Boris Johnson visit to Scotland ‘not essential’ at time of pandemic, says Nicola Sturgeon

Prime minister hoping to shore up Union as calls for independence grow

Nicola Sturgeon says Boris Johnson visit to Scotland not essential in pandemic

Boris Johnson’s planned visit to Scotland on Thursday is “not essential” at a time of pandemic, first minister Nicola Sturgeon has said.

Ms Sturgeon said there should not be one rule for the public and another for politicians who are telling them to stay at home.

The prime minister’s foray north of the border is intended to shore up support for the Union amid mounting opinion poll evidence that increasing numbers of Scots want independence.

It comes ahead of elections to the Scottish Parliament in May widely expected to deliver a landslide for the Scottish National Party, which Ms Sturgeon has said would provide a democratic mandate to re-run the independence referendum which produced a No vote in 2014.

The first minister said that under normal circumstances, she would welcome a visit from Mr Johnson - and indicated that she expects his presence, contrary to his hopes, to boost the SNP politically.

But she told a coronavirus briefing in Edinburgh: “I would say me travelling from Edinburgh to Aberdeen to visit a vaccination centre right now is not essential, and Boris Johnson travelling from London to wherever he is in Scotland to do the same is not essential.

“If we’re asking other people to abide by that, then I’m sorry but it’s probably incumbent on us to do likewise.

“I am not and never would be saying that Boris Johnson is not welcome in Scotland – he’s the prime minister of the UK.

“We’re living in a global pandemic right now.

“Every day I look down the camera and say… don’t travel unless it’s really essential, work from home if you possibly can.

“We have a duty to lead by example and if we are going to suggest that we don’t take these rules as seriously as we should, it gets harder to convince other people.

“That’s why I’m perhaps not ecstatic about the thought of the prime minister visiting, it’s not because he’s not welcome.”

Both England and Scotland are under lockdown restrictions to curb the spread of Covid-19, with journeys across the border - and between council areas in Scotland - permitted only for essential reasons.

Ms Sturgeon said she was sure that Mr Johnson’s trip would be planned carefully to avoid breaking the law, but added: “We all need to make judgments on what we genuinely think is essential right now.”

Downing Street has not yet confirmed the date of the prime minister’s long-trailed trip, but Ms Sturgeon said she understood it would happen on Thursday.

Mr Johnson’s official spokesman declined to respond directly to the first minister’s comments.

But he said: “It remains the fact that it is a fundamental role of the prime minister to be the physical representative of the UK government, and it’s right he’s visible and accessible to businesses and communities across all parts of the UK – especially during the pandemic.”

Asked about the trip, a spokesman for Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said "we have all got to do our bit to make sure we are following the rules" and that it was "up to the prime minister to decide whether" the visit counted as essential travel.

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