WITH little positive to say the other day, the Secretary of State for Scotland decided to use the old “squirrel” debating trick. That’s when you unilaterally reinterpret the subject for debate and try to throw everyone off the scent that you don’t actually have anything of substance to communicate.

Alister Jack was giving evidence to the Scottish Parliament when he told aghast MSPs that “bridge” is a euphemism for “tunnel”, when understanding a promise by Prime Minister Boris Johnson to link Scotland to Northern Ireland. It was the kind of half-baked and scarcely credible nonsense we have come used to from the political showman PM BoJo and his acolytes.

It’s the same distraction as hanging about on a zipwire energetically flying Union flags, and hoping that nobody notices the disaster of Brexit or the broken promises to London as mayor.

Bread and circuses is what we have come used to from Boris Johnson, who has a long track record of follies proposed in the glare of publicity, only then to move on to the next wheeze before people question the delivery.

Infamously there is his very own bridge proposal for London, a garden-bedecked crossing that nobody actually needed and cost £43 million in sunk public outgoings before it was cancelled.

Then there was the fiasco of the new buses for London; or the cable car across the river Thames; or the oversize viewing platform at the Olympics; or rebuilding Crystal Palace as a shopping mall; or an airport on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent.

As the architect and writer Douglas Murphy noted: “Announcing spectacular projects satisfies Johnson’s vanity, indulges his sense of importance, and reinforces an image of him as a man of action, not to mention drawing attention away from less optimistic subjects deserving of political scrutiny, such as future trade deals.”

He may continue to fail, as recently when he struggled in vain to get the public to “bung a bob for a Big Ben bong” in celebration of Brexit, but it looks depressingly as though Boris the Builder is back again. Pretty much everyone in Scotland knows that a bridge to Northern Ireland is a non-starter, because of the physical and cost challenges as well as the large problem of one million tonnes of munitions dumped in Beaufort’s Dyke, the 32-mile-long subsea depression that runs through the North Channel to a depth of 1000 feet. As explosive ordinance advisers said on a previous occasion when a bridge was suggested: “Any intrusive works such as piling associated with the construction of bridges would pose an unacceptable level of risk.”

READ MORE: Boris Johnson's government urged to ditch Scotland-NI tunnel plan

Perhaps because Alister Jack knows the bridge is another BoJo folly, he had to come up with his tunnel alternative, which one presumes will have to be dug so deep as to pass well underneath the unexploded artillery rockets filled with phosgene, antitank munitions and other military explosives.

So confident was he that he couldn’t give any convincing details about the scheme beyond his desire for the crossing to start as a bridge, then proceeding under the sea in a 22-mile tunnel before the final section carried by a bridge again.

He reassured few of the MSPs by saying: “Once we get better

sight of the costs involved, should the Prime Minister decide to press the button, we would then want to engage with both [the Northern Ireland assembly and the Scottish parliament] to get a better understanding of the benefits and the challenges.”

With no answer yet to a request from the Scottish Government for the rationale of the project, or any costings, potential supporters in principle of a direct link to Northern Ireland – such as me – will see it all as totally far-fetched. For the party of austerity to prioritise what seems like another building vanity project, you really have to ask yourself whether it is the best use of scores of billions of pounds.

This proposal, after all comes from a Tory politician whose grasp of the facts in general seems so underwhelming as to call its veracity into question.

During the same evidence session to the Scottish Parliament, Alister Jack also repeated the worst tropes by suggesting that EU migrants had come to this country “on the basis that they get access to our NHS and our benefits system”, and that all we need is some optimism to make a success of Brexit.

If this nonsense is the best that the Tories can come up with they really are in big trouble. Having lost half of their Westminster seats last December and now led by a double act of Alister Jack and Jackson Carlaw, they can look forward to losses in the next Scottish Parliament elections, and they deserve it.