TORY Party members haven't had a lot to cheer about during this leadership campaign.


Except, that is, on Monday in Exeter, when they cheered to the rafters as Liz Truss described the First Minister of Scotland as an “attention-seeker” and said “the best thing to do with Nicola Sturgeon is ignore her”. This clearly hit their G-spot. Ms Sturgeon is the politician Tories love to hate.

The Deputy First Minister, John Swinney, immediately donned his high horse and told BBC that “people in Scotland whatever their politics will be absolutely horrified by the obnoxious remarks that Liz Truss has made”. I have to say that signs of shock and horror were notably absent from the streets of Scotland yesterday – except on Twitter, which is in a permanent state of inarticulate outrage.

I don't think people in Scotland are particularly surprised or horrified by a Tory minister saying she is going to ignore demands for a repeat referendum, which is what Ms Truss actually said she was turning a deaf ear to. Tory prime ministers have been not listening to that for the last eight years. Anyone who thinks that the next Tory PM, whoever wins, is going to relent really hasn't been listening themselves.

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Presumably Mr Swinney thinks that Scots will take umbrage, not just at the rejection of Indyref2 but at the tone in which Ms Truss dismissed the First Minister as an “attention-seeker”. He suggested that in dismissing Nicola Sturgeon Ms Truss was dismissing the Scottish people who elected her. But Ms Sturgeon is not Scotland and I don't think there is much more umbrage Scottish voters can take after the Boris years. Mr Johnson couldn't open his mouth without offending everyone in hearing distance.

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Moreover, they've heard Ms Sturgeon hurling insults at the UK Prime Minister for the last four years. She called Boris Johnson a “tinpot dictator” and a “racist”. You can't get much more offensive than that without risking legal action. Was she accusing the voters of England of these traits? Of course not. Many nationalist politicians may privately think that English people are all racist but they don't say it out loud.

Look, politicians say offensive things about each other. Get over it. Not listening hardly registers in the canon of political invective. What is perhaps more significant is the reaction of the Tory faithful who really don't like Ms Sturgeon. Hardly news, but gives a hint of the kind of politics we can expect at the next General Election.

That election may be coming sooner than we think. There is much muttering in the Tory Party right now about whether and when their next leader should go to the country. With fuel bills rising to staggering heights, inflation in double figures, interest rates rising and a possible recession on the horizon, it might make a lot of sense to go earlier rather than later.

The next Tory leader can expect a honeymoon period as they begin afresh. Mr Johnson is history and Sir Keir Starmer is not exactly setting the heather on fire. The Tories might be accused of “cutting and running” before the roof falls in on the economy. But Labour has been calling, not unreasonably, for an early election on the grounds that a PM elected by only 150,000 elderly Tory members lacks a democratic mandate.

However, it may not be Ms Truss who enters No 10 to clean the sofas of wine stains left by the previous occupant. The latest opinion poll of Tory members in the Times suggests that the former Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, whom everyone had written off, is only five points behind Ms Truss. That lead may disappear altogether after the first significant unforced error of the campaign.

Yesterday, Ms Truss unveiled a policy intended to save £8 billion by apparently lowering public sector pay outside London. She claims that the policy was misinterpreted, but just to be on the safe side she cancelled it before the lunchtime news bulletins.

The Tory Mayor of Tees Valley, Ben Houchen, said he was “actually speechless” and said that Ms Truss had undone all the good work of levelling up by proposing to level down wages in neglected regions like his. Critics may say that levelling up was always more rhetoric than reality, but that is beside the point.

This flakiness and lack of policy grasp is precisely what Ms Truss's critics have been accusing her of since before she became a candidate for leadership. Mr Johnson's former senior adviser, Dominic Cummings, famously described her as the “human hand grenade” who blew up every policy she had a hand in. As ballots go out to Tory members, this is about as bad as it could get for Team Truss.

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But we can be sure that, whenever the election comes, Ms Sturgeon's personality will figure prominently in it. Sir Keir insists till he is red in the face that he will not form any kind of electoral pact or alliance with Ms Sturgeon after the election, but no one believes him. The Scottish Labour Party promised not to form coalitions with any party after last year's Scottish local authority elections and now finds itself in informal alliance in a number of Scottish council chambers.

There may well be no formal deal with the SNP, and Sir Keir is as opposed to an early independence referendum as Ms Truss, but that doesn't mean co-operation won't happen. It stands to reason that the SNP will support Labour policy by policy on issues it supports, such as Self-ID for trans women or seeking an accommodation with the EU single market to unblock the Northern Ireland Protocol.

So expect to see billboards across England depicting Sir Keir in Ms Sturgeon's breast pocket, as with Ed Miliband in 2015. However, there is one difference. The SNP and now the Scottish Green Party claim that the next general election will be a “de facto referendum” on independence. That is something that Ms Truss, if it is she who leads the next government, will be ignoring with all her might.

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