Former Scottish Tory MP Luke Graham is understood to have been sacked from his role advising the prime minister, as Downing Street looks to “beef up” its union unit ahead of Holyrood elections this spring.
A “furious dispute” over strategy followed Mr Johnson’s controversial visit to Scotland last week in a bid to build support for union, according to an account in the Financial Times.
It is unclear whether Mr Graham had recommended the trip north of the border – condemned by SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon as unnecessary travel – but he is said to have been unhappy with No 10’s wider strategy, the report added.
The prime minister’s official spokesman confirmed Mr Graham has “left his No 10 position” on Thursday – only two days after press secretary Allegra Stratton said he was a “very valued member of staff”.
Despite successive polls showing majority support for independence in Scotland, the spokesman said Mr Johnson remained the “voice of the majority of the Scottish people” who rejected independence at the referendum in 2014.
Downing Street officials made clear the adviser was replaced in the role, with sources telling Sky News he “hasn’t been particularly effective” or “made enough headway”.
Mr Graham, the former Conservative MP for Ochil and South Perthshire, missed out on being re-elected at the 2019 election despite the Tory’s landslide victory.
Oliver Lewis – a leading figure in the recent Brexit negotiations – is now expected to take over the unit working to keep Scotland in the UK following Mr Graham’s departure.
Mr Lewis, a veteran of the Vote Leave campaign, is said to be keen on leading a larger team, with one insider promising the union unit would now be “beefed up”.
The latest independence poll, by Panelbase, showed a majority of Scots in favour of a breakaway by a margin of 52 per cent to 48 per cent once undecideds are removed.
With the SNP widely expected to triumph at the Holyrood election in May, leading political figures in Scotland are now discussing the possibility of a third option being on the ballot paper at any future independence referendum.
The country’s top trade unionist suggested any vote should include a “devolution max” option. Scottish Trades Union Congress general secretary Roz Foyer said on Thursday: “Any such referendum need not be a binary choice between independence and the status quo”.
The union leader said a third option offering a “devo-max” choice would be a “welcome addition to the debate”.
Scottish Labour has been reluctant to show any support for another referendum, but Labour MSP Neil Findlay has backed the devo-max option if a vote is held.
In a recent blog post, he said: “We have to expand the democratic choice the voters have to avoid forcing them into choosing between two unpalatable positions. Not to expand the options available is anti-democratic and wrong.”
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