The BBC says the contest is ‘tantalising’ but there is little to tantalise Scotland in the Conservatives’ internal war, reckons Lesley Riddoch.
Nigel says Boris is untrustworthy. Rory (you’ll know him better by the end of July) says Boris is dishonest. Amber Rudd has said many things about Boris but is currently staying schtum because she wants to be his running mate. Gove has entered the Tory leadership race as the “unity candidate” – implying Boris is as disruptive now as he was in 2016 when Gove challenged the world’s most famous zipliner, split the vote and let Theresa May become Prime Minister.
Now the two “Big Beasts” are facing off again in what one BBC political correspondent has described as “a tantalising and fascinating contest”. That statement sums up the self-obsessed nature of the Westminster bubble. For the majority of British voters who are neither Tory party members or voters, there is nothing tantalising about the sorry procession of brazen liars parading with pomp and ceremony across our TV screens right now.
Like Theresa May, they assure us Brexit will make Britain great again. It won’t. Like the “strong and stable” leader who torpedoed the value of sterling, they predict an economic meltdown if anyone but a fearless Tory stands at the helm. Like the rest of the cabinet, they continue to drive through social security “reforms” which have left citizens hopeless, despairing and suicidal.
Apparently Rudd will complain to the UN about the damning report on austerity delivered by Philip Alston, despite the fact she oversaw the most punitive parts of the new Universal Credit regime. Doublethink, living in a parallel universe or simple mendacity – who knows why leading Tories still think that simply asserting a preferred version of reality makes it true. But they do. One thing’s certain. As the deckchairs are rearranged on the Tory Titanic, the vast majority of the public do not buy the BBC’s “tantalising and fascinating” narrative. In addition to appalled progressive Labour, SNP, Plaid, Lib Dem and Green voters, sits a large group of furious former Tories, now backing the Brexit Party. And as today’s European Election results will surely reveal, hell hath no fury like a Tory voter turned.
Boris v Gove is neither tantalising nor fascinating to most Scots. Instead, the meaningless, ego-ridden face off is confirmation of the Groundhog Day that’s gripped Scotland since the Brexit vote laid bare the existential crisis facing English democracy. Here we are, three years on, with the same flawed characters grappling for the same Tory leadership position, addressing roughly the same bunch of deluded Conservative party members who believes a superhuman exists to square the impossible circle of Brexit.
Of course, a wheen of other candidates is available but the message is clear.
The centre of the British political universe is now Boris. His past, his views, his latest pronouncements, his unconscionable mistakes – but whilst opponents rub their hands at the prospect of such a wildly unsuitable man becoming Tory party leader, his star continues to rise – south of the Border at least. Incredibly, Boris’ gaffes serve only to make him seem more human and approachable to a certain sort of voter. And he’s the talk of the steamie.
As Oscar Wilde observed, the only thing worse than being talked about, is not being talked about. So, Boris has won pole position already. Everyone’s talking about the former foreign secretary – not the tattered state of the political vessel he looks set to captain. It’s as disappointing as it is predictable.
If democracy mattered, if the principles underpinning government mattered one iota, Scotland’s future would not lie in the hands of 313 Tory MPs and 124,000 Conservative party members. But it does. And this is still called a democracy.
So what lies ahead?
Much energy will be expended in coming months to guess if Boris has a cunning plan to produce a deal (which must be better than Esther McVey’s “invisible Irish border”) or simply intends to roll straight towards a no-deal Brexit on Halloween.
So how can we rate his Brexit intentions now? Is his latest tough talk another bluff? Will the distraction of the Tory leadership contest produce a no-deal Brexit by default as time runs out on this bunch of self-absorbed, hopeless politicians? Or will a Boris-induced Tory meltdown precipitate a general election before Halloween? And as these large fragments of Britain’s collapsing democracy break free, will Scots shift the opinion polls decisively towards independence, demand the chance to steer our own path and give greater moral authority to the request for a Section 30 order?
The stakes will only get higher. Boris may keep changing his mind on Brexit, but his desire to cut Scottish spending is pretty consistent. A Sunday newspaper listed a decade-long litany of subsidy-junkie style remarks culminating in the former London Mayor’s 2012 observation: “If London isn’t moving, the UK is nowhere. A pound spent in Croydon or Tottenham… will generate far more for the rest of the economy than a pound spent in Strathclyde. This is the place that drives the rest of the UK.”
So Britain’s (probable) next prime minister is capable of whipping up anti-Scottish feeling and is likely to generate fresh conflict with the Scottish Government even before he enacts the power grab planned for Brexit – and all this without the endorsement of voters at a general election.
Nicola Sturgeon is set to announce plans for citizens’ assemblies leading up to a second independence referendum, within days of Theresa May’s departure. So whatever decision the Tory party makes about its new leader and our prime minister, one thing’s almost certain. Scotland’s democratic deficit is set to deepen and it’ll be increasingly hard for No voters to ignore the looming storm.