Pity the poor Scottish Tories may not be a sentiment that has much currency among the public at large judging by recent general election results. But it is sometimes difficult not to feel the teeniest bit of sympathy for that beleaguered bunch.
There they were, looking more vibrant than for many years, having played a crucial role in winning the independence referendum. Their recent annual conference had passed off without hitch in Edinburgh. Their leader, Ruth Davidson, is in good odour, having played a bit of a blinder during the referendum. It is not always easy to detect an air of vigour at the Scottish Conservative conference. But there was one at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre last week as the foot-soldiers psyched themselves up for another crack at the Nationalists in May.
Then, out of the blue, disaster struck. For decades the Conservative grandee Sir Malcolm Rifkind has been the epitome of a sure-footed politician. He has been a widely admired servant of his party, greatly respected for his intellect and for his unfailingly courtesy.
That such an able politician should become caught up in this embarrassing mess has come as a huge shock.
His protestations that he has obeyed the letter of parliamentary law when it comes to the “cash for access” claims made against him cannot mask the impression that the discussions he held with undercover journalists were against its spirit.
With Rifkind quitting as a MP and resigning as chairman of the Westminster parliament’s intelligence and security committee, the Tories are trying to draw a line under this sorry episode. But with the atmosphere hotting up for one of the most fiercely fought and politically engaged general elections ever seen in Scotland, that could be challenging.
One difficulty for the Scottish Tories is that Sir Malcolm may be MP for Kensington, but in the public mind he is still as much a part of Edinburgh as Arthur’s Seat.
The other is that saying you don’t have a salary when you pick up £67,000 plus expenses from the taxpayer each year and suggesting you are entitled to extra cash to maintain the standard of living you are entitled to sticks in the craw.
Moreover, it plays beautifully into the SNP narrative that Scotland should be free of the grasping Westminster political system.
So it was this week that the SNP MSP Joan McAlpine asked in almost Pavlovian fashion: “What is it about normal values that Westminster politicians don’t understand?”
Meanwhile, Scottish Tory activists are on the phone to each other asking how are they supposed to fight the good fight up here with all those shenanigans going on down there.
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