The Conservatives are holding a leadership coven, sorry, hustings in Scotland today. This is the seventh hustings of the leadership Lie-Off and the only event to be held in Scotland. Ballots have already gone out to party members who tend to vote early, so most of the tiny number of people eligible to vote will already have done so and this evening’s event will be more a species of extremely tedious right wing British nationalist theatre than anything which will have a significance on the outcome. You can put money on the stage having a union flag or two prominently on display while Truss and Sunak wax, well I was going to say lyrical, but this is Truss and Sunak we are talking about here, about “this great British nation” which is “one great country” while they rail about vile and divisive nationalism without an iota of self-awareness.
In previous hustings the issue of Scotland’s future has scarcely registered, reflecting the deep lack of interest in Scotland or care about its concerns amongst the Conservative party in the rest of the UK. The future of what Truss recently insisted is not a union of four nations but rather “one great single country” will certainly be a prominent issue at this evening’s event where it is a safe bet that Truss and Sunak will compete to be the most hard line on ruling out another referendum forever and a day and in promising to find further ways to undermine a Scottish Government and a devolution settlement which they and their Scottish Tory audience loathe so intensely. Naturally neither of them will propose seeking a mandate from the wider Scottish electorate to do so, they have anointed themselves, not the people of Scotland, as the sole judge and jury for deciding what Scotland wants and what its interests are, and they will rely upon the strength of the Conservative majority in the Commons, a majority based upon the seats they won in England not Scotland, in order to impose the will of the Conservative party on a Scotland which has the temerity to repeatedly and consistently refuse to vote Conservative.
On Sky News on Tuesday morning they hopefully suggested that this might be the event at which the leadership candidates announce how they are going to “save the union”, or maybe not. There is no conceivable way in which the “union” is going to be “saved” because of a couple of right wing Tories trying to out-intolerance one another as far as Scottish self-determination is concerned in order to make themselves more appealing to the membership of the Conservative party in Scotland.
All that will happen will be some sound bites about refusing to allow “the SNP” another referendum, which will be gleefully seized on by the anti-independence media in Scotland in order to remind the Scots not to get above their station and to reinforce the message that in this supposedly voluntary union, decisions about the future constitutional status of Scotland are not to be made by them or any Scottish Parliament that they choose to elect.
The Conservatives are a minority party in Scotland for a reason, and that reason is that their policies and whatever self-serving offence against democracy and common decency they happen to be pushing at any given moment are wildly out of kilter with what most people in Scotland agree with. This is particularly the case where devolution and the prospect of another independence referendum are concerned. Opinion polls have consistently shown that most people in Scotland are in favour of even greater powers for the Scottish Parliament. However a clear majority of Conservatives in Scotland, at least according to a YouGov poll a couple of years ago, would like to see the abolition of the Scottish Parliament and a return to the situation which held until the referendum of 1997.
It is obvious then that in making their leadership pitches to the members of the Conservative party in Scotland, neither Truss nor Sunak is going to gain any traction by promising to listen to what people in Scotland want as expressed through the ballot box in elections in Scotland and delivering the closest thing possible to federalism that was vowed in 2014. Far less are they going make any compromises on Brexit in order to assuage the deep and widespread unease that the Conservatives’ hard and uncompromising Brexit has created in Scotland.
What we can expect are nostrums about the UK being “one great nation,” an outright denial that Holyrood has a mandate for another referendum and promises that a section 30 order to facilitate another referendum will not be forthcoming. Naturally there will be nothing at all about what the democratic route to another referendum might be since it does not appear to consist of the people of Scotland voting for a Scottish Parliament which is committed to bringing one about.
However we can expect to hear Truss and Sunak insist that they will expect their policies to apply across the entire United Kingdom, and they will also tell us that they intend to hold the Scottish Government to account, because apparently this is a job for a Prime Minister in Downing Street without any democratic mandate whatsoever in Scotland, and not for the people of Scotland themselves through the ballot box at a democratic election. The voters of Scotland held the Scottish Government to account at the last Holyrood election in 2021, and even though there was a concerted and suspiciously well funded British nationalist tactical voting campaign, the Tories and their allies failed dismally to prevent the election of a Scottish Parliament with an unassailable majority for another independence referendum. Yet having failed at the ballot box the Conservatives are now resorting to nakedly undemocratic measures in order to thwart the will of the people of Scotland.
Although it’s the last thing that either Truss or Sunak would ever admit, it’s obvious that they want to subvert the normal operation of democracy in Scotland because in the wider country outside the Tory bubble zone in the hall in Perth’s Concert Hall, the real electorate in Scotland persists in voting in ways which the Conservative party does not like. Tonight’s event will not “save the union”, it will merely highlight that this so called union is intellectually and politically bankrupt and that it can only be shored up by the denial of democracy in Scotland.
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