Minister is angry, always moaning, and in perpetual search of a grievance. If an SNP minister had made equivalent observations, the Conservatives would be screaming “racist!” to the rooftops.
An appreciation of tone and presentation are vital skills for a successful politician as is an understanding of how your comments will play with the wider public outwith your core support base. Truss has no understanding of this, she is blind to the bigger picture and is politically tone-deaf, a failing that she combines with a robotic delivery and a willingness to alter her position in order to appeal to whichever group she believes can advance her ambitions in the short term. She’s not even Prime Minister yet but has already been forced into a screeching U-turn after making up an insane policy to cut public sector pay outside London which went down like explosive diarrhoea the second it was exposed to an audience other than paid up members of the Tory party. Then of course she lied about it, claiming it had been misrepresented. Johnson may be gone but the Conservatives are very much in his image, giving us ill-considered right wing populist policies followed by lies and U-turns.
This is why Truss will become the next worst Prime Minister in living memory, and thankfully the last Conservative British Prime Minister that Scotland has to endure.
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