I CAN only assume the intellectual life of a Scottish Tory politician is a strangely disorientating one. Last week, the opposition party accused Nicola Sturgeon of “galivanting across Europe whilst local communities face piles of rubbish on their streets because of years of SNP cuts”. The implication is that the First Minister should stay home and muscle in on local government pay disputes.

I think we’re meant to ignore the fact this is the party who championed a decade of austerity – who once boasted their cuts to UK public spending showed they were the party of sound money and sober financial management.

Creating – and then taking credit for ­fixing – social problems is a Tory party ­special. First, adopt economic policies guaranteed to level down public spending, then claim you’re in the business of levelling up living standards and investing more in communities. As political escape artistry goes, you can only wonder at their flexibility.

And the “galivanting”? The First ­Minister opened a new Scottish ­innovation and ­investment hub in Copenhagen last week and took the opportunity to meet the ­Danish foreign minister. Like the ­existing networks of hubs in Beijing, Berlin­, ­Brussels, London, Dublin, Ottawa, Paris and Washington DC, the Copenhagen ­presence aims to promote Scottish industry across the whole Nordic region.

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According to Scottish Government ­figures, inward investment from Denmark, Norway and Sweden “puts the Nordic ­region in the top five of inward investment sources for Scotland”, and “three of the top 20 destinations” for Scottish exports. This is worth a cool £2.6 billion in goods and ­services exported to these countries by Scottish businesses.

This is the kind of scheme which you might think outward-looking and enterprise-minded politicians could support – but the cringe is so profound with the Scottish Tories, all they can see is ­para-diplomacy, independence manoeuvres and a devolved administration and a leader once against getting above their station. The First ­Minister lives rent free, 24 hours a day, in these people’s heads. It’s unhinged.

By contrast, beach scenes from the Med seem to have a remarkably calming effect on the average Tory legislator. The vision of our dead duck Prime Minister – snoozing through his days in the garden at Chequers, engaging in man-child military cosplay with the RAF, or lying recumbent on the shores of Greece, curdling in the sunshine – has not prompted the same ire from these easily-triggered souls. Funny that. Compared to a bucket and spade holiday with red boxers and no red boxes, taking an official trip to promote the people’s business with important trading partners seems like a politician doing their job to me.

And as Scotland’s cities experience the effects of industrial disharmony, it is just as well that the rest of the United Kingdom is a valley of peace with no ­intractable structural challenges which its government might usefully spend its time on this summer, as the UK Government drifts through its interminable leadership election – hapless and rudderless as the energy crisis intensifies.

But Sturgeon went to Copenhagen for a day or two. Forget your gas and electric bill. Forget your worries about budgeting for a cold winter. Feel the fury. Synthetic outrage is a psychoactive substance. Good for escapism, perhaps, but essentially a recreational drug. This blue pill dynamic is felt across Scottish politics – and it is stupid and exhausting.

For example, Tory MSPs and the ­madder ends of the unionist media are obsessed with Scottish ministerial travel, but have not a peep to say about the ­ordinary and extraordinary running costs of the UK Government.

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Last week, one tabloid splashed on “new shock figures” which revealed the Scottish Government had spent “a ­massive £956,858 on maintenance, fuel and staff costs” running 28 official cars last year. The Express was notably more relaxed when, earlier this year, Liz Truss spent £500,000 in a single five-day trip by chartering a private jet to Australia. A little consistency is all I ask. Feeding the beast always takes priority over anything like a coherent world-view, where you hold your allies and your opponents to the same standards in public life.

This isn’t the only incoherence at play here. The screamer headlines and ­opposition talking points have done their weather best to persuade the ­public last week that Nicola Sturgeon is ­principally to blame for the strikes ­affecting ­cleansing services in Edinburgh and beyond. It ­underscores just how far disjointed ­partisan thinking continues to ­characterise the relationship between ­national and local governments.

Take the Tory local government ­spokesman Miles Briggs. He said “Nicola Sturgeon and John Swinney need to get a grip of the situation and get back round the table to resolve this dispute.” Briggs is backing the doomed Rishi Sunak in the ongoing Conservative leadership scrap, who recently characterised striking workers as “militant unions holding hardworking people to ransom”.

It isn’t obvious from the Scottish Tory statements whether or not they support the local government pay claims his party colleagues have consistently voted against.

SO as Briggs crouched down beside the accumulated detritus of a week at the ­Edinburgh Fringe, with his little sign and his photographer, what precisely does he mean when he demands that First Minister “get a grip” of the crisis? This is the same Miles Briggs, who in recent months has issued a constant stream of press releases, accusing the SNP of centralising power, “stripping powers away from local councils”, and “overruling councils on the things they still control”.

Is localism good? Is centralisation bad? Should we allow local authorities to take their own choices, or aim for ­national standards? Is a post-code lottery in ­services an example of subsidiarity ­working, or proof of inequality? Is it the role of the Labour-led and Tory-backed council administration in Edinburgh to sort out its industrial relations with its ­employees, or should the Cabinet ­Secretary for Finance and First Minister breenge in and settle the matter for them?

All of the above – and none of it – seems the answer. You find the same MSP ­demanding more centralisation and ­ministerial control one week, and in the next breath, denouncing the accumulation of power in St Andrew’s House.

You can’t insist that the Scottish Government leave local authorities to make their decisions locally, and then insist the First Minister is to blame for every local dispute which arises as a result of those decisions. But this is precisely the modus operandi of political opportunists like Briggs, who assumes – perhaps correctly – that the Scottish public’s head buttons up the back, and that they won’t notice the discrepancies between what they’re demanding from one day to the next.

Perversely, the net effect of this partisan incoherence is an impulse towards centralisation, despite protests from the LibDems and the Conservatives that localism is at the heart of their idea of good local government. Because if politicians are going to be blamed whether or not they’re responsible for things, you can expect them to favour policies which give them greater opportunity of shaping outcomes they’re inevitably going to be blamed for, whether or not they make the decisions.

These kinds of arguments aren’t limited to Conservative politicians. Last week, the SNP leader suggested that nationalising energy companies to keep bills down during the cost of living crisis should not be ruled out.

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One Labour MSP asked “what’s stopping her?”. You’ll find the technical answer in Schedule 5 of the Scotland Act. Sweeping reservations continue to apply to energy policy, as this ­Labour MSP must know – or ought to know.

There’s nothing radical about demanding impossible action. You’re not holding a government to account by insisting it do things the law says it cannot do. It is a weary Scottish Labour cliché, that they’re interested in “bread and butter policies – not constitutional debate”. But this is a fine example of how closely the two are aligned. Constitutional rules aren’t arid and technical. They decide who has the power to decide – be it the UK, Scottish or local governments.

Scotland and the UK face huge challenges from Covid recovery to the cost of living, energy policy, and competing demands about how best to fund local and national priorities. Politicians should rise to the moment, spare us the partisan ­theatrics, and for once – get serious.