WESTMINSTER is finally waking up to the threat to the Union.

Rumours of the UK Government’s epiphany seem to be borne out by Johnson’s quick-fire visit north of the Border last month. Now, with the sudden ejection of a rather red-faced Jackson Carlaw from the Scots Tory leadership, Ruth “Stick-the-Boot-In” Davidson may need to put her plans for the ermine robe on the back burner as Johnson calls for all hands on deck.

To Scots, it seems incredible that the UK Government are the last to know that we are looking for an escape route. This is despite years of successive Tory administrations playing fast and loose with our democratic wishes during the whole Brexit bourach and now, with their recently published bill on controlling the UK “internal market”, their power grab ambitions for our devolved parliament. This, despite 13 years of electoral success for the SNP at Holyrood.

According to insider sources, this sudden realisation has pitched them into “panic mode”. With all eyes now on the Scottish elections in 2021, the Johnson team are tightening their hold on our free thinking and successful parliament in order to squash any further rebellions by us scurrilous Scots.

READ MORE: Gerry Hassan: Tory troubles and the long-running crisis of Unionism

In an embargoed and rather sneaky press release issued under cover of night by the Tories last month, their attempt to rework the devolution settlement had been decided on without any consultation from the governments on the receiving end. Holyrood has vowed to fight back against this “naked political plot”.

Now the STUC has stepped into the breach, describing Johnson’s power grab as a blatant attempt to “centralise power and promote free market dogma”. But still Johnson ploughs on. The PM’s plans to defenestrate devolution hides a deep pessimism about the future of the UK, according to a recent article by James Forsyth in The Spectator.

The UK Government have seen the successive recent polls which show that support for independence is on the up and are determined to undermine any opportunity for Scots to vote on the matter and exert our democratic choice. They’ve also noticed similar polls on popularity ratings, with our FM outstripping the PM by a country mile.

Number 10 now believes that the best way to avoid Scots successfully achieving a second independence referendum would be for the Scottish Tories to change campaign tack and focus on Scottish domestic issues rather than continue to bang their drum on independence as a threat to the Union.

According to Forsyth, spin doctors and advisers extraordinaire are being drafted in to carefully craft a series of messages that would tickle voters wobbling on the independence fence back to the so-called safe status quo.

For the Tories in Scotland to not talk about independence would require a complete re-programming of their thought processes.

In an ironic twist of political fate, while the global health crisis raged on, it was yesterday’s man Jackson Carlaw and his MSPs that had a severe dose of “mention-itis” when it came to any second opportunity for the Scots to exercise their democratic choice at a referendum. Even with Carlaw now out of the game, without this focus, what have they actually got to say?

Former Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson based her whole leadership on fighting this

issue, to the detriment of any actual policy decisions or hard facts on improving Scottish lives. Whether it is Davidson or perhaps Douglas Ross who steps into Carlaw’s brogues in the run-up to next year’s Scottish elections is anyone’s guess. In the meantime, we still have no actual outline of what a Scottish Tory government would look like if they ever managed the increasingly unlikely and rather gargantuan leap from third place to first at a Holyrood election because they have one issue and one issue only. All we’ve got to go on is their Westminster Government’s track record in power and that is not a pretty sight.

If they want voters to focus on domestic issues, then this road is littered with obstacles of their own making – austerity, four million children living in poverty, Universal Credit, hostile environment, Windrush, the unsavoury list goes on. At least Holyrood has mitigated aspects of what the UN itself has described as the UK Government’s “systematic immiseration” by ending the unreasonable Bedroom Tax, for instance.

AS for the Scottish Tories at Westminster, just look at how they voted in Parliament on the trade bill, swatting away protection for the NHS from control outside the UK as well as food and environmental standards. Although the SNP submitted an amendment to ensure the devolved nations could give their consent to trade regulations within their remit and ensure ongoing parliamentary scrutiny, it was voted down in a tsunami of Tory rejection of democracy and devolution. Let’s see what the Lords now have to say on the matter, with a possible few more Unionist allies in tow.

READ MORE: Andrew Tickell: Is Douglas Ross any more than Ruth Davidson's sock puppet?

Meanwhile, like ducks floating on a loch, there is much frantic paddling going on behind the scenes at Tory HQ. Despite having spent the past 13 years shouting from the rooftops their anti-independence song, the UK Government are of the view that campaigning on stopping indyref2 is a trap. If the SNP win, as they are predicted to do, then they can categorically say that the Scots have chosen the path of independence over Tory Unionism. Game over. Hence the desperate moves to shift our attention.

They must think we are zipped up the back. Brexit, devolution and independence are all inextricably linked by the utter sublimation of Scottish democratic choice. If the spin doctors and special advisers believe we are going to suddenly forget about independence just because the Tories aren’t talking about it, then they haven’t been paying much attention.

Scots value and believe in our devolved parliament, and this belief has been bolstered by the contrast between the Scottish Government’s excellent handling of the Covid-19 crisis as compared to the muddled and downright irresponsible approach from Johnson. Scots can see that we have forged our own path, putting the safety of our citizens before political opportunism.

Such life-and-death matters will be hard to forget come May, especially if we are recovering from a possible second wave of the virus that we all fear. If Johnson continues to take his eye off the ball on the health and safety of the UK as a whole to pursue his Brexit ambitions, then his repeated failures in government will be fresh in the mind of the electorate and whoever takes the crown as Scottish Tory leader will not be able to shake off the weight of this responsibility.

In addition, by May 2021 we will have actually, fully left the EU. The thorny issue of the “internal market” will be well under way, and Scots will be feeling the disastrous effects of Johnson’s not-so-splendid isolation. A Tory campaign strategy that expects voters to be distracted from an opportunity to build a very different and far more progressive future as an independent nation and look the other way from their party’s continued contempt for Scottish democracy will be a hard trick to pull. The damage is already done, and no amount of PR sleight of hand can hide it.