The most dysfunctional UK government since Anthony Eden’s continues on its downward trajectory.
The failed squib of a Cabinet reshuffle neither hid the deep cracks within the party nor changed the image of a clueless, yet heartless regime. The inability to remove failing Ministers such as the buffoon Boris Johnson and delusional Liam Fox, was matched by the promotion of right-wing zealots such as Esther McVey. Placing her in charge of the Department of Work and Pensions is the equivalent of putting Cruella Deville in control of the kennels.
It’s been a steep decline for Theresa May since her calamitous election campaign. Changes at Conservative HQ can’t erase the fact that she called the election and her lacklustre campaign was largely to blame, requiring her to form a Government – as devoid of direction, as it is of talent – through the political bribery of the DUP. Yet, it all looked so different when she inherited the Prime Ministerial office back in July 2016. Then she appeared sure-footed, having positioned herself ably for David Cameron’s demise by pulling her punches as a member of the Remain campaign before the Brexit referendum, but avoided accusations of treachery. That followed a long tenure as Home Secretary where she managed to avoid blame on issues from immigration to terrorism, though her successors are dealing with the consequences of her failings.
However, now she stays in office as her removal would split the Tory Party asunder and perhaps even propel Jeremy Corbyn into Government. As Brexit Britain lurches towards the cliff edge, the best she can hope for is a quiet removal when the Tories feel confident of success, otherwise it’s an ignominious end when it all ends in disaster.
But, it all looked so different for the Scottish Tories. Rejuvenated by a sterling defence of the union during the independence referendum, they deservedly became the opposition at Holyrood in 2016. Their rise continued relentlessly even as their Prime Minister faltered, winning 13 seats and becoming the second largest Scottish grouping at Westminster the following year. With Ruth Davidson on a political roll, the future looked bright for the Scottish Tories. Yet now they appear irrelevant at Westminster and incredible at Holyrood.
The meteoric rise of their Scottish leader has stalled as on most major calls she finds herself on the wrong side. From Brexit, through the single market to Holyrood powers, she has had to make tactical retreats only to find herself yet again outflanked. For, the lunatics have taken over the political asylum and sensible judgement no longer applies. From being the conference darling, she seems to have been side-lined as the Little Englanders take charge.
The irrelevancy of the Scottish Tories was shown with their inability to extract even modest wins following their election success. A belated concession of VAT relief for Scottish Police and Fire Services, long sought by David Mundell and long overdue, was hardly a political win, when more than a billion had been extracted by the DUP for Ulster. The supine loyalty of Scottish unionism was trumped by the demands of a far uglier Northern Irish brand.
Those MPs elected last year have hardly set the heather on fire let alone the green benches. The most noted is best known for his footballing sojourns as an assistant referee, rather than any political impact he’s made. The others remain unknown in their own land and unrecognised by their own party. A reshuffle to make the Conservative Party more modern and apparently inclusive with women and ethnic minorities, didn’t apply to Scots. Mr Mundell remains as the lone Scottish representative and not one other was recognised. They may be short in experience, having only been elected in 2017, but the failure of any to be accorded even a bag carrier position speaks volumes to their status.
It has ever been thus. I recall an old Tory MSP once admitting that when down in London they were simply ignored or told what to do. The promises of eternal devotion, never mind respect, made during the referendum have quickly evaporated and the new group of eager Scottish Tories have been spurned. They really are irrelevant.
Meanwhile, in Holyrood, Scottish Tory calls have become shriller and their demands have made them look increasingly incredible. It was argued with some legitimacy that the SNP wanted a Scandinavian society on Irish taxes. A modest effort has been made by Nicola Sturgeon to address that with a slight increase in tax. Though, whether current services can be maintained without fraying further in a time of austerity seems unlikely.
However, an inverse position has now been adopted by the Scottish Tories in Holyrood. There are no public services that they don’t demand are improved, without any consideration of the price tag and then compound that by calls for even more ones to be made available. Even the fig leaf of abolishing free prescriptions has been renounced. Yet, they proudly advocate lower taxes. The sums simply don’t add up. Just as you can’t have Scandic services on Irish taxes, you can’t have Scottish services on English taxes.
Of course, it does seem that many of their recent attacks have been a front to deflect criticism from Westminster. Criticising the Scottish health service takes the focus from the debacle that’s playing out south of the border. There are, of course, issues for the Scottish Government to address on health but the winter crisis is unprecedented and the situation far less severe than in England. Down there, the effects of privatisation and underfunding are playing out in a manner far worse than anything Scotland’s enduring.
So, it seems that the lot of the Scottish Tories is simply to do London’s bidding, to question not and receive nothing. Caustically attack the Scottish Government and cravenly defend the London one. That’s neither an alternative government in Holyrood, nor appropriate Scottish representation in Westminster. It’s irrelevant and incredible.