Why Scotland desperately needs a cohesive alternative to SNP and Boris Johnson is no Miss Havisham – John McLellan

Yesterday I should have been in Aberdeen to listen to Boris Johnson at the annual Scottish Conservative Party conference but I wasn’t there.

Boris Johnson is too big a personality to be hidden away from Scottish voters (Picture: Stefan Rousseau/pool/AFP via Getty Images)
Boris Johnson is too big a personality to be hidden away from Scottish voters (Picture: Stefan Rousseau/pool/AFP via Getty Images)

Not out of some Partygate pique but because the organisers mustn’t have checked the Six Nations fixtures or realised I’ve not missed Ireland vs Scotland since 1996.

It’s a relief to travel without those irksome passenger-locator forms the UK dumped yesterday, and which nearly caused us to miss our flight back from Rome last Sunday, but with the brutal war in Ukraine it’s a privilege to fly anywhere for the simple pleasure of following sport.

For all the talk of Mr Johnson not being welcome at the conference because of any perceived negative effect he might have on Scottish voters, it’s right he was there.

When President Volodymyr Zelensky is defying Chechen hit-squads in Kyiv, and the Prime Ministers of Poland, Slovenia and the Czech Republic take a train to meet him in the beleaguered Ukrainian capital, it would have sent a worse signal if he stayed away to avoid nothing more fatal than a frosty reception.

As this column has argued before, while as big a personality as Boris is boss, it’s pointless to pretend he can be jilted and hidden away like some political Miss Havisham.

Who knows if the outrage over the Number 10 lockdown parties has permanently dissipated, but as every household is simultaneously transfixed and appalled by the harrowing television pictures from eastern Europe every night, and the attendant cost-of-living crisis deepens each day, it’s the immediate priorities which matter most.

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Britain’s staunch support of the Ukrainian resistance shows Mr Johnson got this call right and the decision by Scottish leader Douglas Ross to withdraw his resignation call, inevitably characterised as an embarrassing U-turn by opponents, is a realistic reflection of dramatically altered circumstances.

If only such pragmatism was shared by the Scottish Government’s SNP-Green coalition for whom it appears to be business as usual. Of course, their impassioned pleas to help Ukraine and Ukrainian refugees are genuine, but they are never without criticism of the UK Government’s actions, always too little and too late and an undertone that somehow the Scottish welcome will always be warmer and the hosts more generous.

If not quite a diminishing return, moral exceptionalism and bitterness towards Westminster ‘Toaries’ is no longer a vote-builder, and the political doldrums in which the SNP has found itself becalmed since last year’s election have produced a drift away from public priorities.

SNP strategists know that people don’t vote for major change amidst uncertainty, yet First Minister Nicola Sturgeon insists there will be some sort of independence referendum next year when neither the impact of the Ukraine War nor the global costs crisis will be in the rear-view mirror.

Does she really believe that, with every economic indicator going in the wrong direction, a majority will take their chances with a £15 billion deficit, currency confusion, capital flight and a hard border?

This week ex-Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale, the partner of SNP minister Jenny Gilruth, lambasted the SNP-Green coalition’s “dishonest opportunism” for its demands that the UK Government does more to alleviate the cost-of-living crisis when many of its climate change policies are unaffordable and undeliverable.

For example, thousands of people living in pre-1919 tenements in places like Leith and Partick will be required to have climate-friendly power and insulation by 2033, even though an experiment in Glasgow to bring a Victorian tenement block of eight one-bed flats up to standard cost over £1m.

The buildings were stripped back to the stone shell, floors and roofs replaced, period features ripped out, and the residents decanted for months, and Scotland has 184,000 pre-1919 tenement flats. Maybe Ms Sturgeon has £25bn down a Bute House sofa because the people living in these flats certainly don’t.

There’s nothing more basic than the cost of food, fuel and housing and while the democratic world is trying to work out how food supplies and costs can be managed as Russian and Ukrainian grain and fertiliser disappears, the Green-SNP coalition remains wedded to a rewilding policy to replace commercial farmland because of the “nature emergency”.

Nor is there any sign of a pragmatic compromise over nuclear power or North Sea exploration as fuel prices soar. And as the West’s defensive unity tightens, the Green student politicians are still as determined to leave Nato as their senior Nationalist partners are to disrupt its nuclear deterrent.

In Edinburgh, the Greens have worked with the SNP and Labour to execute a raft of simultaneous transport policies with the express intention of forcing cars from the city centre, with the by-product that it wrecks bus routes too.

And with rising fuel costs what an ideal time to levy extra charges on car owners through expanded controlled parking in residential areas, workplace-parking schemes and low-emission zones. This week there was even a Green bid to prevent the Port of Leith becoming part of the freeport network, even the system agreed with the SNP and despite the potential for a badly-needed economic boost. Previously they united to destroy Edinburgh’s international marketing agency, leaving the city with no means to reshape the vital visitor economy.

But there was no better illustration of the gap between SNP-Green moral superiority and reality than the shameful use of procedural chicanery to block a debate at Edinburgh Council on Thursday about “illegality, maladministration and injustice” found in its Secure Services units, where some young people have been physically and mentally abused by staff.

There could be no more important subject for councillors to publicly discuss than the welfare of children and where ultimate responsibility for their welfare rests, but they disgracefully chose to vote down a debate just because it was 5pm.

“All we have is the cohesion of outrage,” wrote Ms Dugdale. As Conservatives head home from Aberdeen, never has Scotland needed a cohesive alternative so badly.

John McLellan is a Conservative councillor in Edinburgh

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