In May 2020 Douglas Ross resigned from Boris Johnson’s government. Though only a junior minister in the Scotland Office – Ross was not at that time a member of the Holyrood parliament or leader of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist party – Ross was still the most senior figure to resign in protest at how the government handled the Dominic Cummings affair. Ross was clear: Cummings had plainly broken the government’s own Covid rules and, this being so, decency demanded he clear his desk. No-one, not even the great Cummings, could be thought indispensable.
As it happens, the Cummings story broke just a couple of days after the Prime Minister and his then fiancee attended a BYOB post-work piss-up in Downing Street. Boris Johnson may have inadvertently or 'implicitly' considered this a 'work event' – though such soirées would seem to fall foul of the government’s guidelines too – but to everyone else, including Douglas Ross, it was plainly what it was advertised to be: a party.
Having suggested yesterday that the Prime Minister would have to consider his position if it was confirmed he attended this party, Ross was left with no plausible alternative to demanding Johnson’s resignation this afternoon. Rules are rules and chips fall where chips fall. A question now arises for cabinet ministers:
‘Do you agree with the leader of the Scottish Conservatives? And if you do not, why not?'
Honest answers to that query may prove as elusive as they would be interesting.
Ross is a cussed, stubborn, sort. The kind of fellow who follows his argument to its logical destination. In that respect he is not made of the same flexible material as the Prime Minister. And there is, in truth, a simple reality here: everyone can see that, however much it may pain them to notice it, the Prime Minister’s position is as absurd as it is unsustainable.
Not that it pains Douglas Ross to notice this and act upon it. For all that the SNP has enjoyed calling for the PM’s resignation it seems obvious his departure must be better news for the Scottish Tories than for the nationalists. It has been apparent since before he became Conservative leader that Johnson would be a gift to the SNP. So it has duly proved. Getting rid of him, by whatever means necessary, is by no means enough but it is a more than useful start. It is impossible to think of anyone who could be worse. (Time, of course, may yet confound that view and force some hard learning upon it.)
Johnson’s eventual departure – now a case of when, not if, and certainly a leaving which will not be on his own turns – will not lead to any overnight uptick in Unionist fortunes. When it comes to the national question – the survival of Britain – the first rule is a simple one, however: stop committing unforced, self-inflicted errors. Johnson was an error of the first water.
As an MP (as well as an MSP), Ross has the right to submit a letter of no confidence to Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 committee. One assumes this is now in the post just as one assumes it cannot be the only such missive winging its way to Brady. The clock ticks, the bell tolls, the tumbrils roll. And not, you may think, before bloody time.
Granted, Ross risks looking impotent if it proves he’s armed with nothing more than a rubber knife. Nevertheless, in the circumstances it is hard to see how he could avoid striking. This is not just a matter of decency and decorum or a genuine response to the PM’s obvious lack of such qualities, but it is that first and only secondarily a matter of larger, longer-term, political issues. Sometimes, however, a scandal arises which may allow the slaying of multiple birds with a single blow. For the Scottish Tories this is one such moment.