The new Tory plan for the union – being rude to Nicola Sturgeon

To Scotland, then, for round ten million of the world’s most tedious boxing match. In this neverending leadership campaign, now Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak go to Scotland to explain what they’ve got to offer the people of Scotland.

Well, actually, no, that’s not quite right. This being Britain 2022, nothing so normal as politely explaining to Scottish voters why they might want to vote for them can be allowed to happen. Instead, all trips north of the border are instead attempts at stopping the country from breaking apart.

Can either of them manage it? The galaxy-brained Liz Truss has already said that the best thing to do regarding Scotland’s democratically elected first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, is to “ignore her.” She is, she said, “an attention seeker.” This, from the foreign secretary whose main job for three years has been to curate her own Instagram account at significant taxpayer expense.

The SNP has been in government in Scotland for quite a long time now. And it has developed remarkable expertise at concealing its own failures in health, in education and its breathtaking track record on sleaze and corruption, while continuing to agitate for its sole cause – independence.

Both Tory candidates think the way to see off the SNP is not to get drawn into battles over independence referendums, but to focus on their track record of governmental failure. Rishi Sunak has said he wants to see Scottish ministers questioned by the UK parliament. Liz Truss wants to extend parliamentary privilege to Holyrood, so that questioning can be more “robust” (in other words, the SNP’s various shady goings on can be more directly addressed by Conservative MSPs.)

At this point, one does have to return with some urgency to the main challenge facing both candidates. Will it be especially easy to turn their fire on the SNP’s record of failure?

There are, conceivably, one or two people around the country who don’t think that twelve years of Tory government have gone that well, what with the 30 hour waits in ambulances outside A&E. And the nine-hundred-quid a month energy bills that are coming for entirely ordinary households this winter. And then, in Scotland in particular, there are other little matters, like the Brexit they didn’t vote for.

It has been speculated for a while that Sturgeon and Johnson were in uniquely desperate need of one another. Johnson needed Sturgeon to keep asking for a referendum that he could say no to. Sturgeon needed Johnson to just keep being Johnson, a figure so uniquely loathsome that enough moderate minded Scots would consider it worth breaking up a country just to get away from him.

The Scottish Conservatives former leader, Ruth Davidson, saved Theresa May at the 2017 election by gaining many Tory seats while everywhere else they were lost. She has since stood down, mainly because she had concluded her job would be impossible under a Johnson leadership.

If the next prime minister’s attitude is going to be to take the fight to Nicola Sturgeon more directly, to talk down to her even, then it is a brave but risky game. For the most part, this leadership election has made staggeringly clear Ms Sturgeon is ten times the operator either of these two are.

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Rishi Sunak cannot address a room full of members of his own party without making himself look palpably ridiculous. On Truss’s part, words are a politician’s currency and she is not even close to being articulate enough to spend them wisely.

Neither of them have managed to do what every other political party has now done, which is set out a credible plan for the coming energy emergency. It seems somewhat hard to believe that the people of Scotland are less concerned about that than they are about parliamentary privilege in Holyrood, or whether various Holyrood ministers get made to go to Westminster for some select committee or other.

If the plan is to keep the union together by being rude about Nicola Sturgeon and pointing out that Scotland is in a mess, then that can only work if the people of Scotland look at Liz Truss, or Rishi Sunak, and decide that they’re better off with them. At the present time, that seems extremely far-fetched.


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