THERE is one line in the current Tory manifesto that made me sit up and take notice. “We need to look at the broader aspects of our constitution: the relationship between the Government, Parliament and the courts; the functioning of the Royal Prerogative; the role of the House of Lords; and access to justice for ordinary people.”

They promise to set up a Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission to examine these things, and no doubt to make far-reaching changes.

As someone who has campaigned for root-and-branch constitutional reform for 20 years, I never thought I’d see the day when the need for profound constitutional change was recognised even by the Conservatives. We live in strange times indeed.

Of course, this is more a cause for alarm than excitement. The sort of change they have in mind is not the sort that I – or other Scottish democrats – would favour.

Neither would I trust for a moment in their intentions. As John Drummond explained in last week’s column, the Tory manifesto is intended to give them a mandate to remake the system of government in their own image and for their own purposes.

After the expenses scandal of 2009, Westminster tried hard to put its own House in order. Efforts were made to reform the internal workings of the House of Commons. A Backbench Business Committee was established, to give backbenchers some role in the setting of the House’s agenda. Committee chairs were elected by the whole House, giving them increased status and legitimacy, to better facilitate the House’s oversight functions.

Even while the unwritten constitution was falling to bits, the House demonstrated an unusual vitality.

Through all the Brexit debates over the last three years, Speaker John Bercow stood as a bright beacon of procedural rectitude, always standing up for the rights of the House of Commons to debate, scrutinise and decide. Say what you like about the House of Commons, but since 2016 no-one could describe it as a rubber stamp.

If the Tories win a majority, all that good work is likely to be undone. A deeply regressive ‘‘authoritarian populist’’ constitutional agenda will be imposed. Expect to see a concentration of power in the hands of the executive and a reactionary assault on parliament, the courts, the civil service, and – of course – the devolved governments.

The unwritten constitution was always an open door to arbitrary power in principle.

It was prevented from being so in practice only be a prevailing sense of self-restraint and fair-play.

Today’s Tories have no respect for those quaint traditional norms. They are engaged in a naked power-grab.

They know that the game is up. Neoliberal economics has failed the vast majority, but done exactly what it was supposed to do in concentrating wealth and power in the hands of the oligarchs.

Climate change threatens our whole civilisation. With the clock running down, they want to smash and grab what they can, while they can.

There is not much left. The railways, even the post office, are long gone. They’ve already put a tight squeeze on councils (in England), resulting in the closure of parks, libraries, swimming baths, and just about everything that once made Britain a reasonably decent society – including everything that made it possible to entertain and educate a child without spending much money. Only the NHS is still on the table, just waiting to be sold off, lot by lot, to American private healthcare companies. It will be brutal.

Once again, we come to the inseparable connection between constitutional politics and the mundane, bread and butter politics of service delivery.

There are people who want to undermine the remaining checks and balances precisely so that they can abuse power in ways that will harm you and your family, while enriching themselves and their friends.

No doubt this will be put forward in the name of “the people”, but it is a travesty of democracy, just as the Tories’ promised Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission is a travesty of constitutional renovation.

Authoritarian populism is to real democracy what prostitution is to real love – a destructive counterfeit.

Real democracy is found in a constitutional order based on the principle of “public government”: a state grounded in public consent, where decisions are reached by public deliberation, where public office is a public trust to be used for public ends, and where those engaged in public life must be the faithful stewards of the public good, for which they are responsible and accountable to the general public.

That is the more excellent way for which we should strive.

Scotland has a great opportunity. If we can articulate a constitutional, democratic, public-orientated transition to independence, then we might not only save ourselves by our exertions, but also England and Wales by our example.

This column welcomes questions from readers