Do by-election defeats mean that voters across the UK are finally on the same scornful page regarding Boris Johnson?

Scots took an instant scunner to the swaggering, tousle-haired toff in 2016 when he became Foreign Secretary. Tories have kept him at arms’ length during election campaigns ever since, even though he’s a ‘winning machine’ down south – the very same guy. Strange, since we all apparently inhabit the same country.

So, an argument has been devised. Posh, entitled and Etonian, Boris simply irks the dour, presbyterian and (whisper it) progressive Scots. It is a personality thing. And now, leafy and Red Wall England seem to feel the same.

The Tiverton and Honiton byelection saw the biggest numerical majority ever overturned in a by-election. Wakefield saw a smaller defeat for the Tories – but with greater Red Wall significance.

The general media conclusion is that voters will not forgive Boris for partygate and simply don’t trust the man. It is a personality thing. Except Scots didn’t trust him on sight.

Before partygate, before crony Covid contracts, before deportations of asylum seekers, before standard use of food banks, Scots didn’t trust Boris Johnson - because he’s a Tory. And a sleekit one at that, masquerading as a cheery chappie whilst delivering cuts to public services, privatising what he can, calculating political positions by the flip of a coin (it’s always money) and presiding over the fourth most unequal country in Europe, with shorter life expectancy and worse welfare benefits.

In short, for most Scots, it’s not personality – not even Johnson’s – it’s policies. And principally policies that stoke inequality.

That’s not because we are bleeding hearts, but because it’s obvious everyone does better in a fair, functioning society. Books like The Spirit Level prove that the pursuit of private gain is utterly destructive and countries like our Triple-A-rated Nordic neighbours (Britain isn’t) prove that social democracies are the happiest and most stable nations in the world. Even though Scotland possesses few tributes to our own like-minded, political traditions – which produced the union movement and the Labour Party - social democratic thinking is still active in our political culture.

That’s why Scots spotted Boris a mile off. That’s why Scots also spotted the man who fooled half of America. Not primarily because of the Trump swagger or the Boris bluster. Not even because of their shared track record as vain liars, but because their opportunistic, right-wing ideas were so completely at odds with our own, and their sugar-coated personalities made them more dangerous - more likely to fool others.

North of the border, voters didn’t need the thistle’s sting to avoid its path. A certain ruthlessness and lack of empathy so clearly lay behind that bashful grin. But in truth, Boris Johnson’s fate in Scotland was sealed not by personality traits but by two short words – Tory leader. It’s political.

So, never mind if ex-Tory voters have finally realised the man is a chancer. Have they reached the same policy page as the Tory-phobic Scots? Do those by-election defeats represent a complete rejection of the Tory Party and its vision of a de-regulated, marketised society or just rejection of this particular Tory leader - resolved by the selection of another one (admittedly from a very weak field)?

Of course, there is outspoken media criticism of Johnson’s lack of grip. The Spectator’s Fraser Nelson on the BBC’s Sunday Programme bemoaned the depressing deficit of Tory ideas. But which wizard wheezes have ever been vote-winners here?

Privatisation, deregulation, Brexit, three-star hospitals, health trusts run by Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, privatised water or academy schools?

Or the ‘big ideas’ that get trotted out on a recurring basis – the bridge from Scotland to Northern Ireland, the shift of their Lordships to York or the reintroduction of old Imperial measures – simply to distract, titillate and conveniently disappear?

Honestly, what Tory ‘ideas’ would charm enough Scots to produce more Scottish Tory MPs in the next General Election? Tax cuts? Even Larry the Downing Street cat knows we need tax rises for Brexit mitigation, the cost-of-living crisis, social care and levelling up. But will anyone pay more tax to the profligate party running Westminster?

The only ‘idea’ that works for Tories north of the border is independence – or rather their relentless opposition to the notion Scotland could run itself more fairly and efficiently without Westminster and its endless Tory domination.

So, Boris Johnson’s insistence that he won’t undergo “some sort of psychological transformation” is irrelevant in Scotland. But the defiant stand might just work elsewhere.

If English voters like the money-oriented, materialist, warring culture he’s created, they’ll accept Boris, warts and all. A bit like the mawkish 70s hit, Love Me, Love My Dog, many Tory voters have ‘lived the road too long to break up’ with the man who ‘got Brexit done.’

But Scots profoundly didn’t vote for that EU departure, that party, outlook, society or Prime Minister. Put another person in charge, we still won’t buy it. Give Boris a serious face and a slightly shaken demeanour, or replace him completely with Rishi Sunak or Liz Truss, Tory fortunes in Scotland will not revive.

Not because of lame personalities but because of lame policies and a vindictive, divisive political outlook. The reason the Tories can’t currently come up with bright ideas is not that Boris is a blockage but because their big idea – a deregulated, privatised, winner-takes-all, ex-European state – has so patently failed. Even if the UK Labour Party still shimmies up to it and the average English voter is still unaccountably drawn to it.

Certainly, the prospect of Boris in power till 2030 is a recruiting sergeant for independence. But if that was all the Yes campaign had going for it, the flame would have flickered out long since. It hasn’t.

Elections may be down to events and media interest may be dominated by personalities. But a country’s future is determined by policies. And in Westminster, the shelves are utterly bare.

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