The National:

TORIES do lots of things, but subtlety escapes them. The game plan for the PM’s colonial visit to his northern fiefdom had its origins in the last Tory conference in Aberdeen. Michael Gove told his troops that the next big wheeze would be to shower the Scottish natives with a few more beads, the better to quell their restlessness.

So, said Mr Gove, it was time to get more gratitude sent to Westminster, from which all milk and honey flows. Hereinafter, he said, any apparent largesse dispensed by the Treasury would be sprinkled around tartan targets whether or not they related to devolved matters. And it would be ever more visibly badged with the Union flag.

Not only is this tactic being increasingly deployed – especially since the polling began to suggest the natives were not just twitchy but heading for the UK exits – but it was nakedly used in the run up to Boris Johnson’s brief sojourn.

This is a not so dry run for the next Scottish election campaign and, if necessary, the next referendum. So the Prime Minister came among us and explained, as to children, that all those Covid threatened jobs couldn’t have been saved without the broad Unionist shoulders of the UK Treasury. A topical variation on the too wee, too poor theme.

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Obviously he couldn’t convey this message in central Scotland, where the warmth of his welcome would be altogether too hot to handle. So instead he first flew into the Northern Isles where, thankfully, there aren’t too many Jocks to the pound. But there are fisherfolks, around whom he is happy to be seen and filmed.

Now the rules for politicians in front of cameras are quite explicit. They can be summed up handily in the exhortation never to look more of a wally than you need. In fairness, sometimes wallydom is inescapable. Like when you’re in a food environment and have to don one of these hairnets that went out with Ena Sharples.

Boris Johnson was clearly out of the office the day that memo came round. (No change there, then). Because he is the poster boy for the Ministry of Silly Props. There were those memorable Olympic shots of him in hard hat and harness stuck on a zip wire clutching two union flags and doubtless fearful that the crown jewels were being crushed. (There would appear to be not a few witnesses that part of his anatomy continues to function.)

However, his state visit, or as twitter wags had it, his farewell tour, provided the caption writers with more fun than they’d had in a while. Shepherded in front of a catch, he was persuaded to/insisted on being snapped clutching two mammoth crabs. Supply your own tasteless line here.

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The message he hammered home, and most of the broadcasters were happy to reprise, was that the pandemic had proved the super strength of the most successful union ever devised. A message somewhat diluted by the First Minister suggesting mixing pandemics and politics was too crass for grown up leaders.

More pertinently, as a welly clad Johnson was at the harbourside, the ever suave Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, was in London telling the media one of the two major sticking points to a trade deal was the UK not budging on fishing quotas.

Of course the PM wouldn’t dream of selling out those Brexit voting boat owners. Look how he promised the Northern Irish there would be no border checks and no tariffs! His word is his, er, bond. Aye right, Boris. Tell it to the crabs.

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