The National:

THE thing about dog whistles is that only the dogs are meant to hear them. But when it comes to their political equivalent, the use of particular words and phrases to play to a particular crowd quickly becomes acutely obvious to anyone who’s paying attention.

Criticising opponents for being “anti-family”, or undermining “family values”, is one of those phrases. Everybody likes families (at least in the hypothetical), so of course there is nothing explicitly offensive in defending them. But if you’re in the slightest bit familiar with the recent history of “social conservatism”, you’ll know precisely what those on the, shall we say, higher frequency are supposed to glean from those words.

This language has commonly been used by the right wing to signify its opposition to same-sex marriage and adoption, and its commitment to preserving the traditional nuclear family.

READ MORE: SNP MSP launches blistering takedown of Douglas Ross 'anti-families' comment

It has also been deployed in attacks against women’s rights by those who would see upholding conventional gender roles as essential to the protection of a very specific vision of “family life” and its role in maintaining capitalist, patriarchal structures. Attacks which are typically launched by exactly the sorts of people who think being a “childless woman” (you know, like the First Minister and the new co-leader of the Greens, Lorna Slater) is a signifier of moral bankruptcy.

This is why so many people reacted with disgust and dismay when Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross tweeted on Friday morning: “The SNP-Green government will be anti-jobs, anti-business, anti-families, anti-drivers, anti-oil and gas.”

At a time when LGBT people, and the policies, proposals and organisations intended to support them, are facing a period of sustained and coordinated backlash, the phrase “anti-families” seemed opportunistically designed to appeal to an increasingly vocal, reactionary subsection of the population. A sad development indeed, just months after the party’s first gay leader (who, incidentally, has her own family) left parliament.

A Scottish Conservatives spokesperson has claimed it is “100% wrong to suggest this comment was about LGBT families” and that, instead, it was about the “SNP-Green coalition hammering hard-working families”.

If we suspend our disbelief and accept that Douglas Ross, leader of the opposition and the only Scottish party unashamedly on the right, is truly oblivious as to the implications of the words “anti-families” and their potential potency at this specific moment in time, I’m not sure that’s any more encouraging than the alternative.

It begs the question, if Douglas Ross is that clueless about this, what else is he mind-blowingly ignorant about?

Perhaps Ross is also unaware of the fact that his own party has introduced policies at Westminster which have caused untold harm to families during its 11 years in power.

Maybe he really has no idea that the Conservative government cut support to larger families by setting a “two-child limit” in Universal Credit and tax credits, pushing over 175,000 children into poverty and driving up the abortion rate.

I suppose it’s possible Ross has never even heard of the “rape clause”, which allows a special exception to the above rule if women fill in a form revealing that their third child was conceived without their consent.

The National: Leader of the Scottish Conservatives Douglas Ross before the election of the new Deputy Presiding Officer at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh. Picture date: Friday May 14, 2021. PA Photo. See PA story POLITICS Scotland. Photo credit should read: Andy

It’s not at all out of the question, given Douglas Ross’s avowed complete and utter detachment from current events and the English language, that he may not know that there’s a little thing called the “benefit cap” and that 85% of households affected are families with children.

Considering all of this, it almost goes without saying that he can’t have a clue that parents under 25 had their benefits cut under Universal Credit because of a decision to stop classifying them as adults.

And to all those unaccompanied children fleeing war and persecution who have been separated from their parents and siblings because the UK Government won’t allow them to be reunited here, deepest apologies on behalf of Douglas Ross, who probably doesn’t even know what day it is.

Talk about being “anti-families”. The Conservatives are happy to watch families be torn apart and struggle to provide for their children, with consequences that will reverberate for decades.

But then, none of this is ever what Tories mean when they talk about protecting families, is it? We all know that. Why doesn’t Douglas Ross?