The Belgrano Moment

She was called Diana Gould and came from Cirencester in Gloucestershire, a middle aged, middle class lady from the shires. She appeared on Nationwide in 1983 and was invited by Sue Lawley to put a question to the Falklands victor Margaret Thatcher. ‘Why’, she asked calmly, ‘when the Belgrano was outside the Total Exclusion Zone and sailing away from the Falklands, did you give the order to sink her?’

After Thatcher’s first attempt at answering – claiming it was NOT sailing away – Ms Gould persisted with a measured, informed and detailed interrogation that had the Iron Lady melting in the studio cauldron. ‘No, Mrs Thatcher’, she interrupted and the hesitations and emergency re-phrasings of the previously untouchable PM gave the game away. She was struggling in the face of the politician’s nemesis – the informed punter. The indomitable Mrs T was squirming and it became uncomfortable viewing. Ms Gould, sounding like Miss Marple gravely informing the police inspector where he was going wrong, was having none of it. Lawley, sensing the temperature rising as Mrs T rotated on the roasting spit, intervened to help out.

It made the news…How Thatcher was skewered by a little old lady. The tape was re- played at that year’s Edinburgh Television Festival in front of an audience of journalists. (The correct collective being A Sewer). We laughed in recognition and enjoyed again how a member of the public had done what we all wanted to do and pin her down on her wilful destruction of human life. That was our narrative as a media and it was accepted wisdom in our circle – the Belgrano was running and Thatcher knew it when the order was given.

Just as we gorged ourselves on the memory, that old hand Roy Hattersley, who was on the guest panel, spoke up. ‘And if you think that went down well with the British public, you don’t know them’, he said. He censured us for being out of touch because most people really didn’t like to hear a leader being humbled that way, not when the country had been at war and life-and-death decisions had to be made – and made in favour of our sailors and soldiers. Many remembered Hitler’s war and understood the needs of the time both in lethal decisions and leadership. With our own prejudices and outlook as a media, we lacked real understanding of voters. He left us chastened.

I don’t know if Roy was completely correct in his assessment but it came to mind during the television debate when another punter – a nurse – complained to Nicola Sturgeon about her wages. She couldn’t manage on them and used food banks, she claimed. Cue uncomfortable questions for the FM and, of course, a media establishment loving it. Over in the Spin Room – God, but it’s tiresome and derivative, isn’t it? – The Daily Labour’s David Clegg couldn’t hide his delight. ‘The nurse is the story’, he announced proudly. I immediately recognised the syndrome – the hound chases the rabbit without noticing the juicy steak in his bowl. The story is whatever hurts the Nats and nurses confronting the leader is it and…and…foodbanks! Jings! Even the spoon-fed hacks couldn’t miss this. It fitted their narrative, the one they’ve pursued for a decade and more now – the SNP gloss is losing its sheen.

But what stood out for me from the exchanges was something entirely different. It was the message that nurses in Scotland are paid more than nurses in any other part of the UK. It was a chance to point out that when put on the spot with a tough choice in difficult circumstances, the SNP deliver. An independent review body decides how much nurses should be paid and the Scottish government didn’t hesitate. It paid up. There was no doctors’ strike in Scotland for the same reason. In what they call Band 5 a nurse can be £300 better off than in England. The latest deal gives anyone below £22,000 a minimum rise of £400 and entry level pay for staff is £880 higher than England.

Now it ain’t easy and Sturgeon wasn’t hiding from the effect on budgets of austerity, quoting her own sister’s views as a nurse. But, ask a non-aligned member of the public if they recognise the dilemma for a government of reducing budgets which have to be balanced. Ask if they think it reasonable to allow independent analysis to suggest an appropriate level of pay. Ask if it seems reasonable that Scots nurses get a better deal. Ask who you imagine would pay more if it were possible – Sturgeon or Theresa May.

