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by Mandy Rhodes
20 September 2020
The Conservatives, once the party of law and order, have gone feral


The Conservatives, once the party of law and order, have gone feral

With the resignation of the UK Government’s most senior law officer in Scotland, the Advocate General, the Prime Minister loses any shred of honesty, leaving the Scottish Conservatives with a choice: do they back the law, or do they break it?

And extraordinarily, with the ink hardly dry on Lord Keen’s resignation letter, ructions still within the civil service over the departure of two of its highest ranking legal advisers and with lawyers sitting in the Commons and Lords unnerved by being privately told they will never practise law again should they support the Internal Market Bill, it is the latter path that Douglas Ross’s party has chosen.

All six Scottish Tory MPs supinely trailed through the Westminster lobby last week, voting to support the law-breaking bill that they said was good for the country even though all five living former PMs had already condemned it as irresponsible, illegal and dangerous.

The Conservative Party, once the party of law and order, has gone feral. Its elected members now operate in a lawless state where the issue of legality means nothing.

And with the exit of Lord Keen, a former chair of the Scottish Conservatives, Ross has revealed himself as a leader less willing to stand up for Scotland than to stand by the side of an English-centric prime minister cocking a snook at devolution and at the rule of international law.

Douglas Ross has led the Scottish Tories for just over a month and has already shown himself to be a hypocrite. He resigned his previous government post on a point of principle over Dominic Cummings breaking lockdown rules but is now standing by his party leader as he rides roughshod over legal principle.

How can Ross, with any semblance of credibility, argue for the rule of law when it comes to the vexed question of granting the Scottish Parliament a second referendum on independence when all the evidence points to his party being a party that does not respect the law?

How can he talk of trust when he supports an untrustworthy prime minister who is prepared to tear up an agreement that was signed in good faith with the EU less than a year ago?

How can he even look his own wife, a policewoman, in the eye and say that he believes in the integrity of the law that she must uphold daily in the line of duty when the party he leads just voted to trash it?

And how can Ruth Davidson, Ross’s representative on Earth within the House of Holyrood, who has so far said diddly squat on the furore, brass out the fact that as a soon-to-be baroness who championed Keen as advocate general and appointed him as chairman of the Scottish Conservative Party in 2013 she will take her place in an unelected chamber shaping our nation’s laws when she says nothing as her party ignores them?

Ross has repeatedly said that the SNP does not speak for Scotland. But he is the one that refuses to listen. The Union was already under threat following the Tories’ divisive referendum to leave the EU. But now, with Johnson fallaciously voted into No. 10 on the back of a signed Withdrawal Agreement that we now understand he did with a flourish and his fingers crossed, a no-deal Brexit on the horizon, peace in Northern Ireland threatened, devolution diluted and global leaders looking on in disdain, who does Ross speak for?

This isn’t, as has been painted by the Scottish Conservatives, another example of grump and grievance from the SNP attempting to shoehorn any old excuse into their arguments for independence. It has been condemned by the Labour-led, pro-Union Welsh Assembly as much as by the Scottish Government, by European leaders and by US presidential hopeful Joe Biden, who has pledged there will be no trade deal with a UK that does not respect the Good Friday Agreement.

For a brief moment, the new leader of the Scottish Conservatives was his own man, someone that stuck to his principles and seemed to be no poodle of Boris Johnson’s government. No longer.

And far from speaking up for Scotland, it feels like we are hostages to a law-breaking, no-deal making, unscrupulous Tory party that is willing to sacrifice devolution on the altar of Brexit, and Ross is happy to hold the jailer’s key.

During last week’s debate around the Internal Market Bill, Sir John Hayes, the Conservative MP for the Lincolnshire seat of South Holland and The Deepings, who has been an MP for 24 years, holds the safest Tory seat in the country, has held five ministerial positions, six shadow ministerial roles, sits on the Privy Council and helped deliver the second highest Leave vote in the country, told the Commons that despite the dissension, and ignoring the potential for illegality, it was for the UK Government to make these vital decisions about our future. “It’s how it is, and how it’s going to be,” he intoned. The House voted to support the bill.

It is these speeches, these words, these votes, this implicit belief that it is only an English parliament that has the power to tell the rest of us what to do that will punctuate the text when the history of Scottish independence is written.

I was recently asked, in a discussion involving European journalists, why Scotland was so out of step with Westminster when it came to COVID lockdown rules and I had to correct the speaker and ask why England was so out of kilter with the rest of the UK.

Devolution has given us the opportunity to do things differently and it is only now, with a prime minister who is so steeped in the past glories of a Britannia that really did rule the waves, that it should become so clear to England that the rest of the country has moved on.

The celebrated writer Neal Ascherson has said that Boris Johnson became the prime minister of the United Kingdom in 2019 but by 2020 had shrunk into being the prime minister of England.

Not bad, say I, for a boy that had ambitions of being king of the world.

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