WHEN Andrew Dunlop was merely a bright-eyed, bushy tailed young Tory hopeful, (there’s an oxymoron in there somewhere), he went to work in the Conservative Research Department and later as a Downing Street advisor to Margaret Thatcher.

Alongside him on that journey into ­spaddom was another eager, silver tongued lad, name of David Cameron. Their paths would cross many more times, as we shall see.

At the time of the 2014 referendum ­Andrew had re-emerged as David’s little helpmeet. By then Cameron himself had the top job and he tasked his old mate with telling the Jocks what a splendid future they would have in the Union, and how they weren’t quite up to managing their own ­affairs.

As he later explained in an interview for the Institute For Government (IfG), the strategy was to “build up the credibility and legitimacy of the process by having an agreed way of running the Referendum. It has ­allowed the current PM, to refuse to hold a second one.” The current PM at the time was the sainted Theresa, but, as we have learned, Boris is happy to adopt the same playbook.

We may all have our own notions as to the how and the when of indyref2, but it’s fair to say we shouldn’t have either determined by the Tory party. Most especially not the unelected variety.

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Should you wonder how this chap, for whom nobody has ever voted, wound up as a minister in the Scotland Office, ­ponder no more. By May 2015 he had followed a ­depressingly well trodden path and was given a peerage with which to pursue his portfolio. A sort of Better Together ­distinguished service order.

Thus was Baron Dunlop back on the Scotland beat. He seemed surprised, in that same IfG interview, that the process of ennoblement took a whole week, and that he had to answer a question or two to some committee or other. He’d imagined if the PM tapped you up it was instantly job done. As it more or less is.

But the never elected Lord Dunlop was not finished with peersplaining to Scotland where her best interests lay. If the Conservatives did irony they might have reflected that Independence Day in 2019 was not the obvious date on which to launch our ­Andrew at another new venture devoted to saving the Union.

On July 4, May announced that a swift and focused report would be prepared by Lord D “to consider whether the government structures are configured in such a way as to strengthen the validity of the Union and to recommend changes where appropriate.” He was to have this work done and dusted by that autumn.

The National:

Interestingly, one of the accompanying strictures was that the report would “need to respect and support the current devolution settlements”. And isn’t that going awfully well? Curiously this report, prepared on time, has yet to see the light of day, although its publication has been much promised and much postponed.

From time to time little clues emerge such as the notion of having a very, very senior member of cabinet looking after the health of “our precious Union”. ­(Incidentally that much uttered piece of pejorative nonsense always reminds me of “our special relationship” when intoned vis-a-vis America. They know, and we know, that no such special bond exists outside of some fevered UK imaginings, but it has become, like the preciousness of the Union, a myth that nobody in Westminster feels inclined to bust.)

The report, we learn, has no fewer than 40 recommendations and I suspect many of them are already in train. Since ­another stricture was to ensure the ­Secretaries of State in the devolved administrations had more territorial visibility we can assume these massive new palaces for ­yesterday’s men might have been in the Dunlop ­suggestion box.

And they have lots and lots of space for folk formerly working in London which would conform to Dunlop’s stated ­belief that they shouldn’t all be clustering in Whitehall as shouldn’t the assorted ­policy units.

It may be that publication of this tome has been delayed as it will be difficult to square “respecting and supporting the current devolution settlements”, with the naked power grab contained within the Internal Market ambitions of little Gove. We know that the good Lord Dunlop has also evinced the thought that plans made for the nations and regions need to be “more of a joint endeavour”.

The National:

Pause here for hollow laughter, should you feel the need. What we do know is that any “government structures” ­notionally devoted to joint endeavours, like the Joint Ministerial Council, have been ­characterised by a series of UK ­ministers, Prime and otherwise, giving joint planning a very large body swerve.

Ditto the Brexit negotiations, the net result of which has been to shaft many ­indigenous Scottish industries, not least the fishing and seafood variety. And, at absolutely no extra charge, being alarmingly cavalier about protecting the Good Friday agreement in Northern Ireland.

STEP forward into the limelight once more, the architect of that two minutes to midnight, hand knitted “deal”. David Frost is another of these lucky chaps who seems to rise without any electoral trace.

He too was parachuted into the House of Lords, and, as of this month, is now back on Brexit parade – looking after relations with the EU. Genius. The man who trashed our trade with Europe now has, from the House of Lords, a cabinet level post to try and salvage some of it. The party line was that this was to ensure “continuity”. Aye right. If continuing to cause chaos is your bag.

Outside of the havoc some of these hired, unelected guns can wreak, there is also a huge democratic deficit in play. We’ve seen it in spades during the ­pandemic when contract after contract went to pals or donors of Conservative ministers. No tendering, often no track record. The courts have not been amused!.

“Now is not the time” is the mantra of prime ministers present and past re the referendum. But the same cliche is deployed week by week when questions are asked about the billions of taxpayers money thrown at “world beating” pandemic projects which turn out to be world beating wastes of space.

We heard from Dominic Cummings’ own lips last week that when he too was a PM’s spad, and had the boss’ daily ear, it could just be that civil servants interpreted suggestions as instructions. I’ll just bet they did.

A public inquiry has been promised in Scotland to investigate any mistakes made, most especially in the early days, when trying to cope with Covid-19. Whatever else it uncovers, I doubt it will turn up evidence of shedloads of dosh thrown at dodgy outfits run by pals.

Back at the No10 ranch, I predict that we will never quite know what their ­Union Directorate is up to. (And judging by the second departure in as many weeks, they’re a bit hazy on the agenda front themselves.)

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The tip of the iceberg is all about dreaming up fancy dan infrastructure projects branded with a union flag and serially boasted as proof positive that Scotland couldn’t possibly do anything so big and grand on its wee own.

And it’s a useful enough tactic. While we’re all chuckling along at the thought of Borris burrowing his way to Belfast, we’re not paying attention to the other nine tenths of what is happening.

The trolling on and off social media. The planted articles. The words in the ears of selective media. Though, of course, in some cases there’s no need for subterfuge. Some diehard Unionist will be ­happy to do their dirty work for them.

Who knows? There may be a peerage in it.