THE chapter in the fabled Tory handbook on dealing with political crises has a simple title: When All Else Fails Blame the Russkies. It’s inspired by a similar sentiment to that deployed by HM Daily Mail when they’re struggling for a splash to put on page one: single mums with tattoos on benefits.

Prior to Jeremy Hunt’s lively intervention at this week’s Conservative Party conference in Birmingham, the most dramatic use of this strategy came in 1983. That was when the comedian Kenny Everett told the party conference: “Let’s bomb Russia.” Everett specialised in creating an assortment of zany characters for his television series but even he would have had to admit defeat in attempting to produce anything as grotesque as the men leading the Tories’ charge out of the EU without anything resembling a deal.

When Everett shouted his startling slogan most people, including some Tories, knew he was only joking (the big rubber hands he was wearing at the time kind of gave the game away). It’s believed that some others, though, started arguing amongst themselves about how many minutes’ warning we should give the Soviets.

On Sunday, Hunt seemed to be perfectly serious. The Foreign Secretary accused Brussels of seeking to punish Britain for wanting to leave the EU and compared its actions to those of the old Soviet Union’s policy of preventing its citizens from leaving the motherland. He can’t have imagined that it would have given any comfort to those Baltic and Eastern European countries whom Theresa May is hoping will back her plans for any future relationship with the EU. Many citizens of these stalwart independent nations were tortured and murdered in Soviet gulags as they resisted forced communist rule. They will not have appreciated their struggle for self-determination being reduced to a convenient anti-EU soundbite to rouse the hard-right mob at a Tory conference.

This wasn’t a throwaway remark made by one of the Tories’ scarecrow faction. A key to this strategy has been apparent in the dribblings of Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson in previous speeches about Brexit. Rees-Mogg has called on the ghosts of Wellington, Nelson and Trafalgar to free the UK from the shackles of the EU currently preventing us from being the dominant force in the world. In 2017, Johnson said: “Napoleon, Hitler, various people tried this out, and it ends tragically. The EU is an attempt to do this by different methods.”

It’s beguiling to dismiss this xenophobic posturing by the Brexit fanatics as the usual appeals that Tories make to the white, working-class vote residing in places like Sunderland and Hartlepool. This is designed to appeal to a sense of lost British greatness and chimes with an undercurrent of resentment underpinned by sentences that end with “... and to think we sacrificed our lives for this lot to save them from the Nazis.”

I think, though, there is something more sinister going on here. As the prospect of a no-deal Brexit becomes more likely so too does the potential for shortages of basic foodstuffs and a life-threatening scarcity of medicines. This in turn will lead to a black market in certain items and millions of dangerous drugs flooding into the country that don’t measure up to stringent British safety standards. The potential for civil unrest on the streets of Britain as jobs disappear and queues form at supermarkets is very real and Hunt, Johnson and Rees-Mogg all know it. What we are seeing now is a prepared strategy to soften up the main Brexit clientele by getting their retaliation in first and naming the main culprits: basically, anyone with a foreign accent and a dodgy-sounding surname. EU nationals working currently working in the NHS and other essential services know this too, which is why many are already making plans to return to their countries of origin no matter what sort of guarantees Theresa May will make about their future status.

Drawing swords in battle to preserve Scotland’s history

I VISITED Culloden Battlefield last Saturday on an assignment for a UK Sunday title based in London. The paper’s newsdesk were keen to learn more about reports they’d heard about the integrity of the site being threatened by a private housing development.

Culloden was the last land battle fought on British soil on April 15, 1746, and was the last stand of the Jacobites in their ill-fated third uprising against the Hanoverian forces of the notorious Duke of Cumberland. Around 1500 of them lost their lives, many in the brutal hand-to-hand fights to the death on these wide, flat marshlands just east of Inverness. Even among the executives of a busy metropolitan newspaper in London the events of Culloden carried some resonance 272 years after the event. There was some disbelief that Scotland, under a nationalist government, would allow something like this to happen to one of its most anointed places.

I don’t have the necessary experience and background to comment on whether the proposed housing development encroaches on to the actual battlefield itself which has flags and stone monuments to mark the places where Bonnie Prince Charlie’s Highland clans fell and where the Hanoverians took up position. Yet even those with patchy knowledge of this battle also know that the killing continued among the fields surrounding the main battlefield as English dragoons hunted down their fleeing enemies. As such, these locations must also be deemed to be war graves.

Unfortunately, Scotland’s planning laws are loaded against local communities and environmental groups who want to protect places like Culloden battlefield. Cash-rich developers can play a long game in appealing decisions made by local authorities, as happened with Culloden, in the knowledge their opponents comprise in the main, enthusiastic amateurs and volunteers who are unfamiliar with the tactics and strategies deployed by major construction conglomerates. Nor can they afford the massive public relations fees paid out by developers to ensure that all means necessary are used to persuade Holyrood ministers and advisers that their plans tick all the usual boxes. Their submissions are replete with a familiar lexicon that uses words and phrases such as “sustainable” and “respect for the environment” and “investment opportunity” and “kick-starting the local economy”.

On October 31 at Holyrood, MSPs will vote on changes to Scotland’s planning laws including ones that will give local communities the right to appeal decisions taken by the Government Reporter. It’s vital that people who value Culloden and its legacy make their feelings known to their local MSP.

A time for questions

SOMETHING called the Festival of Politics starts today at Holyrood. The event website says: “All our speakers share a common need to speak out about issues of political and social importance which is why we are delighted to host the BBC’s flagship political programme Question Time as part of this year’s festival.” Haud me back!

“All our speakers” means “some of the usual suspects”. It is a self-indulgent and boutique gathering of professional politicos who agree to write prefaces for each other’s books and invite each other to address future weekend gatherings of people with ponytails and red corduroys.

There is a reason why most of this event will be held on days when real people are working, looking for work or looking after small children. It’s best avoided and you won’t find anything you can’t get in yer actual daily National.