As the Tory leadership contest moves forward, the democratic deficit feels starker than ever

Written by Mandy Rhodes on 30 June 2019 in Comment

What tartan-covered, shortbread-tin image of Scotland do these privately educated, multi-millionaire, Oxford graduate, metropolitan elites really have of Scotland? 

Image credit: David Anderson

Watching the Tory leadership contest through the inevitable Scottish lens, there is an increasing foreboding that our future could lie either with a posh buffoon who paints buses on wooden wine boxes or with a man whose personality bypass extends as far as forgetting that his wife is Chinese.

The view from up here is dismal and the break-up of Great Britain seems increasingly inevitable.

And while his apportioning of blame deserves more scrutiny, former prime minister Gordon Brown sounded that constitutional klaxon loudly last week when he said that the Union has never been in greater danger.

Time was, in this Tory leadership contest, when Scotland was all to the fore, with candidates falling over themselves to offer baubles and bribes.

But for now, in the final stages of a battle between bluff, bluster and baloney, we have been relegated to a footnote in one candidate’s happy childhood memories and all but forgotten by another who, as editor of The Spectator, published a poem that described us as a “verminous race” of “tartan dwarves” who should be “exterminated”.

On the Jeremy Vine show last week, columnist Carole Malone defended the fact that Johnson hasn’t talked about Scotland so far in his leadership contest because “why would he?” Well, maybe Ms Malone, maybe, just because it’s his party’s Scottish MPs that got the Tories into Downing Street and their votes that keep them there.

Scotland matters in this contest, but Johnson and Jeremy Hunt pay lip service to the need to cherish it. Indeed, the last time Johnson was here, he spent more time with a hen party at Aberdeen airport than he did with his own members, whose conference a week earlier he had been effectively barred from. He talks of his “good relationship” with Ruth Davidson, who has previously stopped short of calling him a liar, and despite all evidence to the contrary, he brashly claims that Brexit will strengthen the Union, leaving the SNP, who he hopes to “swat” like a midge, without a “song to sing”.

Quite how any of that will happen, when his idea of a “do or die” approach to leaving the European Union could see the Good Friday Agreement demolished and Scotland’s democratic wishes ignored, is beyond comprehension. But then detail, or indeed veritas, aren’t really his forte.

Hunt, meanwhile, a man who looks permanently surprised, uses us as a backdrop for his social media campaign trail. Photos of him visiting an aged great aunt in Aberdeen, of drinking Irn-Bru and eating fish and chips from a cardboard box, harbour-side, carefully document evidence of his great affinity to all things Scottish. Meanwhile, a tweet of him sitting at Heathrow, musing on the importance of a third runway for Scotland while concurrently severing Foreign Office support for Nicola Sturgeon on official trips abroad, for fear of her beating the independence drum, reveals his true hypocrisy is rooted in sheer opportunism.

What tartan-covered, shortbread-tin image of Scotland do these privately educated, multi-millionaire, Oxford graduate, metropolitan elites really have of Scotland? What hicks do they really think we are?

Does Hunt really believe that his claim to have Irish and Welsh blood coursing simultaneously through his veins, cemented by spending two years growing up in Scotland, qualifies him to be the one true guardian of the UK? What rot, and every bit as ludicrous as Johnson thinking that having a Muslim great-grandfather absolves him of the racist taunts that have done so much harm.

But then this duo depends on a collective suspension of disbelief because otherwise, why would you claim that you support the Union while saying that you would deliver on a no-deal Brexit? The two are incompatible. But then neither of their ‘plans’ work. All the evidence tells us so. Just listen to the experts.

A Johnson premiership would, says the former head of the civil service Lord Kerslake, be an “opportunity for disaster” with Britain facing its most “perilous” state for decades. By tying himself so emphatically to delivering Brexit by the 31 October, Lord Kerslake says Johnson had put himself in the position of an escapologist who had put on a “straitjacket, padlocked the door and started the tap running”.

And while Hunt hasn’t tied himself to what he calls a “fake deadline” of 31 October, he too would leave without a deal.

It truly is an outrage.

For years, Scots have harboured a grievance around the idea of a democratic deficit that means that Scotland rarely gets the government at Westminster that it voted for, but how stark that feels today.

When even the leadership of the Scottish Conservatives cannot bring themselves to back Johnson, the clear front runner, and come belatedly to the support of Hunt, what hope do the rest of us have in garnering enough confidence to believe in the credibility of the man who will be our next prime minister?

This isn’t an election, this is a grotesque beauty contest judged by the Tory selectorate and they have already said they would back Brexit above the Union and more worryingly, would choose the leader of the Brexit Party, Nigel Farage, as their leader, if only he were in the running.

Have we ever felt so politically helpless?

During the independence referendum, political leaders like the then Labour shadow health secretary Andy Burnham pleaded with the Scots to not leave the rest of Britain to the fate of a Tory party, that we should all be in this together. This is where that commitment has led us to.

A Tory government consumed by Brexit, pandering to English nationalism, and a Labour Party which appears all but indifferent to what happens next. A majority of Scots may not want independence, they might not even support the SNP but there is a steady acknowledgement that the Britain that is hatching out of Brexit feels very like a foreign land.

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