WHEN I was at uni, moving in broad left circles, the problem wasn’t the Tories. The real nuisance was the Trotskyists. Thanks to the ultra-left, no political meeting ended on time. These comrades could split hairs and pick nits till the cows came home. IMG, IS, SWP, WRP, RCP – Trotskyist parties made more noise than their numbers warranted.

None of us stays in the political berth we occupied in our youth. Conventionally, we drift starboard. But there’s a particularly well-sailed crossing of ex-Trotskyists from extreme left to far right. Figures like Claire Fox, leader of the Revolutionary Communist Party. She published Living Marxism, but later morphed into a Brexit party MEP and Baroness Fox of Buckley.

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Now, there’s a former Trotskyist, ex-RCPer at the very heart of the UK Government. In 2019, Boris Johnson appointed Munira Mirza as director of the Number 10 Policy Unit.

In a previous letter to the National I suggested Boris’s clueless blustering was no match for a smart indy movement. Yet, though they still lack a clear response to Scotland, that doesn’t mean the Tories don’t have a bigger plan. Recently, we’ve seen more evidence of it – and it’s not a Priti sight.

A slew of new bills – police, crime, sentencing and courts; nationality and borders and secrecy – are being introduced to severely curtail people’s rights to protest (even if a demo is just annoying), to come into Britain as a refugee or to disclose facts that might embarrass the government.

OK, most of these proposals are not directly applicable to Scotland. But they’re coming for us too: the UK Internal Market Bill (which breaks international law, but only in a specific, limited way) confirms Johnson’s view of devolution as a disaster and overrules the Scottish Parliament.

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Meanwhile, Boris and pals tease out dog-whistle remarks in their war on woke. Beat crime with hi-vis chain gangs; bring back stop-and-search (a kind, loving thing to do, bumbles the blonde buffer) and blame students for cancel culture.

Boris blunders on, but behind him there’s a sinister, concerted effort to legislate away vital freedoms, while undermining compassion and understanding.

Labour said things can only get better. Under the Tories, they can only get worse. For many, the situation is already dire. 14 million people are in poverty, one in every five. The number claiming Universal Credit has doubled from three million to six million.

Having slashed benefits and tax credits and declared sick people fit for work, the Tories are cutting Universal Credit by £20 a week. It’s the largest single cut to social security since the Second World War, says the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Another time and place and this lot wouldn’t be in power; they’d be in jail.

When the furlough scheme dries up this month, unemployment will rise. Almost everyone’s in debt, especially the government. UK debt is 100% of GDP and rising, with Santa Sunak planning billions of public spending cuts.

Empty shelves, hospitals under strain and more homelessness. Everywhere you look – mental health, social care, half-full schools and more food banks – the cracks in the UK’s social fabric are widening.

But there is scope – and hope – for a fight back. There are vast areas of society where the Tories are vulnerable. Save profits for their pals, they’ve no real interest in the public sphere – civic activities that exist for the common good.

Across the world, what do autocratic regimes fear most? Public demonstrations and protest. People power.

Remember the fright they got, exactly seven years ago, when they thought Yes were winning? Is Scottish independence the cause to spur the battle against the Tories? If the grassroots campaign picks up momentum again, it could be formidable.

We’d better get on with it!

Paul Bassett