See? People whose eyes remain open, understand the complexities beyond the anger. Sure, they’d like nurses to be paid more. But what about teachers and police? Care home assistants? Social workers? If health budgets increased in the UK, they would rise here too. Sturgeon expressed the frustration that lies at the heart of the independence debate – we don’t control our own resources. Those same people will see Sturgeon challenged directly, like old Ms Gould did 34 years ago, and ask themselves if our nurse was being entirely reasonable given the national finances. After all, we are told they are still in a dire state UK-wide as Osborne’s deeper benefit cuts are only beginning and the Tories are waiting in England to take your house if you need old age nursing.

The media pros will imagine that this was a straight hit on the SNP but when the blinkers are removed, I’m not so sure. Canny Scots will note that no party is promising higher pay rises for nurses and Labour would take 1p in the pound away from them. Does anyone imagine nurses will fare better under the Tories?

No, I think Nicola may have had her Belgrano moment and, like the journalists of the 1980’s the media is reading it wrong.

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Who Needs Friends…

Something strange has happened in Scotland. A transformation of sorts has overturned completely the accepted basis of our politics. Broadly, it went like this.

Whatever the deep and abiding mutual mistrust between Labour and the SNP, and notwithstanding disagreements over the constitution with the Liberals, nevertheless all three parties had a shared policy platform on the centre left. It was variegated of course according to the times, but when there was a showdown over Scotland’s national interest they grudgingly stood together – as in the 1997 referendum. They jointly adopted a default position that was anti-Tory, mirroring the perceived attitudes of the voters. When it came to the preparation for devolution, the SNP did stand outside the constitutional convention (against Alex Salmond’s wishes, I believe) but only because they wanted to go further, not because they were opposed. All the main parties accepted as an article of faith that the Tories did not represent Scotland, were undemocratic in opposing subsidiarity and self-determination and were political lepers to be avoided for fear of ridicule and contamination.

Yet today, this entire construct has been overturned to the extent that Labour and the Liberals are actively encouraging people to vote Conservative rather than SNP. It seems true that Willie Rennie has instructed Liberal councillors not to form working arrangements with Nationalists, preferring Tories instead. Kezia Dugdale sought an artifice to cover her embarrassment by saying no deals should be struck with parties of austerity – define – yet in Aberdeen today it appears her group is going into coalition with Conservatives whom I presume we all agree tend to favour austerity.

The SNP has become the unwanted cur of politics, loathed by all as if it were an infection. Vote for anybody opposed to another referendum is the cry from them all. At all costs we must not give in to democracy and allow the Scots another vote. Nothing else matters. Vote No to the SNP. Vote in a Tory if necessary. They are better than the Nationalists because they will ensure you are denied another shot at deciding your future. Any future is better than independence. Any future.

Yet that future is almost certain to be anything up to 20 years of hard-right, selfish austerity-driven, anti European Britnat ideology, removing powers from Holyrood, shoe-horning Scottish interests into a Little Britain policy portfolio designed to solve the problems of Brexit. And wherever you look those problems are building. Scotland will be disproportionately hit compared to England. Professor Michael Keating warns that what the Liberals and Labour spent decades building, aided by a generation of campaigners for devolution, is now under clear and present threat.

Why can’t they see where this is heading? What is blinding the parties of devolution to the obvious? The Supreme Court ruling made clear how flimsy is the underlying power of Holyrood. What will constrain an all-powerful Theresa May who can claim some sort of Scottish mandate to add to her towering Westminster majority?

I read commentators whose declared preference is devolution/ federalism gloating at the slippage they perceive in SNP support and delighting in signs that a referendum policy isn’t obviously popular. I get it that this is a ‘story’ and it cuts against the grain of the ever rising SNP but they are adding to an exaggerated sense that we don’t need an SNP power base. Who, I ask, is going to protect Scots from what is coming?

For a short-term anti-SNP gain, they are abandoning a consensus that seeks to ameliorate the excesses of Tory policy. But what happens if those powers are simply removed because Brexit has created a national UK emergency in which all decisions and all fund raising has to be centralised?

There is I think a glib discounting of the generational harm Brexit could do to our country. It’s as if people have stopped thinking beyond four weeks hence, as if, after a massive Tory win, we can regroup and think again. Liberals and Labour are playing the Tories’ game, doing their job for them and turning the election into an anti-SNP crusade.

