Boris Johnson accused of being in 'panic mode' over Scottish independence threat as he makes visit

Prime minister will argue 'sheer might of our Union' has brought people through pandemic - but the SNP is on the march

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Thursday 23 July 2020 08:50 BST
Sturgeon has no plans to meet Boris Johnson if he visits Scotland

Boris Johnson will plead with Scots to turn away from independence on a visit on Thursday, sparking a claim that he is in “full-blown panic mode” about the rising threat.

On his first trip since coronavirus struck, the prime minister will argue “the sheer might of our Union” has brought people through the pandemic, by saving lives and propping up jobs.

“More than ever, this shows what we can achieve when we stand together, as one United Kingdom,” Mr Johnson said, ahead of meeting business leaders and the military.

But the visit comes against the backdrop of polling suggesting the independence campaign has stolen a lead of up to 10 per cent, as the Covid-19 crisis took hold.

The Scottish National Party is on course to win an unprecedented majority at next year’s Scottish Parliament elections – fuelling demands for a second referendum.

And it is Mr Johnson’s handling of the pandemic which has cost him support. His net approval rating on the crisis lags 99 points behind that of Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP First Minister, at a disastrous -39 points.

“The only reason Boris Johnson is coming here is because he is in full-blown panic mode amid rising support for independence,” said Keith Brown, the SNP’s deputy leader.

The prime minister is not expected to meet Ms Sturgeon while in Scotland, although she said she would be “happy” to do so “if he wants”.

The First Minister urged him to ensure he and his entourage followed her government’s separate advice to prevent coronavirus infections, adding: “I'm sure he'll be doing that anyway.”

Ahead of the visit, Downing Street announced a £50m package for Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles, while pointing to Covid-19 help including:

* 736,500 jobs in Scotland supported through the coronavirus job retention scheme.

* A £330bn package of loans and guarantees helping thousands of Scottish businesses “survive the economic fallout”.

* A £4.6bn funding boost to the Scottish administration through the Barnet Formula

* Funding for six drive-through testing facilities and pop up mobile testing sites “throughout Scotland”

* Cash for a ‘megalab’ in Glasgow, mass processing coronavirus tests for key workers across Scotland.

Mr Johnson said: “The last six months have shown exactly why the historic and heartfelt bond that ties the four nations of our country together is so important and the sheer might of our union has been proven once again.

“In Scotland, the UK’s magnificent armed forces have been on the ground doing vital work to support the NHS, from setting up and running mobile testing sites to airlifting critically ill patients to hospitals from some of Scotland’s most remote communities.

“And the UK Treasury stepped in to save the jobs of a third of Scotland’s entire workforce and kept the wolves at bay for tens of thousands of Scottish businesses.”

The prime minister is resolved to refuse to allow a Scottish independence referendum to take place in this parliament, which will not end until 2024.

However, that stance may be impossible to maintain if the SNP triumphs at Holyrood next May on an ‘Indyref 2’ platform.

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