Ousted Union Unit boss insists Boris Johnson can save the UK - but admits 'winning hearts and minds' could take years

The ousted Union Unit boss has insisted Boris Johnson can save the UK – but admitted “winning hearts and minds” could take years.

In his first interview since being sacked from leading Downing Street's fight back against independence, Luke Graham told The Scotsman he still believed in the Prime Minister, insisting the "majority" of Scots still want to stay in the UK.

The former Ochil and South Perthshire MP claimed the SNP had "chiselled" away at the Union for decades, but suggested things like new powers from the Internal Market Bill could help turn things around.

Asked directly if the Prime Minister could win over the people of Scotland, Mr Graham responded “yes”, but he warned more needed to be done to convey the benefits of being in the UK.

Luke Graham insists that Prime Minister Boris Johnson (pictured) can prevent the break-up of the UK

He said: “The SNP have had over a decade chiselling away at identity, the UK Government and again because of the devolve-and-forget culture.

"It's been a lot more recently we've actually been pushing back here on policy and communications and politically.

“[Scottish Conservatives leader] Douglas Ross is obviously leading the fight with the Scottish Conservatives as well, but these are all quite recent and if you're winning people's hearts and minds, that's something that happens over months and years, not within a couple of weeks.”

No longer working in Downing Street as part of the Union Unit, Mr Graham suggested if the UK Government had done more earlier, it would not have needed such a department.

Former Union Unit member Luke Graham

He said: “The purpose was to help embed Union policy making and Union thinking right across government.

“Ideally you would not need a Union Unit because the policy making the thinking and the culture would be so UK-wide you would not need it.

“I almost thought the Union Unit would be a temporary measure to bring about a culture change then fold into normal government.

“You are reversing many, many years of a particular culture, and there’s still a lot more work to do.”

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Mr Graham, whose replacement Oliver Lewis quit the role after two weeks, insisted Mr Johnson could succeed if the UK Government improves its messaging.

He explained: “It’s not just about money, it's about the kind of delivery and engagement and kind of care and understanding which I think has been missed about for some time.

“It's making sure that every UK Government department is connected with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and actively thinking about what policies can we do to improve the whole country.”

Mr Graham also insisted the majority of Scots still “don’t want to break up” the UK, suggesting emotional and familial connections would bind Brits together.

Challenged on the 22 polls in a row showing support for independence, with many indicating Mr Johnson is a driving force for independence, the 35-year-old insisted polls change.

He said: “Polls change from month to month. In 2019 Nicola Sturgeon was polling negatively, she's now polling positively, so the polls shift.

“Boris Johnson is the Prime Minister. I think you can see through some of the success we are having through the vaccine scheme and the role of the British armed forces, just some of the positive things that the government and the PM are doing.

“If you can show all the great things being done, I think that will help people realise the value of the UK.

“I think things will move again, and it doesn’t change the strategy of trying to do the right thing, showing the UK investment, and doing more than any UK Government for many years to try and change people’s lives.

"We want the union to be the work of all government, every department and every minister. Whatever pushes things in that direction, that’s right.”

Mr Graham admitted there was some resistance to more focus on the Union in government, and claimed bringing about change was a “big job”.

He explained: “I think when you're trying to bring about change in any organisation and you want to kind of change a culture of devolve and forget, there's always big job to do, but it's also about more retooling the Government.

“We saw [on Wednesday] the levelling-up fund [expanded] up to £4.8 billion and it being a UK-wide fund.

“It's these kinds of examples which are a big difference from where we were say three years ago.”

The levelling-up fund, much like the Internal Market Bill, allows the UK Government to invest directly in Scotland, without going through Holyrood.

Labelled a “power grab” by the SNP, Mr Graham explained conveying the fund was additional support was crucial to breaking through.

He insisted: “It’s all additive. The Scottish Government still gets its block grant, the Scottish Government still has its tax varying powers to raise more money if it wants to and it doesn’t stop the Scottish Government or the Scottish Parliament doing anything.

“It allows the UK Government to add in extra projects when it’s a matter of national importance or a UK-wide scheme where we want all parts of the UK to benefit equally."

Mr Graham insisted doing so would help keep the UK together, but admitted he was “taking nothing for granted”.

He said: “I think there is still a great opportunity for us to show the value of being British and Scottish and be able to say you can be proud of having multiple identities.

"Nationalism is so exclusive. It makes you choose and forces you to be one thing and the point of believing in some kind of Union is that you can have lots of different identities and be comfortable with that.”

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