The Liberals position in Scotland is a betrayal of all those people who worked for federalism and made the constitutional convention work. I knew many of them who were ready to countenance independence if London couldn’t deliver meaningful devolution. I fear Wee Willie is made of weaker stuff, desperately touting for Tory Unionist support as the only means of staying in the game but sacrificing Scotland’s national interest to do so.

The truth is they need an SNP to scare London. Nobody in Whitehall is frightened of Willie and his honours-seeking cohorts. But they fear Sturgeon and what she might do. It was London’s fear of the Nationalists – and the Liberals’ and Labour’s fear of their rising support – that drove devolution in the first place. If the day comes when the SNP is neutered, the game is up, not just for Nationalists and independence, but for those who boast of being proud Scots whose aspirations are met by devolved self-government. That is likely to become a shell after a right-wing victory and a hard Brexit.

This is one of those times when certainty disappears and the stars realign. After this election and after say a year of Brexit talks when reality bites, then we might perceive just what a mess we have talked ourselves into. No doubt it will be spun as the SNP’s fault, again. Yet they offer the one escape route which we could be begging for before long. It’s clear though, that, with Labour ruling out a referendum in favour of a Tory Britain (with nuclear weapons) that we Yessers stand alone. There is to be no support of any kind from our former centre-left friends for anything other than Tory-led hard-right politics.

The history has been forgotten. The consensus abandoned. Labour and the Liberals who once engaged in coalition politics, have now positioned themselves as the enemy, siding with Britnat politics at any cost. It makes voting SNP even more imperative after losing one-time friends

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Lift Thine Eyes

Getting twitchy? You should be – the Tory ghouls are gathering and their slavering mouths are calling you out. You, Angus Robertson…be gone! You, Wishart…we will devour you! They’re cackling and mewling at all Nationalists now that you’re time is up. They’re coming to get you.

The Tories of course are the zombie party, the barely breathing husk of the Undead. They were supposed to return to the swamp and submerge for ever. They were on their way until a saviour arrived in the form of Labour who sacrificed themselves and gave them a blood transfusion. Woooo….(Can’t keep this up any longer)

One thing that’s noticeable is the tone of the Tory campaign and it’s most un-Tory. Tweets from Carlaw Jackson and Murdo Fraser sound petty and mean – ‘Smell the fear’, ‘Sturgeon squirming’. Others adopt the cruel tone of some Nationalists (re-sitting MPs) ‘Tick tock.’ Davidson alludes to her uniform and the IRA. A Tory MP tells a Scots schoolgirl to ‘fuck off back to Scotland.’ Tory blood lust has descended like a red mist. For them this isn’t the election of a government. It’s an act of revenge.

For the first time in twenty years those of a Tory persuasion are getting their own back. After a generation of humiliation in Scotland, the feeling has changed and things are looking up. The transfer of votes from Unionist Labourites is sending pulses through the moribund apparatus. And, as the Scottish election and the council elections showed, if the anti-Nat votes coalesce in the right places, the SNP can be defeated.

And that’s all they need to know. Just offering a threat is enough after a lifetime of hopelessness and failure. The one win they did get – in the indyref – was hollow as it merely confirmed just how strong the anti-Union forces now are. The issue teeters on the edge, at risk from the slightest tremor – Scotland’s political San Andreas Fault.

So there’s a demotic, chaotic sense to the Tory effort in which they appear as the outsiders, the insurgent raiding party storming the power base. (However ironic in light of events at Westminster).

I sense the Nationalist and progressive reaction to this is mostly disbelief. First, incredulity that anyone with centre-left sensibilities could ever go Tory and second, that it doesn’t make logical sense. The Tories are anti-Europe. They have strangled the economic life out of working families. Public servants use food banks. They continue to hack at essential benefits while subsidising big business. They stand for grammar schools and fox hunting, for nuclear weapons and arms sales. They are heading for tripling the national debt. The NHS is being privatised. They haven’t lifted us out of austerity yet, 10 years on. Their Brexit policy is already cutting household budgets and putting up prices. In Scotland they have nothing you can describe as a policy and no one outside three or four people you could name.

