PM's visit to Orkney: unionism turns to farce
Boris Johnson’s recent visit to Orkney, Moray and RAF Lossiemouth was perhaps the greatest analogy for his government’s approach to Scotland and devolution. He showed up with little warning (letting the Scottish Government and First Minister find out at the same time as the press), met some pre-approved members of the public behind closed doors, took some pictures with his Scottish Tory chums and then fucked off back down to London. He came, he hid from the public, he left. Mission complete, and undoubtedly the union has been secured from those rowdy nationalists for another 300 years…
The Prime Minister believes that all the people of Scotland need for us to know that he has our best interests at heart, is for him to spend one day here, exactly a year into his premiership. This instead of listening to the interests and the concerns of the Scottish people – and indeed how those are acted on through the Scottish Parliament – Boris thinks he just needs to show us the new paint job on his plane and the colony will step back into line.
Some papers described the Prime Minister as being in ‘irritated mode’ and Michael Gove as being in ‘panic mode’, and given the trend of polls over the last 6 months (and indeed over the last few years) it’s not difficult to see why. Support for independence now sits comfortably at 54% while the First Minister enjoys an approval rating which is literally 99% higher than the so-called Minister for the Union.
By selecting these locations, notably sticking to remote areas and military bases, his advisors were clearly trying to avoid protests and demonstrations, a move which failed due to the efforts of some particularly dedicated separatists. The protesters in Orkney numbered approximately 200 according to organisers – a pretty significant feat for an area with only 22 people per km ^2. The Prime Minister was met with more protests everywhere he went and staff were sent home from the Baxters plant in Fochabers before he arrived. Truly the ‘people’s Prime Minister’.
What number 10 appears to be forgetting is that the Prime Minister is almost universally disliked in Scotland. He polls dreadfully amongst the Scottish electorate. This is in part because he embodies every negative aspect of the stereotypical cartoonish southern Tory. Add this to the fact that there is very little about Boris Johnson which most Scots would be able to relate to and you begin to see why his message does not go over so well with Scots (it’s possible that publishing a poem calling for the “comprehensive extermination” of the Scottish people whilst editor of The Spectator hasn’t gone down too well either). It can comfortably be said that the Prime Minister is the antithesis of the typical Scot – and whilst this bumbling, buffoonish caricature which he so easily slips into may help win him support with the midlands and the south east (and strangely enough in the Labour heartlands), all it does in Scotland is set him up as a figure to be derided.
Boris Johnson now is an extreme version of how David Cameron appeared to Scots in 2014. So, it is of little surprise to see that supporters of Scottish independence appear to have welcomed the Prime Minister’s visit. The theory is that the more Scots see of the Prime Minister (coupled with the increased air time the First Minister is receiving for her coronavirus briefings) the easier it is to see the contrasts between the two and an increasing number of scots appear to be deciding that they can do better than another Bullingdon club brat.
Johnson appears to be ensuring (albeit unintentionally) that his successor will be leader of England, Wales and Northern Ireland only (soon to be just England and Wales if the trends seen in Northern Ireland retain their current course). It is important to note that Johnson is not the sole contributor to this rise in support for an independent Scotland; it has been all but confirmed that the UK is seeking the most damaging Brexit possible, having rejected the final opportunity for an extension to the transition period. Additionally, as the Coronavirus pandemic unfolds many Scots are seeing the apparent benefits of diverging from UK policy.
These are the cornerstones of the current shift in public opinion however it is not difficult to find other examples of poor leadership or causes for concern from the UK government which may be further increasing support for another referendum. The Russia report, the internal market bill, (which has been condemned by the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru as a “power grab” while the Scottish Greens claim it “calls into question the very notion of devolution itself”) and the Westminster parliament voting against protecting the NHS in any future trade bills, are serious issues for many.
This is further compounded by the deception coming from number 10 around additional funding for the devolved nations and the apparent lack of understanding regarding what the Barnett formula actually delivers. When the Chancellor announced an additional £30 billion to protect jobs, the IFS and a number of political commentators had to offer Kate Forbes their rather sheepish apologies after contesting her claim that the Chancellors stimulus package amounted to Scotland receiving only £21 million. Highlighting a recurring issue with the UK’s reliance upon a London-centric media and demonstrating that worryingly large sections of the metro-commentariat appear to struggle with the idea that perhaps Scotland (and indeed anything north of Watford gap) may have divergent interests from London.
It is no surprise then, that when faced with all of these factors and increasingly toothless opposition – both in Holyrood and Westminster – that more and more Scots are finding the prospect of charting their own course away from the sinking ship that is Brexit Britain increasingly attractive.
As George Galloway launches his ‘naw 2’ campaign, Ruth Davidson prepares to accept her peerage and Tony Blair makes yet another of his ‘rare’ interventions, it is evident that the unionists are preparing for a tough campaign – all we’re missing so far is Gordon Brown. Yet it is becoming increasingly difficult to defend the union. With each sentence Johnson utters, we are taking on more water – and the buckets have yet to arrive from China. The biggest issue facing the unionists is that they cannot make a positive case for the union. Their strategy is simply ‘Project fear 2: The SNP want to eat your children’.
There are valid and important questions which must be asked of the pro-independence campaign when it begins, but when the unionists stoop to this low and appear either unwilling or unable to explain what benefits Scotland derives from its place in the United Kingdom, it invalidates their position and serves only to further increase support for independence. After all, was anything ever so effective in convincing a Scot to do something than telling us we can’t?
Johnson is likely to be the last Prime Minister of Scotland. We are in the midst of a perfect storm for the separatists. The people of Scotland are faced with a choice of a competent, social democratic administration or an increasingly right-leaning parcel of rogues with a charlatan at the helm. What remains to be seen is whether Johnson, Gove, Galloway, Davidson and their friends in the media will be able to intimidate the people of Scotland into voting against their own interests once more.
Image: via WikiCommons