Boris Johnson’s dwindling brigade of supporters point to the Conservatives’ landslide election win of 2019 as evidence he’s too gifted a politician for his party to lose. But they conveniently ignore the fact his charm stopped working at the border with Scotland.
Voters across much of England may have flocked to Johnson but he repelled many Scots. In 2019, the SNP won back 13 of the 21 seats it had lost two years previously, when Theresa May was prime minister. The Tories lost seven Scottish seats.
There is a particular caricature of the distant, uncaring Conservative that repels Scottish voters. And that caricature is Boris Johnson-shaped.
So, over recent years, it has made very good political sense for the Scottish Tories to make it clear they share the public’s doubts about Johnson.
This was something former leader Ruth Davidson understood very well. Her absolutely heartfelt contempt for Johnson has never been in doubt. Not only did she thoroughly dislike the idea of a Johnson premiership, she saw good political reasons – after helping revive her party’s fortunes in Scotland – for making sure everyone knew it.
Current Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross should have taken his lead from Davidson. Instead, he has been weak when it comes to the disgraced former Prime Minister.
Ross – an MSP and an MP – will have his say when the Commons votes on the Privileges Committee’s report into partygate on Monday. He has said he will back its findings.
But there will be no whipping of Scottish Tory MPs on the issue, no matter the damage support for Johnson would cause to the party in Scotland. Some Scottish Tories are bracing themselves against the possibility that Scottish Secretary Alister Jack – a longtime Johnson supporter – will continue to back the disgraced former prime minister.
The fact is that Ross has handled the Johnson issue badly for some time, flip-flopping on whether the former PM was fit for office.