It doesn’t make sense, right?

Well, think of it this way. If you can honestly say you hate the SNP and their rise frightens you. If you believe deeply that Scotland is in no state to be independent and that to argue the case is dangerous and delusional. If you imagine your whole way of life and your identity is acutely threatened – then it begins to make sense.

This is the flip side of Scottish Nationalism which vocally damns the Tories and laughs at Labour. Most Nationalists don’t, or rather can’t, know for sure what the morning after independence would bring but we believe in ourselves and our ability so that’s alright. The manifestations of Union are detested – Westminster, the right-wing media, British hubris – just as virulently as Tory Unionists and their new-found ex-Labour supporters loathe Sturgeon and Holyrood.

Base emotions play a key role in voting and often override policy considerations. Hating the other side is as powerful a motivation as any other and, as I’ve said before, I have heard expressions of hostility from otherwise sane people. This looks like a time of reaction and, if so, it has been a long time coming. The SNP has defied the laws of politics to stay on top so long. Some rebalancing is overdue so it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise.

On the other hand, it still doesn’t look like a decline in SNP support so far as I can see. Rather it is a transfer of votes from a failing party into another causing a realignment. The effect though will be felt differently in places, with areas defending small leads over the Conservatives at risk of the waters breaking the banks.

But while I feel sanguine about much of this as part of the great wheel of fortune that is politics, I harbour deeper feelings of concern about where the result of this General Election is taking us.

Brutal, simple messaging like No Second Referendum or Theresa Not Jeremy mask what is really happening. This is deliberate. Like the EU referendum, we are not debating the policy direction of the country – instead we are playing the game of the party schemers and spinners whose job is to win, not inform nor enlighten. Behind-the-scenes manipulators like Lynton Crosby don’t care what happens afterwards. He’s only paid to do everything possible to secure the votes that win the election.

It is we who will pay the price demanded of the winner.

Blinded by anti-SNP sentiment and sold on the upfront message, many voters won’t ask themselves what happens later. What do they imagine a Tory government ensconced for a decade at least is going to do? Look at the signs already visible from a Prime Minister running a tight policy-making cabal who had to be dragged to the Supreme Court so Parliament could have a say in the biggest decision in forty years.

Freed from effective scrutiny, is she going to bow to opinion on Scotland? Isn’t that what Not Now meant? She means all other decisions will wait until she has control of all the power and she has completed the surgery removing the UK from Europe so can reshape the country in her neo-con image. The Supreme Court ruling confirmed that Scotland’s parliament is nothing but a lame beast of Westminster, vulnerable to being put down at will.

Assumptions that it will continue to shape different policies and be given the budget-raising powers needed to fund it need to be revised. Theresa May is no defender of devolution and a post-Brexit UK will be no place for distinctive devolved policies and institutions. Britain will be alone, climbing into the lifeboats, bobbing on stormy seas, when patience for dissent will be severely limited. It will be all for one – and that one will be a Tory-run Westminster.

Of course it may be that this adjustment in political sentiment will develop its own hybrid form and that the Tories will return to their original stance on Scottish devolution – against. It may be that those same Scots are tired altogether of Holyrood being at odds with London, and sick of arguments over referendums and finances and powers. Perhaps that’s where this is heading, back down the other side of the hill towards a British hegemony. Maybe the game is up.

I doubt it though. I truly doubt that the mood is running so strongly that MPs with considerable track records of achievement will be turfed out in favour of individuals with distinctly limited ability. Or that enough Labour and Lib Dem voters simply give up and swap over to an anti-Nat movement. There are enough people whose politics is philosophically grounded and enough with the foresight to see that, if for no other reason, Scotland needs the potential escape route offered by the EU until we can appraise the damage and benefits of Brexit. Labour and Lib Dem voters going Tory risk not only a damaging Brexit deal and closing off Scotland’s options, but undermining the whole devolution home rule project which was their own parties’ work. Voting Tory this time to oppose a possible referendum already approved by the parliament gives hope to those who would destroy the work of the originals…Kenyon Wright, Dewar, Wallace et al. Giving this anti democratic Tory Party votes based on  a thin and transitory premise of preventing us from deciding democratically our future, will allow them to consign the Claim of Right to the dustbin of history. if we care, we must choose.

