We got a harsh lesson in the Scottish Conservative press office after Dominic Cummings was rumbled for making a lockdown-defying trip to Durham.
The scandal was reported over a weekend in May 2020, and by the Sunday evening the party in Scotland was under serious pressure for a response.
It was obvious wasn’t it? Call for the guy to be sacked or to resign.
His behaviour was totally unacceptable at a time when people were banned from being with their loved ones as they endured harrowing, lonesome deaths in hospitals and care homes.
Instead we spent days being evasive, fearing we might annoy Boris-loyalists, irritate Westminster and look toothless when Cummings remained in post.
By the time we did call for him to go, we were three days late and several dollars short.
Of course they should.
He’s a clear and obvious threat to the union.
His behaviour through these various allegations of lockdown breaches has been inexcusable.
And with every day that passes he’s becoming the liability so many people feared.
Westminster wrongdoings are harming Scottish Conservatives’ prospects
Privately, most senior Scottish Conservatives agree on this.
But what if those demands are made, and two months down the line Johnson remains in charge?
Last month, Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said that Boris Johnson should resign if he knew about the cheese and wine party. So he surely must think that actually *attending* an illegal party at the height of lockdown is also a resigning matter for the PM? pic.twitter.com/3hxzCjEjDW
— Kirsty Strickland (@KirstyStricklan) January 10, 2022
Whoever called for him to go has then made their own position untenable.
And while – like the Cummings incident – MSP inboxes are full of constituents fizzing about these latest reports, will they actually be appeased from a voting perspective?
They’re not backing blue any time soon.
And if you rail against Johnson you actually just replace these complaints with more from people who still support him. And they happen to be your core voters.
It’s just the latest predicament facing Tories in Scotland caused by their supposed allies in England.
Almost every scandal we had to deal with in the press office during Ruth Davidson’s leadership was sparked by the party down south.
Then there was the spotlight on David Cameron’s tax affairs as part of the Panama Papers episode, which helpfully dropped just before the 2016 Holyrood elections.
The year before that, “pig-gate” demanded we speculate on matters altogether more grotesque.
All of this came at the expense of the things we wanted to talk about, the policy platform we wanted to promote to the votes.
Douglas Ross and party must weigh up cost of sticking with Boris Johnson
This latest scandal goes well beyond the blatant wrongdoing of those imposing severe restrictions on others while throwing parties themselves.
So many people who voted Conservative in Scotland in the last decade will have done so against their better judgement.
I stopped counting the number of times when we were on the campaign trail with Ruth Davidson and someone would yell from a car window: “F*** the Tories but I’ll vote for you, Ruth!”
This line won't survive 48 hrs. Nobody needs an official to tell them if they were at a boozy shindig in their own garden. People are (rightly) furious. They sacrificed so much – visiting sick or grieving relatives, funerals. What tf were any of these people thinking? https://t.co/bsxJzdvp6N
— Ruth Davidson (@RuthDavidsonPC) January 11, 2022
A similar effect was at play in Brexit-backing “red wall” seats in England.
Those people, in their millions, loaned their vote to the Conservatives while holding their nose.
They will now be furious with themselves. And political opponents won’t be slow in reminding them of their duty to repent at the ballot box.
Everything they feared about the Conservatives – privilege and a one-rule-for-us attitude – is playing out in the most glaring way possible, right in front of their eyes.
Maybe there will be a minor reckoning in May for the Scottish Conservatives in the council elections.
But, aside for those in the political bubble and in town halls, this is a largely irrelevant vote.
The Scottish Conservatives have a very thin course to navigate now, and all this has emboldened those who think the party should formally divorce from Westminster.
It would certainly spare a few nightmare news cycles.
Scottish Tories must show courage and demand Boris goes
I imagine the reaction from Downing Street will be this: get our heads down and this will pass.
Maybe it will. After all, it’s an attitude – allbeit an unforgivable one – that’s served them pretty well to this point.
And Keir Starmer’s hardly going in for the kill. Maybe he wants Johnson to remain in post for the health of his own polling ratings.
Boris Johnson, your deflections and distractions are absurd.
Not only did you know about the parties in Downing Street, you attended them.
Stop lying to the British public. It’s time to finally come clean.
— Keir Starmer (@Keir_Starmer) January 11, 2022
But the damage dealt to the anti-independence campaign by Johnson sticking around is clear.
He can only be tolerated at arm’s length. Which is why you won’t see him travelling north to help the party campaign in the local government elections.
If Nicola Sturgeon does get her way with a referendum by the end of 2023, a popularity contest pitting her against the Prime Minister is only going to produce one winner.
Politically it’s extremely difficult for Douglas Ross and the Scottish Conservatives to demand Boris Johnson be removed.
But for the long-term security of Scotland’s place in the UK, there’s no other responsible course of action.
Adam Morris is former head of media for the Scottish Conservatives.