Scottish election 2021: SNP's remarkable victory is a challenge to which Boris Johnson must rise if he is to save the Union – Henry McLeish

Boris Johnson must now take four-nation politics seriously and provide a radical new constitutional settlement for the UK, in which Scotland’s membership of the Union can be enhanced and renewed.

The SNP’s remarkable fourth term in power is a wake-up call for the Conservative government that presents a real challenge to the leadership of Boris Johnson, who has shown little interest in or understanding of Scotland

Scotland’s future cannot be decided in Downing Street. Westminster cannot continue to ignore the 50 per cent of the electorate who keeping voting SNP and attacks on the party should never question the legitimacy of their voters.

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The PM must respect there is a mood of dissatisfaction and a clamour for change in Scotland, which need not result in independence, but could, if he continues his brutish, cynical, and muscular approach to devolution.

The Union seems incapable or unwilling to change and is holding back a reimagined nation. The idea that Scotland only requires more Union Jacks and political coercion is foolish and reckless.

The question arises of how Scotland can achieve a legal and legitimate referendum in a democracy where the Prime Minister dictates the rules of engagement.

In the spirit of Brexit, Johnson’s idea of “taking back control” is being ruthlessly applied to Scotland. The power grab of the single-market legislation is unnecessary.

The PM has shown scant regard for Scots or Scotland. His views of devolution are foolish and ill-informed. There is no acceptance from him that our disunited kingdom requires serious reform. This is 2021 not 1707!

Boris Johnson's diehard centralism, nationalism, and populism is not helping the unionist cause, says Henry McLeish (Picture: Hollie Adam/WPA pool/Getty Images)Boris Johnson's diehard centralism, nationalism, and populism is not helping the unionist cause, says Henry McLeish (Picture: Hollie Adam/WPA pool/Getty Images)
Boris Johnson's diehard centralism, nationalism, and populism is not helping the unionist cause, says Henry McLeish (Picture: Hollie Adam/WPA pool/Getty Images)

Scotland and Wales are seen instead as being out of step, irritating and ungrateful. This dismal view of the future requires Scotland to be brought to heel.

After the election result, Johnson and the Tories must change. Their current position is ruinous to the idea of working out a different future. The old political union is not fit for purpose.

Westminster must abandon its centralist mind set and ditch the principles of 19th century power, absolute sovereignty, and exceptionalism.

This is the time to talk. The PM fails to recognise the fact that a window of opportunity exists for his government. Scotland, to refashion a quote of Abraham Lincoln, is a “house divided against itself”.

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Our split political personality reveals a 50/50 nation on the question of Scotland’s constitutional future. There is no settled will.

There is no all-embracing and inclusive debate or conversation on the future of our country, instead there is only a campaign for independence.

Traditional unionist parties seek to deny democracy and say no to a second referendum, but the case for a new Union is never made. Independence is not being tested, because no alternative is in play.

Saying no to democracy is not a vision or a constitutional alternative and neither is status quo unionism.

This is the time for a constructive dialogue and a new constitutional settlement for Scotland. Johnson must not treat Scots like fools. A radical shift in Union thinking and tactics is long overdue.

If Johnson and the Conservative party mishandle the critical time ahead, the consequences for the future of the Union could be dramatic. Keeping the issue out of the courts also makes sense.

There will be another referendum, three to five years ahead after we’ve recovered from the Covid crisis.

There is much to do before then: beating the pandemic, ensuring social and economic recovery, and getting to grips with climate change. This delay will give the unionist parties a breathing space.

A future referendum may lead to Scottish independence but that is not a certainty, and of course the question or questions on a new ballot may be different.

Scotland needs a vastly improved constitutional offer from Westminster. If economic fear is the only tie binding this manufactured Union together, its prospects are grim.

Johnson is regarded as deepening the rift between Scotland and England with his diehard centralism, nationalism, and populism. Will saving the Union and becoming a statesman be challenges the PM wishes to accept?

Henry McLeish is a former Labour First Minister

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