WE shouldn’t take it too personally when perfidious Tories seek to chisel us. They are rarely slow to eviscerate their own either if they feel their personal interests might be threatened. When a human sacrifice is required in this party the victim is swiftly despatched. Loyalty is for losers.

Margaret Thatcher might have felt that, having delivered three election victories, she was entitled to some leeway when the men in the grey suits began plotting against her in 1990. Instead, she was ruthlessly discarded by her friends and those whom she’d promoted during this period.

In the Brexit era, Boris Johnson spent several years undermining his old Bullingdon Club chum, David Cameron. Not long afterwards, as he was about to announce his own leadership bid, Johnson suddenly pulled out just minutes after his close friend and ally, Michael Gove – his intended running mate – announced his own bid for the top job.

Johnson – bless him – refused to take it personally and made his traitorous friend a cabinet minister after both had combined to give Theresa May the David Cameron treatment. And just to show that treachery, bad faith and back-stabbing has never gone out of fashion in this party, Dominic Cummings, the man who more than any other had helped Johnson become Prime Minister, was jettisoned when Johnson’s third wife told him she didn’t fancy having him around.

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Even before Sue Gray’s report on the Downing Street party scene has been published, it seems that Boris Johnson will not be given the opportunity to defend the title he won in 2019. Labour are currently enjoying the sort of consistent lead in the polls last seen in the Tony Blair era. If Johnson is found to have lied to the House of Commons – as Dominic Cummings has this week claimed – then his chances of continuing much longer as Prime Minister appear now to be numbered in months rather than years.

The Yes movement in Scotland has been enjoying the inner turmoil of the UK Conservatives. It’s been an unexpected and enjoyable extension to the Christmas pantomime season. Even Douglas Ross is having the time of his life. The Scottish Tory leader these last few days is like the unpopular lad at school who gleefully discovers that the new boy in class is a semi-delinquent sociopath whose dad’s a traffic warden. He is basking in the reflected ordure.

Yet, the SNP should be wary of what might lie ahead. Instinctively, they will welcome the prospect of an end to this era of extreme Toryism. If Johnson is made to walk the plank another of his ilk will replace him. There will be no U-turn in the Tories’ one-sided austerity programme and no attempt to mitigate the massive rises in living costs for the bulk of the electorate. Priti Patel’s implacable mission to dehumanise refugees and asylum-seekers will continue. It will remain steadfast in refusing a Section 30 order.

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This, of course, is great news for Scottish independence in the opinion polls. But these only matter if there’s a hard-right Tory in charge at the time of an actual referendum. The loyalties of those traditional Scottish Labour supporters who have lately been persuaded by the case for independence have never been tested when there’s been a Labour occupant of Number 10.

All that’s required of Sir Keir Starmer for the next two years is little more than showing that he’s not Boris Johnson. Nor should it be beyond him to paint any of his mooted successors as being complicit in the malfeasances and seedy duplicities of the Johnson regime. By appealing to patriotism and conceding no territory to the Scottish independence debate Starmer has already safely negotiated the first part of his entrance examination for Downing Street. He will be a well-behaved and compliant Labour prime minister. Which is to say that little of the Tories’ programme of minding the equality gap will be altered.

This presents the SNP with a problem. After more than a decade of extreme Toryism, the mere presence of uncle Keir in Downing Street will see him proclaimed as the saviour of the Labour movement. If he wins in 2024 it would be foolhardy for the SNP to attempt to seek a referendum on Scottish independence within the first two years of his administration. He will continue to oppose Scottish self-determination, but in doing so he will not seem as shrill, entitled or arrogant as Boris Johnson and Michael Gove did while espousing the same.

In some Scottish Labour circles it’s known that Starmer and Gordon Brown have been collaborating on how best to maintain the Union. It’s more or less accepted that some form of devo-max will be a major part of the Labour offering to Scotland in the run-up to the 2024 Westminster election and in the months immediately afterwards. A lot of work is being conducted off-camera by Scottish Unionist organisations – especially those within Labour’s orbit – in readiness for a Keir Starmer administration. They will have a plan of action in place to preserve the Union that will build on the inevitable bounce accompanying a Labour victory in 2024, even at the expense of a few more powers to Holyrood.

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Several Unionist commentators have sought to portray nationalists who recoil from devo-max as fundamentalists. But the fundamentalism of Scottish Unionists in the Labour Party is even more implacable. Devo-max to them has nothing to do with granting more powers to Holyrood and ceding further autonomy to the Scottish people. Strengthening devolution means strengthening the Union. Yet, they are already constructing a narrative that this is a moderate and mature response to the independence campaign when it’s anything but. All that matters to them is that the Union – in any form – is preserved. It’s a psychotic obsession rather than a sincere and rational belief.

In these last few years there’s been little evidence that the SNP are similarly engaged in re-calibrating an independence offering. This, though, doesn’t mean it’s not been happening. I’d be lying to you if I were to claim any intimate knowledge of what’s being planned at the heart of the SNP party machine (although the same could be said for the vast majority of its own MSPs and MPs).

It’s clear though, that the days of simply doing nothing and waiting for Johnson or Gove to utter something unhinged and then lapping up the next few opinion poll numbers are coming to a close.

You sense too that the fair weather window for an independence referendum may also be closing.

We can only hope that Nicola Sturgeon and her leadership team are aware of this too.