THE triumphalism of the Conservative Party conference in Manchester – with Boris Johnson enjoying a crushing majority in the Commons; with no challenger to his position as party leader even on the horizon; and, despite the shortages and empty shelves exacerbated by Brexit, still maintaining a polling lead over a hapless and divided Labour Party – disguised a profound weakness which is likely to prove Johnson’s undoing.

The Conservatives love power above all else. Johnson has delivered for them, giving the party its largest majority since Thatcher. His recent ruthless Cabinet reshuffle was designed to bolster his position even further, promoting talentless political hacks such as the publicity chasing Nadine Dorries whose sole qualification for a post appears to be her unswerving loyalty to Johnson and her willingness to outdo even Priti Patel in the nastiness stakes.

For all that the Conservatives currently appear unchallenged as the dominant party in UK politics, this has been achieved by repositioning the Tories as a party of a hard line, uncompromising Brexit. They have abandoned the traditional paternalistic Unionism of the past in favour of a so-called muscular Unionism which is deeply centralising and which has no respect for Scottish or Welsh sensibilities or the devolution settlement and which is indistinguishable from English nationalism even as it wraps itself in an increasingly fetishised Union Flag. As they celebrate in Manchester, it will be the Conservatives’ English nationalist hubris which will prove to be their eventual undoing.

There will be challenges ahead in the coming winter which will certainly go a long way to stripping the Conservatives of their smugness, although not their Scottish MP Andrew Bowie, for whom smugness represents the totality of his personality.

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The vaccination programme is stalling just as the normal winter rise in respiratory disease starts to get under way. Experts warn the UK is not out of the worst of the pandemic just yet, and these challenges are compounded by the own goal of fuel and food shortages which have been exacerbated by the British Government’s failure to plan properly for the inevitable labour shortages created by Brexit and the immense strains this has caused on the UK’s relationships with its European neighbours.

Aided by a sympathetic media, the Conservatives have tried to deny these problems are anything to do with Brexit and are entirely due to the pandemic. But it is an inescapable fact that at the very worst moment in history, the British Government made an ideologically and party politically-driven decision – a decision which arose from the Conservatives’ adoption of an aggressive right-wing English nationalism – to shrink the UK’s potential pool of labour and abandon a smooth and friction-free system of trading with the UK’s closest neighbours and largest markets for a costly and bureaucratic system characterised by delays, expense, and considerable paperwork.

But hey, blue passports and imperial measurements.

However, it is Scotland which is Johnson’s Achilles’ heel. Not only have the Conservatives failed to dominate the political landscape here in the way they have in England, but the means they have chosen to achieve that dominance in England fatally undermines them in Scotland, and that in turn holes any future Better Together MK II campaign below the water line before it is even launched.

Gavin Barwell, the Conservative peer and former chief of staff to Theresa May, has admitted that the current Scottish Government has a “cast-iron” mandate for another independence referendum. A total of 72 of the seats in Holyrood were won by candidates from the SNP or the Scottish Greens, standing on a clear and unequivocal platform for a second referendum.

The Labour, Conservative and LibDem candidates stood on a platform of opposition to another referendum but despite a well-organised and co-ordinated anti-independence tactical voting campaign they failed to come close to depriving the pro-independence and pro-referendum parties of a convincing majority.

Johnson’s Scottish problems, which Anglo-centric commentators south of the Border largely overlook, are twofold. First of all, his government has failed to come up with some sort of argument for denying Scotland the second independence referendum for which there is an unarguable democratic mandate that will not backfire and end up boosting support for independence. This is why The Times newspaper recently reported that UK ministers have been instructed not to talk about Scottish independence or the Scottish constitutional issue.

This is because no such argument exists. If one did exist we’d have heard about it by now. Any reason Johnson gives for refusing another referendum merely informs Scotland that the democratic choices of the Scottish electorate will not be respected in the UK. And if Scotland cannot be a democracy within the UK, then what is the point of

the UK? Johnson can only resist another referendum by destroying the basis of traditional Scottish Unionism, the understanding that Scotland is a member of a voluntary union, a union which it entered voluntarily and which it has the right to leave should it ever choose to do so. The UK Government seeks to replace this with a conception of a union founded upon compulsion in which it doesn’t matter what Scotland chooses.

By making such a fundamental change to the nature of the Union, and moreover by doing so unilaterally and without even the pretence of consultation with the people of Scotland, Johnson risks putting rocket boosters under the case for independence.

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Johnson’s second Scottish problem arises when the second independence referendum campaign officially gets under way, as it most certainly will at some point during this Scottish parliamentary term.

This is a Conservative Government which has spent the past few years imposing an English nationalist Brexit on an unwilling Scotland – without taking into account the needs or wants of Scotland – and which has sidelined the Scottish Government every step along the way . It has been trying to thwart the clear democratic will of the Scottish electorate, and has unilaterally undermined the devolution settlement.

This means it has no clear and convincing narrative to tell the people of Scotland during the next referendum campaign. No-one will believe any promises of UK reform or of stronger devolution. No-one will put any credence in claims Scotland will be respected in the UK or have an influential role in shaping British government policy.

The English nationalism upon which the triumphalism of the Conservatives in Manchester rests is also the fatal weakness which will lose the Conservatives the next Scottish independence referendum and lead to Boris Johnson going down in history as the man whose English nationalist arrogance led to the break-up of the UK.