YOU can always tell when the Scottish Conservatives know that they are in trouble because they attempt to deflect with loud, raucous, and boorish behaviour in the Holyrood chamber. Today at FMQs the Tory contingent was especially badly behaved, resulting in the Presiding Officer having to intervene on a number of occasions to insist on quiet in the chamber so that the First Minister's responses could be heard. It was only to be expected, as the Conservatives are in very deep trouble indeed. 

It's more than just the fact that Douglas Ross has called the British Prime Minister and leader of the Conservatives unfit for office and speculation about Boris Johnson's future continues to rumble on while Johnson has made it clear that he has no intention of resigning and will have to be forced out of office in a messy and damaging leadership contest.

It is also a growing cost of living crisis which the Conservatives have exacerbated by removing the £20 per week uplift in Universal Credit and an increase in National Insurance which will fall most heavily on the low paid. Additionally the British Government's flagship "levelling up" programme has been announced and has landed with a resounding "meh", and two years on from Brexit we have yet to see any of the much-heralded benefits it was supposed to deliver.

READ MORE: 'The Tories are nervous': Nicola Sturgeon enters independence pensions row

Aware that just about any question he asked could be easily rebutted by Nicola Sturgeon and rebound as an attack on Ross's already shoogly peg, the Scottish Tory leader - at least the leader for now - decided to ask a frankly bizarre question about cutting the bottoms off doors in Scottish schools, as though this was the sum total of the Scottish Government's measures to improve ventilation in schools in order to help to reduce the risk of Covid transmission.

Not to be outdone in the inanity stakes, Murdo Fraser decided to ask if it was now Scottish Government policy that state pensions in an independent Scotland should be paid by "English taxpayers".

As Murdo knows full well, or at least ought to know, Scottish pensioners are entitled to a British state pension because they have paid National Insurance to the British state throughout their working lives. That would be the National Insurance that Murdo's bosses in London have decided to raise. The right to a UK state pension is not contingent on a pensioner continuing to reside in the United Kingdom.

READ MORE: FMQs sketch: Nicola Sturgeon chops Douglas Ross down to size

Is Murdo actually suggesting that in the event of Scottish independence the British Government will in effect pocket the National Insurance contributions of Scottish taxpayers and refuse to pay out the pensions that National Insurance is supposed to fund? 

The real question here is this: is the British Government actually threatening to steal money paid in over the years by Scottish taxpayers towards their meagre UK state pensions if they do not vote in a way that is to the liking of the Conservative Party? If extortion with menaces is really what passes for a case against independence these days then the Union is already dead. We can only conclude from this episode that the Scottish Conservatives are every bit as deceitful, dishonest, and shabby as their Westminster masters.

Of course in the real world pensions will continue to be paid and pension liabilities will be amongst the topics discussed in independence negotiations when London and Edinburgh apportion the division of debts and assets. Back in 2014 the British Government confirmed that people with "accumulated rights" to a UK pension would still receive their pension in an independent Scotland, just as British pensioners who move abroad continue to receive their UK state pensions.

This piece is an extract from today’s REAL Scottish Politics newsletter, which is emailed out at 7pm every weekday with a round-up of the day's top stories and exclusive analysis from the Wee Ginger Dug.

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