OH how they howled.

When Liz Truss, ostensibly the Prime Minister-in-waiting, told the Tory membership that she would “ignore” the “attention-seeking” Nicola Sturgeon, they howled with approval.

Their howls were matched by nationalists. Howls of outrage this time, but different, for it was a show. It was faux outrage because, let’s face it, Ms Truss’s intemperate comments were no more or less rude than what nationalists have been dishing out to successive Tory leaders for as long as I can remember. And it was faux because it disguised their delight that the remarks had been made.

As the smarter types in the unionist community understand, Ms Truss’s comments will have convinced precisely zero supporters of independence to become supporters of the UK union, but conversely may have persuaded plenty of supporters of the Union to consider an independent future.

This is the story not just of Ms Truss, but of a long procession of Tory leaders and Prime Ministers. They have long bemoaned the deliberate blurring of the boundaries between Ms Sturgeon, her party, her government and her country. Indeed they are right, and the reaction to Ms Truss’s remarks are a case-in-point; it took very little time for “ignore Sturgeon” to be presented as “ignore Scotland”.

However, deeply ironically, this is precisely what unionist leadership does, too.

They are utterly unable to understand the nuanced difference between a Scottish nationalist and someone who simply puts Scotland first. Someone who votes No, and dare I say it perhaps even votes Tory, but does not want Scotland or its First Minister to be ignored. Someone who, showing a deeper, instinctive understanding about how the Union should work, wants the Prime Minister and the First Minister to work together to deliver for them, their family, their community and their country.

Not for the first time, the Tories need to ask themselves some fundamental questions about how they might protect what they robotically call ‘our precious Union’. Playing to the crowd of mouth-foaming Sturgeon-haters will not cut it. Instead, she should calmly ask herself the question which, I can only presume, none of her predecessors has asked: what do the nationalists not want us to do?

Speak privately to one of the more thoughtful nationalists, and they understand that, as we sit here in 2022, the short-term case for independence is weak. We are distressingly far away from those we might choose to model ourselves on as an independent country; there is not a shred of envy in Scandinavia about Scotland’s disintegrating health service or education system, and there is little to be optimistic about when we look at Scotland’s tax base and its potential to generate the private sector growth required to create a healthy, wealthy, independent Scotland.

Isn’t it all the more curious, then, that were a referendum held today, Yes would have at least a fighting chance of winning? Isn’t it thought-provoking in Tory circles that, despite the weakness of the case for independence, one in every two of us wants out of this union?

This is the basic trend that Ms Truss needs to understand, and needs to reverse; the UK is being eroded not because independence is becoming more popular, but because the Union is becoming less popular.

This is axiomatic, and the handful of people in Tory circles who understand it also understand that Ms Truss’s focus should be on how to make the Union more popular rather than how to “get one over on the nats” as they, tiresomely, say.


There are three major changes which the UK Government could make which would slowly change the face of unionism and increase the Union’s popularity (a second independence referendum could achieve this more rapidly, but let us leave that particular discussion for another day).

Firstly, build on the safety-net which makes the UK instinctively popular among most Scots. It should come as no surprise that support for the Union has been increasing over the last couple of years, despite the unpopularity of Boris Johnson, and after a consistent period of polling showing a majority in favour of independence.

The furlough scheme and the vaccine rollout were, quietly and unflashily, a better case for unionism than could possibly be advanced in a speech to an audience of Tory members. This should be the model for Ms Truss; less talk, and more action. She should show the Union works not by ignoring Ms Sturgeon, but by killing her with kindness.

She should show the Union works not by telling us that Scotland isn’t strong enough to go it alone, but by working with Scottish and local-level governments to invest in Scotland’s deficiencies, from our road network to our poor health.

Secondly, create the Union of 2072 rather than desperately trying to keep a grip on the Union of 2022. When they put down the cup of Kool-Aid, most Tories realise that the structure of the UK today cannot possibly survive. London, and to a degree England as a whole, is dominant, in structure and in finance, and the more the beast is fed, the more remote we on the outside feel.

This requires major constitutional surgery, from more autonomous sub-state level parliaments to a loosening of the power of Westminster, including abolishing the hideous House of Lords and turning it into a regionally representative Senate.

Thirdly, allow the Scottish Parliament to flourish by encouraging a Canadian-style provincial party system. Tories, including ones who could otherwise be considered sensible, become swivel-eyed at the thought of the Scottish Parliament being populated by Scottish-only political parties. But this is no different than in other comparable countries, most obviously in Canada, where the national Conservative party does not stand candidates in any provincial parliament.

Loosening the grip includes removing the Conservative party from the Scottish Parliament; that move alone would do more for unionism than anything that could be concocted in a Downing Street bunker.

Ms Truss should put down the gun she currently has pointing towards her foot. Unionists don’t need any more problems.

• Andy Maciver is Founding Director of Message Matters and Zero Matters