Boris Johnson will head to Scotland today to talk up the benefits of the British union, which his government fears is coming apart. Nicola Sturgeon says she wishes he wouldn’t.
Johnson’s trip is prompted by polls and looming elections. Excluding don’t knows, 52 per cent of Scots now back independence versus 48 who don’t. Sturgeon’s SNP is expected to win handily in May’s elections to the Scottish parliament. She will take that as a mandate to demand a second independence referendum, which Johnson says he will refuse.
His argument today is that Covid strengthens rather than weakens the case for the union. It’s based on:
- money – £8.5 billion in support from Westminster during the pandemic;
- jobs – Rishi Sunak’s furlough scheme;
- vaccines – developed in Oxford, purchased in London, rolled out across the UK with the help of the British army.
The counter-argument isn’t complicated:
- Johnson’s dire Covid record, vaccines apart, is one of two big reasons support for Scottish independence has grown since the 2014 – the other being Brexit, which 62 per cent of Scots opposed.
- Expecting gratitude for cash handouts could backfire: as Johnson’s own Scotland secretary said on Monday at a Burns Night event, Scots need to “feel valued as partners… rather than just a recipient of UK largesse”.
- The furlough argument can backfire too: Sunak has been accused of extending the scheme only when England goes into lockdown, not when Scotland and Wales ask him to.
Johnson has said of the Scottish Referendum “I think endless talk about a referendum without any clear description of what the constitutional situation will be after that referendum is completely irrelevant to the concerns of most people who, I think, want us to come through this strongly together.”
He added: “I don’t see the advantage of getting lost in constitutional wrangling when, after all, we had a referendum not so long ago.”
The PM said “wild horses wouldn’t keep me away” from campaigning in the Scottish elections.
It’s reported that many in Scotland don’t feel his visit appropriate though and have reported to the Police of a possible lockdown travel breach by the PM in his visit today.