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The Sun Never Sets…

I’m reading a history of the British Empire which reminds you how long it took for messages to be communicated between the Colonial Office and the colonies before the telegraph. It could be weeks, sometimes months, before crucial information was received. So much so that when the Natal administrators decided to attack Zululand against the government’s commands in 1879 they did so in the belief the war would be over before they were told by London not to proceed. It would be too late. And so it was – except not the way they expected. The Zulus had crushed the British and chased them.

I’m adopting the Empire approach and have been awaiting news arriving of the result of the local elections. I estimate a week is long enough for a coach to thunder north from London with the details. I always think the civil servants in Victorian London had something of an advantage over us today because there was little point in them responding with utmost urgency to a communication.

‘Mhadist forces entering Embassy building. Defences overwhelmed. Send reinforcements. Gordon.’ It could take four or five weeks to arrive in Whitehall from Khartoum.

Knowing this, the staff were obliged to take a longer view and make a strategic appraisal rather than a pressurised instant option. Which is what I’m doing.

I’m over the shock of the Tory insurgency because, after a moment’s thought it’s clear that they are hovering up former Labour voters. It is a direct consequence of the implosion of Labour as a power in our politics and with our debate polarised around a Yes/No on the constitution rather than austerity or Brexit or any domestic issue, it makes sense for the SNP to gather up the Yes support and the most strident No group to take the rest. Partly, too they are appealing to the Orange vote, a factor I’m afraid we are going to confront increasingly as Davidson’s No Surrender-No Policy approach takes over.

What is more interesting is the way the old matrix of affiliation has broken down. As Labour has sunk further into oblivion, their historic resonance has eroded to the point where the seemingly intractable attachment of working class Scots has evaporated. The road signs which said No Entry to Toryism, have gone, channelling those whose emotional impulse is triggered by Union into what may turn out to be a cul-de-sac.

But this is of marginal interest when set beside the latest electoral tour de force of the Nationalists. It seems not to matter which voting system is applied, they still break the bank. Those who have decided the future is independence appear totally committed. The ‘story’ was the Tories simply because it was against the grain and the media really got the emphasis all wrong. But the underlying reality is the overwhelming, consistent, decade-long reign of the SNP. (Gordon’s done for. The Sudan has fallen. But the Empire remains supreme).

As I suggested a few blogs ago, to much teeth-grinding comment, the collapse of Labour and the consequent lift of the Tories is, strategically, no bad thing. We may not want Tory councillors or MPs, but their very presence looms over the debate as a reminder of who the real enemy is. No longer is a vicar’s daughter able to sound distant in her prejudices and outlook, disconnected somehow from familiar Scotland. Those foot-stomping Tory suits cheering on election night are her praetorian guard and they’re here in our communities. They are pro-austerity, cutting public spending back to 1930’s levels. They are deporting people whose papers are not in order. They are brutalising the disabled. They are anti European, killing our businesses and freedom of movement with Brexit. They will take back powers from Holyrood. They ensure the rich are the sole beneficiaries of policy. And, at a time of national crisis over Europe, they will bring back fox hunting…

It is easy to forget what Conservatives represent when they’re in decline, seeming less important. But when, as helpfully blared out by the media, they are coming back, the danger becomes real, the threat present. Nothing will inspire Yes voters in places like Moray more than being told their votes are shifting to the Tories. If there was underlying confidence in Tory circles about ousting Angus Robertson, they’d go quietly about their business. Instead they’re bellowing like football fans how they’ll blooter him. There is no better way to firm up Nationalist support. That’s what happens with a real opponent.

And I repeat: never fear the exposure given to an over-confident adversary. One of the key differences between the modern SNP and the main Unionists, is the talent at their disposal. In my time the Tories had herds of big beasts striding meaningfully across the political landscape and Labour led the UK party with authoritative and authentic individuals. Today the talent has flown, either to the SNP or into obscurity. As the fortunes decline so does the money and the magnet that draws in the able. What we find now is that, under scrutiny, the scarecrow nature of the opposition dances across our TV screens, a barely coherent reminder of how shallow is the gene pool.

