Something incredible happened today. A Scottish Conservative discovered a backbone, or at least a fascsimile thereof. Moray MP and junior minister in the Scotland Office Douglas Ross has tendered his resignation as a minor flunky in the Government over Dominic Cummings trip to Durham and automotive eye exam in Barnard Castle. Admittedly he did so in a mealy mouthed letter which didn’t go full out in its criticism of Dominic Cummings. In fact he scarcely criticised Dominic Cummings at all and said that he accepted that the Gollum of Downing Street had been “well meaning”. But still. Baby steps, eh. Baby steps.
The reaction of most people to the news was surprise. Mostly because they’d never heard of Douglas Ross. Even in the small world of Scottish politics he’s not exactly a household name. He was previously most notable for constantly being confused with Ross Thompson and for saying when first elected that his priority would be “tougher enforcement against Gypsy travellers”. That, and buggering off to referee fitba matches. Let’s be honest here, until today’s resignation, Douglas was Number 2 in the Scotland Office. Given that his boss Alister Jack isn’t exactly a shining star in the firmament of Scottish politics, it should have been easy for Douglas to make a name for himself. The fact that he still couldn’t manage to achieve a public profile higher than the kerbside upon which we scrape off the dog crap tells you all you need to know about his mediocrity.
Adam It’s The Law Tomkins tweeted in support of Douglas, saying that losing him showed clearly why Cummings needed to be sacked. But that’s it. They are the only two Scottish Conservatives who have said anything at all other than to grovel in support of Johnson and Cummings and their Cthulhu-given right to retroactively change the rules to suit themselves. We don’t know whether there are any others. We don’t know why the rest of them are willing to defend Dominic Cummings and his flagrant breach of the rules. No one from the Scottish Conservatives was available for an interview. Jackson Carlaw has clearly realised that Dominic’s motoring adventures are a used car story too far, even for him.
It would be lovely to think that this change of heart from Douglas and Adam was due to revulsion and anger that Dominic Cummings is an entitled arse who is the senior advisor to a government of entitled arses. Sadly it’s not. Douglas and those other few Conservatives who have said that they cannot support the Government over its decision to back Cummings have simply sniffed how the wind is blowing and are seeking some shelter from the Cummings storm. Douglas has a majority of just 513 over the SNP. He’s jumping before he’s pushed. It would not take many of those who lent their votes to him to keep out Thatessempee to defect or abstain for him to lose his seat. Tory rule in Scotland hangs by a thread.
According to a Yougov poll published today, a large majority of the public wants Cummings to resign. A majority of Conservative voters and a majority of those who voted to leave the EU want him out of his job. Even Jungian synchronicity is against Dominic Cummings. There’s an old expression in Durham dialect, “that’s so Barnard Castle”, which means “that’s a pathetic excuse”.
This entire episode has been immensely damaging to the British Government as it has stripped away the goodwill that people who are not instinctive Tories were prepared to lend to the British Government during a time of crisis. Even many traditional Conservative voters have been left feeling angry, betrayed, and taken for mugs. In Scotland it plays into the existing constitutional arguments. Unlike in England, in Scotland there is an alternative Government which still enjoys widespread support from people who are not traditional supporters of the governing party, and which is widely regarded as having performed considerably better than the British Government. That’s precisely what makes this entire episode so dangerous for the Conservatives in Scotland. If Boris Johnson were paying the slightest attention to the precioussssss union™, he would realise that he’s got a serious problem. Of course, he isn’t paying attention. Meanwhile that same YouGov poll found that a massive 82% of voters in Scotland think that Nicola Sturgeon has handled the crisis well. In Scotland we have an example of what competent government looks like.
The first instinct of the Scottish Conservatives whenever the British Government behaves badly is to circle the wagons. In doing so they hope to fend off any criticism until the problem goes away of its own accord and the public’s attention moves elsewhere. Then the Scottish Conservatives can get back to saying no to another referendum and finding some new topic for SNPbaddery. What they never do is to criticise the British Government because they have a terror that if they do so then they will only boost support for independence. This means that they can never be seen as the champions of Scotland within the UK, and so they ultimately undermine Scotland’s place within the UK. Their short term political interests are damaging to their long term goal. That’s the Scottish Tory paradox.
The real problem here for the Scottish Tories is that Dominic Cummings, his rule breaking, and the way in which he has been defended by the Conservative Government has become emblematic of something far larger than one man who took a trip to stay at his parents’ place and broke lockdown. He has become the symbol for the public’s anger at the entitlement and privilege of the rich and well-connected people who control the British state, and a British Government whose handling of this crisis has been woeful. If the UK had been one of the best performing states in Europe during the pandemic, there would be little public anger about what Cummings had done. The reaction of the vast majority would have been to shrug it off. However the UK has the greatest number of deaths in Europe, and every step that the British government has taken during this epidemic has been mistimed, chaotic, incoherent, and poorly planned.
This is no longer about Dominic Cummings and his rule breaking. He’s merely the face of a British state which is dominated by personal greed, exceptionalism, selfishness, and which prioritises the interests of a few wealthy and powerful people over the public good. Cummings has built a political career out of railing against “the elite”. It is his curse that he has come to stand as a symbol for all that is wrong with the British establishment, that he’s now a byword for everything that he tried to define himself against. Our curse is that we’re stuck with him as long as Scotland remains a part of the UK.
And finally, because we could all do with some cheering up during these difficult times…
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