Scottish independence: Why Holyrood election should provide the mandate for changing our constitutional future, not Boris Johnson – Kenny MacAskill MP

Suggesting Boris Johnson’s wavering on opposition to Indyref2 is clutching at straws. Comments at the Scottish Tory conference may have been slightly less intransigent than normal, but a commitment to one it certainly wasn’t.

Boris Johnson has said an independence referendum is 'the last thing' people in Scotland need just now (Picture: UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/PA Wire)
Boris Johnson has said an independence referendum is 'the last thing' people in Scotland need just now (Picture: UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/PA Wire)

Of course, he’s entirely shameless and as my auld mother would say “he’d sell his granny for glue”. We’ve seen that throughout his personal life and political career. The only thing that matters to him is himself.

Hence his volte face on Brexit when the chance came to lead it, and selling out his colleagues was of no concern to him. So Scottish unionists beware, pledges of unwavering loyalty have as much depth as promises that there’d be no sea border between Britain and Northern Ireland.

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But if the SNP leadership think this confirms that Boris’ll blink, they’re deluding themselves. Whilst a narrowing in the polls and even a modest lead for No may make him less opposed, it’s not going to happen anytime soon. Why would he concede?

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Boris Johnson: Second independence referendum 'last thing Scots need right now'

There’s a battle for political leadership of Scottish unionism to be waged in coming elections for Holyrood then councils. Better Together served its purpose and a unionist coalition may reform but during electoral contests, the Tories won’t want to cede any quarter to a Labour Party under new leadership and likewise thirled to the Union. Being the primary Union voice and its leading political exponent will still be priority even for him.

Similarly, governments don’t call elections or even referendums, unless they absolutely have to or are pretty sure they’ll win. At the moment things are too close to call. Union leaders may be sleeping slightly easier but they’ll still be worried.

It’s not forgotten that David Cameron allowed the last referendum, certain he’d win it comfortably and when independence support was less than half what it’s now. Preparing they may be, but certain of winning they’re not. So, why risk it?

Of course, that needn’t mean perpetual opposition or even once in a generation. But it won’t be this year with the UN Cop-26 climate summit the priority and it’ll only be conceded on Johnson’s terms and his timing. What if his response is that he’s willing to do so but not just yet? That’s actually a greater danger for the Yes movement.

There’s criteria that could be demanded on the franchise. Memories still remain of the first devolution referendum in 1979 and how the dead voted No with a 40 per cent rule. It wouldn’t be that but other changes could be made.

Likewise timing could be delayed to when it is most problematic for the Scottish government. Economic difficulties are increasing and with Holyrood’s fiscal powers limited, a bumpy few years lie ahead.

It’s why many in the independence movement see the need to make this election, not a section 30 order, the catalyst for change. No more “Please Sir, can I have some more” like a waif in Oliver Twist but taking control.

Britain’s weaker than it’s ever been, Brexit’s a calamity, now’s the time to strike and make the election a plebiscite on independence.

Kenny MacAskill is SNP MP for East Lothian

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