This matters. People imbibe impressions of who’s credible and who isn’t. Competence is important. Davidson has done a good job of being decisive when Labour is weak. She projects outspoken opposition. But does she sound like a minister? Does she enunciate policy or is she a rabble-rouser? What lies behind her on the MSP benches? Where is the skilled practitioner, the voice of experience? Is there the merest hint of statesmanship?

This is an opponent we can deal with. But it is real and it is, in campaign terms, effective. All complacency can now be dispelled. They will take seats in the General Election. The Scottish Tories will be lauded by May in her stonking majority victor’s speech confirming a UK Tory hegemony that lasts a generation. If that doesn’t stiffen the sinews and make the Scots face up to their future…then we won’t deserve better than being a province operated remotely by the Colonial Office and awaiting the latest instruction to the natives.

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The Dying of the Light

What went wrong with the Tories? There was a time when it was respectable, normal even, to regard the Conservatives as having the answers to running the country. They represented grounded common sense, economic competence and a patrician concern for the less fortunate. They embodied the Britain my parents’ generation fought for…principled and tolerant.

It sounds naïve of course. The boss class lorded it then just as it does today. Even mighty Tory figures could be smeared with avarice. Ted Heath’s finances were handled by Slater Walker whose corporate raids were the 60’s and 70’s equivalent of sub prime mortgages, ending in a Bank of England bailout that shook the financial sector. They secured Heath spectacular 60 per cent returns on investments. Say no more.

The Tories gave us Profumo and Establishment spies and the bonds of class solidarity among themselves that still stifle social mobility and talent today.

Yet the Tories I knew, or at least many of them, were finely attuned to their role in public service. And in Scotland they had a taste for small ‘n’ nationalism if they deemed it appropriate. London may try to insist, but it was they who were entrusted to know best Scotland’s national interest. Sometimes they made that clear. Make that often, in the case of George Younger. He had successive run-ins with Margaret Thatcher and claimed that on particular Scottish issues, she would defer to him. He took her on over Ravenscraig – along with other Tories such as Michael Hirst. He made the case that after a damaging series of closures from Linwood to Corpach, putting out the furnaces at an iconic industrial site would harm both the economy and the Tories themselves. She relented, again, and there was a six-year stay imposed.

By keeping up a running commentary on his activities, Younger was playing his Scottish card to the voters, saying he was not afraid to stand up for them.

Too little, too late, you say. But he was playing the game of politics by publicly siding with the people against his government in London, something I don’t believe David Mundell has done once. I find this not only a sign of contemptible weakness in Mundell but an abrogation of responsibility to his Scottish party. It is a time-honoured aspect of Unionist politics to be seen standing up for Scotland against the powers in Westminster. Even Sturgeon does it and she has no Unionist boss to answer to. Couldn’t Mundell even fake a row with Theresa May in which he’s allowed to take Scotland’s side and pretend to win?

John Mackay, who also entered the Lords, was another who understood the hard realities of Scottish Toryism. In 1989, as we approached the tenth anniversary of Thatcher’s election win, the party was in the doldrums. John was by this time Chief Executive of the party in the north and I suggested to him the anniversary celebrations would be a boost to the Tories. He gave me a withering stare. ‘You must be joking,’ he said. ‘It’ll just remind them all of how long she’s been in charge.’

He was an intelligent and engaging character who constantly made cracks at the expense of those colleagues whose family fortunes contrasted painfully with his own modest means. ‘He doesn’t care if he loses’ he said of a well-known party aristo. ‘He doesn’t need the money.’ Everybody who knew him was fond of John and I felt for him when he was pushed aside – almost literally – to make way for Michael Forsyth who commandeered his desk from him as the Press looked on. In his obituary, the Guardian said, accurately: ‘Widely popular, he did not seem to fit wholly in with the new, increasingly right wing and Europhobic regime’.

