THERE has been, understandably, a fair wheen of acerbic comment regarding the dismissal of Douglas Ross as a “lightweight”.

Such remarks are the common stuff of partisan politics. However, this was different in that it came from the political trench occupied by the Scottish Conservative leader.

Few do under-stated patriarchal contempt better than Jacob Rees-Mogg (Eton, Trinity College, the City of London). He deploys it frequently as Leader of the House of Commons.

Plus of course the Prime Minister had left this Jacob without a ladder.

Boris Johnson’s endless, shifty evasion over the issue of Downing Street lockdown parties meant that his colleagues and chums (not the same) have struggled to muster a defence.

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Hence, on Newsnight, Mr Rees-Mogg resorted to mild personal contumely when dealing with the suggestion from Douglas Ross that the PM should pack it in.

However gently delivered, it was nonetheless a remarkable rebuke. It drew an audible gasp from the interviewer, Kirsty Wark; my erstwhile BBC colleague (and chum).

As a viewer, I matched that gasp. Yet this was, ultimately, a subjective judgement. It is up to Mr Ross to demonstrate that he is capable of fighting, and winning, at a higher weight division.

I was still more struck by a further comment the Leader made in the Commons.

Invited to add to his character assessment of the Scottish Tory leader, Mr Rees-Mogg sententiously informed the House of his belief “that people who hold office ought to support the leader of the party.”

This was sufficiently vapid and platitudinous to draw one or two supportive murmurs from the Conservative side. Only one or two, though. The PM – and hence his Commons Leader – are in big trouble.

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Yet examine that statement a little and you will instantly discern the flaw.

Douglas Ross does not hold office at the discretion of the Prime Minister. Although Mr Ross remains an MP, seemingly unwilling thus far to commit solely to Holyrood, he is not a Minister, let alone a member of the Johnson cabinet.

He is not a whip. He is not even a Parliamentary Private Secretary, the lowest rung occupied by the eager and the aspirational.

Mr Ross owes his standing as Scottish Tory leader entirely to continuing support (or at least toleration) from party members north of the Border.

OK, so he was unopposed when he stood to replace Jackson Carlaw. That does not alter the nature of the Scottish party leadership which, formally, owes nothing to Boris Johnson.

This status was devised more than a decade ago by Lord Sanderson in his review of Scottish Conservative structures. He concluded the party needed a distinct cachet in Scotland – with a directly elected leader.

In dismissing Douglas Ross, Jacob Rees-Mogg is also casting aside that status. He is setting at nothing the quasi-autonomous nature of the Scottish Conservative Party.

For him, Westminster is all. Devolution, even the version espoused by his own party, counts for little. Indeed, the Leader repeatedly drew our attention to the support for Mr Johnson offered by the Scottish Secretary Alister Jack.

This was, of course, seized upon by Nicola Sturgeon who said it proved the Tories had “utter contempt” for Scotland. In the process, she offered ironic sympathy for Mr Ross, saying she would never be so derogatory.

Some have suggested that the Scots Tories should now declare a form of UDI, breaking away entirely from the party in London, perhaps with a new name.

I understand the appeal. Recent Scots Tory leaders have been assiduous in campaigning in Scotland with minimal support from Mr Johnson.

Perhaps they might go further and form a relationship with their English counterparts similar to that between the CDU and the (Bavarian) CSU in Germany.

Or perhaps closer to the looser links previously maintained between the Ulster Unionists and the Conservatives. After all, the Scots Tories were, until 1965, the Scottish Unionist Party.

I think such a development highly unlikely. It was rejected as an option a decade ago when Murdo Fraser lost in a leadership contest with Ruth Davidson.

More fundamentally, it does not sit easily with the party’s profile in Scotland. Many of the faithful are, still, decidedly reluctant devolvers. They are Tories and would dislike change.

Douglas Ross, himself, has disavowed such a move. Which leaves him coping with the current mess.

It is plainly his calculation that Boris Johnson is now perceived as a liability and a loser, most particularly in Scotland where his tousle-haired appeal has always encountered stout resistance.

He is keeping his distance from the PM, reckoning that those who adhere closely to Mr Johnson at this point will find themselves clinging to the wreckage when his career finally sinks.

Some of Mr Johnson’s Cabinet colleagues have privately reached the same conclusion. Their messages of support have been slow in coming and laden with caveats, urging us all to wait for the civil service inquiry by Sue Gray.

Distance, indeed, has been the leitmotif of the week. The PM apologised for attending the BYOB garden bash in May 2020, at the height of lockdown.

To be clear, he acknowledged that events in Downing Street were his responsibility. But there was wriggle room too. He talked of what “we” did, rather than “I”.

He talked of developments taking place “on his watch”. Distance. Unless Sue Gray specifically condemns the PM, there might be attempts to shift the blame to officials and special advisers. Deputy heads would roll. I think talk of a prosecution is off the mark.

Would this work? That depends entirely on the Tory mood at Westminster. The Tories are fiercely loyal to their leaders, right up to the point where they abandon them, swiftly and mercilessly.

Either way, the Conservatives are in a political mess. Folk are angry. They press their noses against the mullioned windows of Downing Street and observe a bunker mentality, an insulting disregard for the rules enforced upon the citizenry.

If Boris Johnson survives, they will remain angry. If Boris Johnson is replaced, they will place his successor on parole, at best.

Douglas Ross may have distanced himself from Downing Street. But he cannot entirely escape the political consequences.

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