The Women We Hope Team Up Against Boris
Will Davidson and Sturgeon allow Johnson to get away with his campaign of misinformation?
This is not the place to delve into the murky depths of Boris Johnson’s chaotic personal life. It seems adequate to note that, for any self-professed extra-marital enthusiast – ‘bursting with spunk’ as he himself described it – successful juggling of many alleged liaisons, together with the duties of a 25-year marriage, would clearly depend on the ability to say one thing to one woman, and something quite different to another.
It may come as a shock to the newly-installed Prime Minister that such casual inconsistency will not work with two quite different women, both self-respecting, both armed with their own political agendas and both apparently immune to his charms.
So it would be a terrible shame if they were to fall out with one another, and unwittingly lend Johnson free rein with his age-old trick of divide-and-rule – particularly as, despite the chasm between their two political parties, on the issue of Brexit they started out in agreement.
Ruth Davidson, the Tory leader north of the border and one of the few politicians to match Johnson for personal charisma, fought valiantly for Remain in 2016, and until this week has been one of the few in her party to defy the PM’s edict of adherence to a No-Deal Exit. She wrote in the Mail on Sunday:
‘I don’t think the UK government should pursue a no-deal Brexit, and if it comes to it I won’t support it.”
And to add a further chill to the cold breeze between her and Johnson, she reminded us:
“As leader of the party in Scotland, my position exists independently of government. I don’t have to sign a no-deal pledge to continue to serve.”
There is no love lost historically between the two. She supported a succession of rival candidates, eventually Hunt, in the leadership campaign and singularly failed to congratulate Johnson on his victory. She had been touted to run herself, but shrugged off the idea.
This doesn’t mean she’s taken her foot off the pedal, however. One of the casualties of Johnson’s Cabinet reshuffle last week was Scottish secretary, David Mundell, and Davidson was furious, both because he is her staunch ally, and because she credits him with keeping the government in power in 2017, when 13 Scottish Tories were returned to power. Without his strategy and her leadership, it could well have been a Labour government in Downing Street, and Johnson knows it.
Her distrust of Boris Johnson may be one of the few things she shares with her rival Nicola Sturgeon. The difference is that Scotland’s First Minister doesn’t have to attempt to hide it.
During Johnson’s visit to Scotland yesterday, his first as PM, she just about managed to keep a straight face as he was greeted with boos of protest (and one audible shout of ‘you lying arsehole’) as she greeted him on the steps of her HQ, Bute House.
The boos for Boris are all too understandable, although perhaps not by him. He turned up a day after he told his Cabinet he would also be taking the title of minister of the Union – a move that could be seen as a conciliatory gesture, or equally just one step closer to his professed childhood wish to be ‘world king’ – and also as he pledged a £300million package for Scottish communities. He trumpeted yesterday, ‘Our union is the most successful political and economic one in history.’
His ascension is a bitter pill to swallow for the Scots, who voted by 62% to Remain. Not only do they hold Johnson mightily responsible for the whole Brexit debacle, but now it looks increasingly likely he’ll be taking them out of Europe without a deal or any further say. No wonder they’re riled. He’s lucky he didn’t get an egg, but perhaps that was because he opted to leave his meeting with Sturgeon via the building’s backdoor.
Johnson met Sturgeon in Edinburgh, and Davidson in Glasgow, and it seems as if he’s up to his old tricks of telling each of them different information.
Davidson for one appeared pleased by their encounter, which was described as a truce. She said afterwards, ‘We talked about how we can continue to have the UK Government deliver in Scotland, for Scots, and how we can build on that delivery.’
But what about all that disturbing talk of No-Deal? Well, no doubt aware of the highly fragile nature of their north-south alliance, plus his dependence on his Scottish leader if he’s to keep off the threat of the SNP, Johnson was all smiles on his visit yesterday, telling Davidson he was her number one fan and reiterating his commitment to a ‘preference for a deal with the European Union’.
Davidson appeared on the face of it appeased: ‘We covered a number of areas, talking about Brexit, the need to make sure we can get a deal across the line, and I support the Prime Minister wholeheartedly in getting that deal.’
Which would all be well and good, except that wasn’t quite what he said when he sat down with Nicola Sturgeon, and told her the UK would be leaving on 31 October, ‘come what may’ – a variation on last week’s ‘no ifs or buts’.
It seems Sturgeon wasn’t quite as easily fobbed off as Davidson. Following their meeting, she made no bones about both her distrust of the man, and her intention to keep Scotland protected from the fall-out of Brexit by any means necessary:
‘Behind all of the bluff and bluster, this is a government that is dangerous. I think the path that it is pursuing is a dangerous one for Scotland and for all of the UK.
‘The people of Scotland did not vote for this Tory Government, they didn’t vote for this new Prime Minister, they didn’t vote for Brexit and they certainly didn’t vote for a catastrophic no-deal Brexit which Boris Johnson is now planning for.
‘Boris Johnson has formed a hard-line Tory Government with one aim – to take Scotland and the UK out of the EU without a deal.
‘Scotland has been ignored throughout the Brexit process and it is now time for everyone who cares about the future of Scotland to come together to chart our own course and say to the Tories – stop driving our country towards disaster.’
The real problem here is that the only issue as thorny as Brexit is that of Scottish Independence. It seems that fault line may keep Davidson and Sturgeon distracted and divided, just as Johnson would wish.
Davidson glowed after her meeting with the PM that they had also spoken of ‘how we can continue to take on Nicola Sturgeon and oppose her obsession with another independence referendum’.
And Sturgeon was furious with Davidson’s apparent U-turn on supporting Johnson’s plans: ‘We’ve been here before – Ruth Davidson has made many bold, principled-sounding pronouncements and then quietly just fallen into line with the Westminster Tory Government.’
There’s no bubbling hunger of another Independence Referendum right now beyond Sturgeon’s perpetual hope, but personally I know at least one lifelong Unionist who has recently reflected in the light of continuing Brexit chaos at Westminster, ‘I wouldn’t be so bothered if we left you now. With your bunch of fools down there, we might as well take our chances.’ Ouch.
In the meantime, it seems Boris Johnson has got away with saying two entirely different things to two different people, and distracting them with talk of Independence, kippers, anything. He’ll be fine for a bit, at least until they sit down together and put aside their differences long enough to discover exactly where the truth lies.