I HAVE an exfoliating scrub at the ready for when I finish writing this, so first please understand that I am no defender of Alister Jack. Not for nothing has the Scottish Secretary earned his nickname “Union Jack” during his time serving under the worst prime minister the UK has ever seen. Indeed, he played up to it this summer by infamously telling Deidre Brock MP to “suck it up” when she complained about his government’s underhand manoeuvres.

The multimillionaire is undeniably, unashamedly, entirely out of touch with the needs of the people of Scotland. But was it “tone-deaf” of him to claim utility-bill expenses for his second home? Or does claiming so distract from the much bigger problem of the UK being deserted by the zombie government of which he’s still part, at a time of dire crisis?

Yes, he can easily afford to cover those expenses himself. He’s filthy rich. But he can’t really be accused of insensitivity towards those currently facing sky-high energy costs for having claimed £1310 to cover bills two years ago. Rattling a can for such sums from sitting MPs is not going to fix the current crisis – at best, it would be a symbolic gesture, at worst, it would set a damaging precedent. While of course, the idea of loaded MPs sitting pretty while others starve or freeze to death is absolutely appalling, picking through their expenses to suggest they are fleecing the taxpayer for making legitimate claims achieves nothing except increasing levels of impotent fury among the population.

The National: Not for nothing has the Scottish Secretary earned his nickname 'Union Jack'Not for nothing has the Scottish Secretary earned his nickname 'Union Jack'

This is not the expenses scandal of 2009, with its numerous criminal cases of fraud and outrageous claims for pornographic film-watching, the clearing of a moat, and most infamously the purchase of a floating duck house. The British public are quite right to prick their ears up when they hear the words “MPs’ expenses”, given six politicians went to prison for fiddling them, but directly linking the cost of a parliamentarian’s gas bill from years ago to children going hungry today feels like a reach.

“‘Greedy’ Liz Truss has claimed nearly £5000 in expenses for energy in last five years”, trumpeted another Sunday tabloid this weekend, adding: “Liz Truss claimed for her second home in Thetford, Norfolk where almost 30% of children live in poverty and will get worse when the new Ofgem energy price cap comes into force.” Reporters didn’t have to look far to find local people who were incensed about this, with one asserting: “We’re left to suffer while she lives the high life.”

The mother-of-four who said that has every right to be absolutely furious about the bills she’s facing – and she’s of course not wrong to assert that compared to almost everyone else in the UK, Truss does indeed live the high life (and at our expense, too). But that’s not as a result of claiming for energy bills on her second home. The much more important, troubling part is that she has been appointed to a series of senior political positions despite being of strictly limited ability, and is now walking into the role of prime minister while telling everyone to just wait and see whether she’s willing to bend her rigidly right-wing principles enough to prevent people from needlessly dying in their homes.

Her gas bill is not the problem here; her brass neck is. What she claimed five years ago is of far less importance than what she’s going to announce in the next five weeks, and what kind of plans she’s going to put in place to protect us from a volatile gas market for the next five years.

She should be compelled to reveal her plans now, before her coronation, and those plans need to be ruthlessly analysed. It’s been reported that Rishi Sunak’s team had to abandon the launch of a mocked-up picture book titled Liz Truss’s Fantasy Economy Plan after their candidate flip-flopped on tax cuts. If such a thing really does exist, they’d be as well to let the Tory membership see it, surely?

READ MORE: Unionist politicians in Edinburgh 'crossing picket line', says Scottish Green councillor

The 2009 expenses scandal was a watershed moment, and only the most deluded MP would now think they can get away with defrauding the taxpayer in that way. But if shaming tactics are deployed opportunistically, the risk is that claiming any expenses at all – or perhaps any except travel to and from Westminster – will become seen as a mark of greed. We will all be poorer as a result, as this will leave those of modest means priced out of becoming MPs.

Am I suggesting that Jack and Truss claimed for their gas and electricity bills as a gesture of solidarity with MPs who are less well-off than themselves? Certainly not – but stigmatising the claiming of energy-bill expenses sets us off down a slippery slope and increases our chances of being governed by the wealthy and privileged.

The world of Westminster politics is already off-putting enough for most people, and MPs in Scotland have the greatest need for second homes in order to fulfil their role of holding the Tories to account in London – otherwise, it’s a hellish commute. Let’s keep a sharp focus on what Truss plans to do about our spiralling bills, rather than what hers have totalled in the past.