Unpick Sunak's latest offerings and we are left on dismal ground - Scotsman editorial comment

We offered the view, earlier this week, that Liz Truss's views on how to handle the SNP - ignore them, hope they go away, insult the First Minister by branding her an "attention seeker" - were to be regretted, no matter which side of Scotland's national debate you take.

We believe most Scots would lament any attitude struck by a UK Prime Minister which served only to make our debate more tribal, more mindless, more shrill.

Most of us immediately spot the contradiction in claiming we live in a voluntary union, a partnership, if the democratically elected First Minister is dismissed so glibly.

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Most of us believe the matter will only be resolved through democratic challenge and debate.

So by the same measure, we should welcome Rishi Sunak's more careful intervention last night, in which he said Truss's approach would be "dangerously complacent".

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Sunak, noting the existential threat posed to the union by the SNP, said he would hold the SNP to account for its failings, and ensure "the UK government has a laser focus on delivering for every part of our United Kingdom".

To address this, he wants to send more ministers to Scotland, and ensure "every single" government department operates across the UK, even if some policy areas - including the vast worlds of education and health - have been devolved since 1999.

Conservative party leadership contender Rishi Sunak. PIC: PA Wire.Conservative party leadership contender Rishi Sunak. PIC: PA Wire.
Conservative party leadership contender Rishi Sunak. PIC: PA Wire.

But not so fast.

These vague plans to move some civil servants around are only minor builds on underwhelming proposals he and Boris Johnson made around this time last year, as pandemic restrictions unwound and they looked to make the UK Government's support for projects more clear in the devolved nations.

The limited impact of that initiative suggests Sunak's plans will fall a long way short of saving the union this time around.

And what little impact they have in the contest may also be undermined by his comments, surfaced yesterday but made last week, about his enthusiastic reworking of "a bunch of formulas from Labour that shoved all the funding into deprived urban areas" to ensure "areas like this" (he was speaking in leafy Tunbridge Wells, in Kent) "got the funding they deserved".

In the US, they might call that "pork barrel politics". And, certainly, Sunak has been caught out by playing to one audience, while trying to appease another - just like his rival.

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The truth may be that much of the Conservative party membership, the electorate in this dismal contest, don't really care about the union anyway.

And all that leaves us, alas, on dismal ground for any kind of sensible debate about the future of our country.