Boris Johnson is a liar and a cheat but like all successful con artists, he is basically a showman. Even so, the people of Scotland proved immune to his charms. Liz Truss’s problem is that she has no charm at all.
First published: August 2022.
Fresh from the hustings at Perth, where Liz Truss, the front runner in the Great Tory Thatcher in their Eyes contest, assured a gaggle of elderly Scottish Tories that she will not “allow” Scotland to have another independence referendum and lied about the SNP agreeing to the referendum being a once in a generation event as a condition of being granted permission to hold it. The play doh Thatcher’s campaign team revealed her big plan to halt the independence movement in its tracks and send it hamewards tae think again.
The basics of Truss’s plan were detailed in a report in the digital i-news by Katy Balls, who is the deputy political editor of the Conservative Spectator magazine which was once edited by Boris Johnson – although you might have greater confidence in her reporting if this deputy political editor knew that Nicola Sturgeon was the leader of the Scottish National Party and not the “Scottish Nationalist Party”. But then Balls is a Tory journalist and won’t want to acknowledge that the Conservatives are the English Nationalist Party. But I digress.
Balls tells us that if elected as Prime Minister by the membership of the Conservative party, Truss intends to revive the combative and confrontational so-called muscular unionism championed by Johnson in the early days of his premiership before being persuaded to abandon it by Michael Gove, who feared that it was counter-productive and a gift to the independence cause. Because if there is one thing guaranteed to make your average Scottish person go, “Aye, that WILL be right, pal”, it is being hectored and disrespected by an unpopular Conservative leader that they didn’t vote for.
Truss believes that because she went to primary school in Paisley for a few years she has an instinctive understanding of what Scotland wants and how to best get her message accepted by Scottish public opinion. There is however one way in which Liz Truss does indeed have her finger on the pulse of the Scottish zeitgeist. She thinks Michael Gove is an oily wee skelf too, so she is not at all inclined to take his advice on how to handle the demand for Scottish independence, or indeed anything else for that matter.
According to Balls : “Truss has no plans to even give Gove – with whom she has clashed on a range of issues during her ministerial career – a job in the Cabinet, let alone a role on the union. Her instincts differ from his.” So it’s going to be back to the blatant hectoring and disrespect. It will be an active aggressive approach instead of Gove’s passive-aggressive one.
Central to the new aggressive approach will be an instruction to ministers and Conservative MPs to cease mentioning the i-word. They will be told to no longer mention Scottish independence but rather only to refer to “Scottish separatism.” Truss thinks that this will frame independence as a negative act, possibly in the deluded belief that Scottish people will think that separating Scotland from her government is a bad thing.
Perhaps Truss wants to move away from talking about Scottish nationalism because it does not sound so bad when contrasted with the blatant English nationalism of Truss’s Conservative party, but it is unlikely that she possesses that much self-awareness.
Boris Johnson & Liz Truss... the future ex-PM with the future PM? | Flickr/Number 10
In any event, calling Scottish independence “separatism” is rather like insisting that someone you know who intends to emigrate to a new and better life in a country with a sensible and democratic government is planning a trip to the airport where there will be queues and passport control and their luggage might get lost. It’s childish and petulant and redolent of a self-centred attitude, so it’s very much on brand for Liz Truss then. It’s an infantile attempt to frame Scottish independence as being all about England.
Truss also wants to make further unilateral changes to the Scotland act in order to give parliamentary privilege to members of the Scottish parliament, her hope is that this would allow for “more robust questions” of the SNP government from opposition politicians, by allowing them to lie with impunity. Truss is one of those Tories who believes that the Scottish media gives the SNP an easy ride. Now that’s practically the textbook definition of delusion.
There are plenty among the Scottish Conservatives who fear that Truss’s aggressively confrontational approach will blow up in their face, Balls reports: “As one Scottish Tory put it to me during the parliamentary stages of the contest: ‘I’ll back anyone who is not Liz.’ They worry that Truss’s rhetoric could backfire – and push people in favour of independence if the Tories sound as though they are talking Scotland down.”
Truss’s basic problem is that this sort of nonsense might appeal to the moon-howling British nationalist contingent on social media, and to the union flag wavers of the Conservative party membership, but it is likely merely to provoke at best eye-rolling and at worst outright anger from that wider Scottish public to whom Truss must appeal if her new strategy is to have any success. Why not go the whole hog, Liz? You could call it Scottish rupturism or Scottish Grand Canyoning instead.
Boris Johnson was unable to sell his so-called muscular unionism to a doubtful Scottish public. Johnson is a liar and a cheat but like all successful con artists, he is basically a showman. Even so, the people of Scotland proved immune to his charms. Liz Truss’s problem is that she has no charm at all. She comes across as a low-rent Artificial Intelligence version of Margaret Thatcher, only without the intelligence part, strangely robotic and awkward, bereft of empathy or emotional intelligence. If the Conservatives are remotely serious about stopping independence, they have to demonstrate that they can come up with a message that has an appeal beyond the monarchy-loving Winston Churchill worshipers who make up the core of their support in Scotland. So far they have dismally failed to achieve that, and Truss looks as though she will merely make things worse.
Truss is not even in Downing Street yet but she is already proving that she is a gift to the independence movement.
— AUTHOR —
▫ Wee Ginger Dug, also known as Paul Kavanagh. Blogger who writes and talks about UK Politics and Scottish Independence.
- Text: This piece was originally published in Wee Ginger Dug’s blog and re-published in PMP Magazine on 19 August 2022, with the author’s consent. | The author writes in a personal capacity.
- Cover: Flickr/U.S. Department of Agriculture. - Liz Truss. | 6 July 2021. (Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.)