Tory-DUP alliance has written the SNP's election leaflets for them

Theresa May was hugely criticised for her deal with Arlene Foster (r)

Theresa May is seen her with DUP leader Arlene Foster after a deal was signed between the two parties

Monday, July 10, 2017

However much distaste those of us on the pro-independence left in Scotland may have for the DUP, most of us probably also harbour a sneaking admiration for their success in squeezing out painful and politically damaging concessions from the Tory government.

Had the parliamentary arithmetic turned out favourably either this year or two years ago (and it very nearly did on both occasions), the SNP would have been looking to use its own leverage to force an incoming minority Labour government into a number of unwelcome compromises.

It's true that priority would have been given to constitutional progress for Scotland rather than to "bungs", but that's the difference between a pro-independence party that wants to see its country stand taller in the world, and a unionist party that merely wants to demonstrate to its region that the union is working for it in cold transactional terms. No-one can fairly criticise the DUP for pursuing its own preoccupations in the negotiations, rather than anyone else's preoccupations.

But what most certainly can be criticised is the Tories’ eagerness to surrender to the DUP’s demands when there were a number of other options available for staying in office, and the failure of the Tory-friendly media to use its powers to kill the deal stone dead.

Yes, there were criticisms and some mild mockery, but nothing even close to the hysteria whipped up in 2015 over the hypothetical possibility of an arrangement between Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon. Where was the angry insistence that giving Northern Ireland special treatment as a bribe to the DUP was not just politically unwise, but constitutionally illegitimate? Where, for that matter, was the ugly demonisation of Arlene Foster as “the most dangerous woman in Britain”?

It’s hard not to conclude that the blatant double-standard in the treatment of the DUP and the SNP amounts to more proof of the troubling phenomenon of Jockophobia south of the border. We love you, Scotland, stay with us, and now you’ve done that for pity’s sake go to the back and shut up for the next two hundred years, because we really can’t abide your politicians and their hideous accents.

This anti-Scottish sentiment is no longer confined to the Tory press, it must be noted – there is considerable opinion poll evidence that the public has taken its cue from the media bile. The mild-mannered social democratic SNP has ascended to Trump-style peaks of unpopularity in England, Nicola Sturgeon is loathed, and an overwhelming majority of the English public now quite readily tell pollsters that Scotland should be denied the right to decide its own constitutional future.

The hypocrisy over the DUP deal hasn’t killed the union between England and Scotland, but it’s arguably illustrated why that union is already dead. No marriage can survive indefinitely if one partner feels little more than contempt towards the other.

Davidson sat on her hands

In the shorter term, the Scottish Tory party must be very worried about what the DUP deal means for its own electoral prospects. In the days immediately after the election, Ruth Davidson allowed a narrative to take root that the Scottish Tories were an autonomous entity that would be expected to function as a bloc in Westminster under her direction to ensure the best deal for Scotland. At one point, the political editor of Sky News got completely carried away and described the Scottish Tories as “technically the fourth-largest party” in the Commons (not true), which meant they could expect to have the same sort of clout as the DUP.

Subsequent events have reminded the Scottish electorate that Ms Davidson has in fact based her entire career on absolute subservience to her betters in London. While the DUP were playing hardball to secure £1 billion for Northern Ireland, Ms Davidson sat on her hands, and then explained why Scotland didn’t actually deserve any extra money.

It’s worth remembering that Ms Davidson became leader in 2011 not because of who she was, but because of what she stood against. She was the only viable alternative to the much more experienced Murdo Fraser, who was heretically proposing that the Scottish Tories should become a separate party (one that genuinely would now qualify as “technically the fourth-largest”) and enter into a voluntary alliance with its English and Welsh counterpart, along the lines of the relationship between the Bavarian CSU and the CDU in the remainder of Germany.

If that had happened, there would have been a joint programme for government, hammered out before rather than after the election, and the Scottish Tories would have been able to gleefully point to the goodies they’d won. That would have been a very useful alibi by the time the DUP deal was struck. As it is, they have nothing. Their MPs are being very clearly seen to speak up for Westminster in Scotland, rather than the other way round.

One thing we’ve seen time and again in British politics over recent years, from the success of the grotesque No2AV campaign to the limited recovery of the Scottish Tories, is that a very simple negative message (such as “Say No to Indyref 2”) can pay huge dividends. Even if you don’t have any other policies. The Tory-DUP deal has just helpfully written the SNP’s next batch of election leaflets for them, which will say: “Northern Ireland got £1 billion by voting DUP. The north-east of Scotland and the Borders didn’t get a single penny by voting Tory. To get results for Scotland, you have to vote for a Scottish party.”

There isn’t really an answer to that. The new Tory MPs with the smallest majorities had better just keep their fingers crossed that there isn’t a second election any time soon.

James Kelly's blog, Scot goes POP!, is among the most popular political blogs in the UK. He has also contributed to a number of newspapers and magazines.

You can check out the blog here or follow James on Twitter.

James has also written for us about the tyranny of Theresa Maythe madness of King Trump, the crisis created by the Brexit legal challenge and why Scottish Labour care more about Corbyn than their country.