IT was good to see John Scott, the MSP for Ayr, in the Scottish Parliament for FMQs after a year’s absence. Friendships across parties are becoming rarer, but John and I were at university together. I and many others have been right behind him in his fight against cancer and I now look forward to having a drink with him in the Parliament bar again.

But I hope he won’t mind me saying that there were probably better days for a Scottish Tory to return to politics than Thursday.

Jackson Carlaw’s car-crash farewell performance was memorably bad but at least we now know the reason. He was, perhaps literally, sitting with his resignation in his pocket, having been forced out of office.

The fact that there was what they call in Ireland an organised “heave” against him is now clear.

Moreover that “heave” was instituted by leading members of the UK Tory party with the aim of putting in his place a hard-right Westminster MP who, when he was last an MSP, couldn’t wait to get away from Scotland.

Douglas Ross’s consent to this deceitful sham was probably conveyed to the Prime Minister personally last Friday, as Johnson “just happened” to be in Ross’s Moray constituency.

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The final details were, I suspect, arranged by Michael Gove, who also “just happened” to be in the north of Scotland on Monday and who loves interfering in Scottish democracy. No ordinary Tory MSP or member got a look in. A panicked London Tory establishment called the shots, with the connivance of Ruth Davidson, who within hours was being confirmed as the “stand-in” for Ross when needed.

I have never been a big fan of Carlaw, but he deserved better than to be stabbed in the back by his predecessor and his party’s Westminster grandees.

A humiliating five months at the helm was not enough to judge whether he had the ability to make a difference.

Moreover his initial reaction to the pandemic surprised and even impressed many with its desire to make common cause with the Scottish Government and its willingness to put the national interest before partisan Unionism.

However, this was part of the problem because an increasingly hard-line Tory UK leadership cannot thole compromise or consensus and they clearly pressured Carlaw into more and more strident and stupid condemnation of things that the public supported, including the FM’s public health briefings and the essential scrutiny of incoming infections.

Admittedly, the raw material Carlaw had to hand to help him make these points was also severely defective.

I listened with embarrassed incredulity on Wednesday evening to Brian Whittle, a Tory list MSP, blunder his incoherent way through a radio interview about the daily press briefings.

All Whittle seemed capable of doing was shouting “They’ve got to stop” at the top of his voice whilst bemoaning the lack of Parliamentary scrutiny of the FM – not much of a point to make given that the next day the public would see her on TV answering questions from MSPs for an hour and 18 minutes, a level of accountability unknown elsewhere.

The Tories’ Scottish problems won’t be solved by the political immolation of their leader and his replacement by someone whose sole qualification is that he hates the SNP.

In truth, all that has happened is that the Tories have reached the Johann Lamont/Jim Murphy moment in their decline.

In 2014 Lamont was ousted by her party in much the way Carlaw has been. Murphy was seen as the individual most likely to be the “hammer of the Nats”, and of course there were those who predicted the immediate demise of the SNP.

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The opposite was what happened. Being uncompromisingly hard-faced isn’t electorally attractive. Knowing what you are against but not what you are for doesn’t win elections and seeking to carpetbag into – or in Ross’s case back into – Holyrood doesn’t endear a politician to a voter, particularly in times of economic uncertainty.

In other words, Labour then, and the Tories now, are confusing style with substance and completely miss what their real problem is.

It isn’t just who leads, but what they lead, and where they are leading it to.

Murphy never became an MSP and presided over the near total wipe-out of Labour at the first significant electoral test.

As for Douglas Ross – well even if he gets back to Edinburgh I suspect it will be as the embittered and powerless figurehead of a party controlled from elsewhere and in continuing Scottish decline.