I think too of Alick Buchanan-Smith, whose gentility was reminiscent of an 18th century gentleman MP. His home was dotted with momentos of empire acquired byancestors. His endearingly warm personality concealed a man of total conviction. He believed in Scottish self-government within the UK and took constant punishment for saying so until eventually resigning over the issue. As did Malcolm Rifkind. I think of them as significant figures with a firm grasp of Scotland’s importance.

Michael Ancram wrestled with the conundrum of fitting Scotland comfortably inside the Union. A nuclear disarmer, he argued for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq. He is of course, the Earl of Ancram, or is it the Marquess of Lothian? He was an open host when I followed him for a day in Belfast when he was Northern Ireland Secretary and again when I turned up at the ancestral home – one of them – Monteviot House at Jedburgh. I was to interview him but brought the kids with me. ‘Just take them into the nursery,’ he smiled. They were delighted when it turned out to be more like the Museum of Childhood, a huge space filled with rocking horses and toys of every kind.

There were others, among them Adrian Shinwell, Tory and British and yet undeniably committed to their version of Scotland. They were experienced and mature. They were people – it seemed to me – of stature in public life. And they could debate, as Hansard attests. Jousts between Rifkind and Dewar for example are comprehensive and biting examples of the art.

My personal dealings with such characters produces a jaundiced view of today’s crop. I can think of no active representative Tory who carries anything like the credibility of their predecessors. Styles change of course and the landed gentry and posh boys are out of fashion, rightly so. But class is no marker of stature. Where are the outgoing, avuncular, open-minded Tories today? What is their vision for Scotland? Is there one?

Even those who a year or so ago I genuinely regarded as being the right stuff, have descended into a small-minded antagonisms. Are we to believe that every one of those Tories at Holyrood truly supports the rape clause? Because I don’t buy that. When policy making from London gets that socially vicious, common sense tells you that sane people are inwardly rebelling. If the Scottish Tories did issue a denunciation, who would be hurt? Surely what the old Tories understood was that there was a Scottish viewpoint and, at times, it was their duty to reflect that, even if it miffs Central Office or Downing Street. I was astonished to see Jackson Carlaw chortling that it was ‘only one page’ to fill in and that the SNP should ameliorate the effects of the policy, missing entirely the inhuman element. I usually find that experienced politicians get the key point and can separate the instant reaction for the media from the considered longer view of the public. Not in this case.

Murdo Fraser always had my respect because he could communicate a sensible undogmatic message. What happened to him? Not so long ago he was championing the idea of reinventing the Tory Party and was a serious prospect for leader. Now his Twitter account is juvenile, bitter and unfunny. The stature he was building as a distinctive figure, different and to some extent at odds politically with his leader, has evaporated.

I considered Liz Smith a class act. Blunt, level-headed, no nonsense, she has simply vanished from the scene. Are the Tories only allowed one female at a time? Don’t tell me she approves of the rape clause. And yet she sits silent.

And, whatever her value in being a ‘Tory that is different’, I fear the fake bonhomie and bully boy antics of Ruth Davidson would make the heavyweights of yesteryear reach for the scotch. Where once there was a semblance of poise, there is now decay. It is a decay of quality and content, a paucity of composure. The pointy, angry tone and one-dimensional messaging buries any softer sound of compassion or even potential governmental competence. There was a moment when she took on Boris Johnson during the EU referendum, that I thought I would have to reappraise her. She was taking a Scottish pro-EU line against big hitters in the party. That was briefly worrying territory. But it wasn’t to last. As soon as the new leader took up the Brexit baton any thought of a differentiated approach was thrown overboard for die hard loyalty.

In truth it may be that Ruthie is the embodiment of modern Scottish Unionism – cold, strident, increasingly desperate as history overtakes them. Still they will be able to bask in small-scale glory in the coming elections no doubt as Labour drains away. It will sustain them a while longer but I see no policy initiative that suggests there is strategy at work or any alternative programme for government. They are a last-gasp protest group and, devoid of the kind of talent they used to produce, they cannot reach beyond the hysterical No Referendum rabble. Just as Scotland needs a genuine party of the Left, so it needs one of the Conservative Right. But it requires intellectual foundations and people to articulate it and neither is currently available.

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