Within a week of the performance artiste whose stage name is Boris coming to Orkney to save the UK, the leader of his Scottish branch office has resigned with immediate effect. Surname Surname gave no indication during First Minister’s Questions just a couple of hours earlier that he was about to hand in his jotters, although given the way in which he was handed his head on a plate you could be forgiven for thinking that he’d had enough of the weekly exercise in humiliation. However there were credible reports from Sky News, seemingly confirmed by Surname Surname’s opponent in the Scottish Tory leadership contest Michelle Ballantyne, that he resigned before he was pushed out by Tory HQ in London.
Let’s put it this way, whatever you might think about the SNP’s strategy for getting us to another independence referendum, we should at least all be able to agree that the Tories are crapping themselves at the prospect of the next Holyrood elections. As things stand at the moment it would appear that there are people in the Scottish independence movement who have considerably greater confidence in the Conservatives’ ability to prevent another independence vote than the Conservatives do themselves. It’s obvious that the Tories see the writing on the wall, the writing that says INDEPENDENCE in very large letters, and they don’t know what to do about it. Even Adam IT’S THE LAW Tomkins, the Scottish Tories’ former constitutional affairs spokesman, has admitted that independence is now the majority position in Scotland.
A party which is confident in its ability to deliver on what it regards as its core mission in Scotland, to prevent independence from happening, doesn’t lose its leader just 168 after he was elected by the membership. Whether Jackson Carlaw resigned because he says that he’s not the best person to make the case for the Precioussss Union, or he was pushed out by London because they don’t think he’s the man to save the Precioussss Union, the hard reality for the Scottish Tories is that even the best person can’t make a case for something that’s unsustainable and indefensible.
It seems far more plausible that Jackson Carlaw was pushed. If you look closely you’re likely to see Michael Gove and Dominic Cummings standing behind Jackson Carlaw with a knife and a very smug look on their faces. If the erstwhile Scottish Conservative leader had indeed decided to resign of his own accord, he’d have informed his colleagues in Holyrood before the public announcement and would have put plans in place for interim leadership until a new leader could be elected. However the announcement came as much of a surprise to Holyrood’s Tory MSPs as it did to the everyone else. Still, they shouldn’t complain too much. Now they have a little taste of what it feels like to be the Scottish Government, only finding out about important policy changes from London when they read about them in the papers. How’s that respected and valued partner in a family working out for you guys in the Scottish Tories, eh?
They also now know what it feels like for their bosses in London to overrule Scottish democracy. Irrespective of what you think about Jackson Carlaw and his abilities or lack thereof, he was elected by the members of the Conservative party in Scotland and possessed a direct mandate from them to lead, a mandate independent of the party HQ in London. The Scottish Tories have learned the hard way that the Scottish democratic shortfall applies to them too. They stand exposed as a powerless and toothless branch office of a party which has no respect for democratic legitimacy, not even that of its own membership. Now this party thinks that it can sell the British state to an increasingly doubtful Scotland when they’ve just shown us all that they have no respect for the outcome of Scottish democratic processes. All we have to do now is to remind whoever it is that takes over from Jackson Carlaw that their predecessor was removed by London, that they too can be removed by London, and that their own party has amply demonstrated that it doesn’t do democracy as far as Scotland is concerned.
There have been persistent reports that the Tories in London want their Scottish party not to campaign on opposing independence at the next Scottish elections. This is not because they’ve had a change of heart, but rather because they believe that if the Scottish Tories make “no to another indyref” the centre of their campaign and then, as likely, lose seats and vote share, then it will make it more difficult for Westminster to resist demands from a victorious SNP for another independence referendum. However the Scottish Conservatives know that if they don’t campaign first and foremost on opposition to another independence referendum, they’re going to find it difficult to motivate those who oppose independence but who don’t support Conservative policies to come out and vote for them. They fear that the London strategy will only make their defeat even worse, and there will be fewer MSPs in a weaker party trying to oppose the SNP. Jackson Carlaw was most closely associated with “no to indyref2”, his defenestration by London means that the next Scottish Conservative electoral campaign will be one that’s designed, built, and imposed from London.
The leadership of the Scottish Tories has become a poison chalice, a one way ticket to political failure and oblivion. When BBC Scotland reported the news of Surname Surname’s surprise resignation on Reporting Scotland, they were unable to find any Conservative MSPs to comment. Obviously it’s par for the course for the Tories to go into hiding whenever there’s bad news for their party, however this time they were hiding because they were terrified that they might be asked to stand for the post of leader. At the rate things are going, it appears that George Galloway is the leading contender.
In the meantime the Tories are bereft of leadership in Holyrood. Assuming that she remains in post, that would make deputy leader Annie Wells the de facto leader of the party until a replacement for Jackson Carlaw is found. Annie Wells, Saviour of the Union. However reports are that Ruth Davidson is going to stand in the meantime. Is this the price she has agreed to pay for her peerage?
At this early stage, only Moray MP Douglas Ross has confirmed that he will be standing for the leadership of the Scottish Tories. That’s the Douglas Ross who repeatedly missed votes in Holyrood because he preferred to go and referee fitba matches. The Douglas Ross who went asked shortly after his election to the Commons what his political priority would be said “tougher enforcement against Gypsy travellers”. Ruth will look after Holyrood until Douglas can be parachuted in as a list MSP in the next Scottish elections. But by that time it’s likely to be game over for the Tories in Scotland.
Because of the news of Carlaw’s resignation, I’m holding over today’s podcast until tomorrow.
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