Inside Westminster

Boris Johnson can hardly blame the Scottish people if they decide to ‘take back control’

Ministers believe the economic arguments against independence are stronger than when Scotland rejected a breakaway in 2014 – but that smacks of complacency, writes Andrew Grice

Friday 29 January 2021 21:30
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<p>SNP leader and Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon&nbsp;</p>

SNP leader and Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon 

Boris Johnson is playing for time on Scottish independence. The coronavirus crisis allows him to argue that now is not the right moment for a constitutional debate, and to promote the benefits to Scotland of the UK government’s response to the pandemic. 

But his flying visit to Scotland on Thursday showed that this is only a holding operation with a very limited shelf life. Support for independence averages 54 per cent in the opinion polls, boosted by Brexit and coronavirus. While Johnson had a good story to tell on the vaccine rollout, and back-up from the army and English ambulance service, his government has not reaped much benefit from its economic support. As one Scottish Tory told me: “The perception is that the furlough scheme is driven by events in London and the southeast.” 

Johnson’s default position of putting off difficult decisions is no longer an option on Scotland. The self-styled “minister for the union” knows he could end up as prime minister of England. But not for very long; if it happened, his party would boot him out before the voters could. His political epitaph would be not as the PM who won on Brexit but as the PM who lost the UK. 

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