The new Prime Minister’s behaviour so far suggests a dismissive attitude towards Scotland which could prove to be the Union’s undoing, writes Ian Swanson
IT’S less than three weeks since Boris Johnson became Prime Minister but already it seems many Scots have had enough. The arrival of the new Tory premier in Downing Street and his insistence the UK will leave the EU by October 31 “do or die” has helped push another independence referendum to the top of the political agenda.
A poll conducted within days of Mr Johnson moving into Number Ten suggested a majority now in favour of a split – 52 per cent for independence and 48 per cent against, once the “don’t knows” are excluded.
It’s still a long way from guaranteeing victory for the Yes campaign in a fresh vote, but it is a boost for Nicola Sturgeon and her colleagues.
Opting for complete self-government is an obvious way for Remain-voting Scotland to seek to escape Boris’s Brexit Britain.
And Mr Johnson’s behaviour so far – sacking David Mundell as Scottish Secretary despite the pleadings of Scottish party leader Ruth Davidson, then choosing an English MP as a paid junior Scotland Office minister and appointing a Scottish Tory to a similar post without any salary – suggests a generally dismissive attitude towards Scotland.
He may have added “Minister for the Union” to his title, but he shows little interest in forging good relationships north of the Border.
Former Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who spoke out at the weekend about the rise of English nationalism, was only the latest senior figure warning that Mr Johnson’s approach and the divisiveness of a no-deal Brexit could lead to the break-up of the UK.
Meanwhile, shadow chancellor John McDonnell caused ructions by coming to Edinburgh and telling a Fringe audience that Labour would not block a second independence referendum – in flat contradiction of the stance taken by Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard. A conversation between the two men failed to alter Mr McDonnell’s view, which he repeated at another Fringe event. But despite the humiliating position Mr Leonard is left in, it is worth noting Mr McDonnell is not advocating another referendum – indeed, he makes clear Labour would campaign against having a second vote – but he says the party would not refuse one if the Scottish Parliament voted for it.
And if faced with a clear mandate from Scottish voters for a new referendum, any UK Government would struggle for credibility in vetoing such a plebiscite.
Mr McDonnell argued that for Labour to make grand statements ruling out any future referendum was walking into a trap set by the SNP.
And sacked Scottish Secretary David Mundell has acknowledged a mandate for another vote on independence could not be ignored.
He said the UK Government would find it “hard to push back” if the next Holyrood election in 2021 is fought around calls for another referendum and produces a majority in favour. Most Scots now back a second referendum within two years, according to the same poll which showed a majority for independence.
And another survey this week found 52 per cent of voters across the whole of the UK saying Indyref2 should be allowed, with 41 per cent disagreeing, once “don’t knows” are excluded.
There may be some way to go yet, but it looks as if opinion is moving the SNP’s way.
Mr Johnson’s disregard of Scotland’s position and his cavalier treatment of colleagues north of the Border could hasten the break-up of the UK he claims he wants to defend.