Boris Johnson’s recent visit to Scotland was supposed to demonstrate the strength of the United Kingdom and the benefits of “mutual cooperation” between its constituent nations. Few people were convinced, however, of the sincerity of the messenger, or the point of the message pitched by Britain’s ‘Minister for the Union’.
The transparently political nature of the Prime Minister’s sortie to Scotland during the middle of a nationwide lockdown was not lost on anyone. Nicola Sturgeon very publicly questioned whether the trip counted as ‘essential’ travel, stressing the point that politicians, too, should be bound by the inconveniences they have asked the public to accept.
This sentiment was echoed broadly by the Scottish public, who broadly despise the Tories and their Etonian leader.
Local opinion broadcast on ClassicFM was universally negative. One man rightly pointed out the hypocrisy of Johnson’s 400-mile journey from London to Glasgow – meanwhile, ordinary people may not even leave their council area or neighbourhood. Another interviewee merely expressed exasperation, saying: “A’ve nae time for the man”.
A few days later Police Scotland stated that they had received numerous complaints from the public about violations of lockdown rules related to the Prime Minister’s official visit.
Several Tories chimed in to defend Boris’ ministerial jaunt. Michael Gove, for example, asserted that it was important for the PM to be “accessible” and “visible” to the public. What most people would like to say to Boris Johnson if they caught him – accessibly, visibly – in the street, however, we could not publish.
Nicola Sturgeon was vocal in opposing Boris’ publicity stunt, and in raising concerns about the PM’s flouting of coronavirus restrictions. For this, the SNP leader was branded “Moanalot” by Tory toff Jacob Rees-Mogg. This is the week after Johnson admitted his culpability in over 100,000 excess deaths!
Breaking news: @Jacob_Rees_Mogg has been secretly recruited to promote 'Yes' vote #indyref2— Maggie Carson 💙 (@mncarson) January 29, 2021
"I used to think that Moanalot was a fictional character but it turns out it's actually the First Minister of Scotland, that all Mrs Sturgeon can do is moan a lot." https://t.co/DyZnDP0Gaj
Sir Keir Starmer even joined in with this right-wing chorus. In predictable and routine fashion, the Labour leader remarked that: “I’m with the Prime Minister on this one.” As premier of the United Kingdom, Starmer stated, it is essential that Boris must be able to drop in for a PR photoshoot anywhere in the country, at any time.
It is essential, we are told, for Boris Johnson to jet across the length of Britain in his special RAF plane – the one that cost nearly £1 million for a new paint job – to check up on a vaccination centre “on the ground”. His chosen location, Castlemilk, is a community in the top 10% most deprived areas in Scotland, where 40% of children grow up in poverty.
Far from demonstrating the benefits of “mutual cooperation” that supposedly underpin the United Kingdom, Boris’ visit exposes just the opposite: that Britain is a land of poverty amidst plenty, presided over by a vain, arrogant, and out-of-touch ruling class.
Boris Johnson’s trip took the form of a tour of coronavirus testing and vaccination facilities. But the political content was altogether different.
Over twenty consecutive polls have shown majority support for Scottish Independence. At the same time, surveys indicate that the SNP are well on the way to a landslide victory in Holyrood elections this May.
It is clear, therefore, that the real reason behind Boris’ recent visit is to fight fires over the future of the Union. The SNP spelt this out explicitly, with the party’s leaders stating that the timing and agenda of the PM’s trip north of the border was a sign of Number 10 going into panic mode.
After collecting stock footage of himself wearing a lab coat and bumping elbows with soldiers, Boris Johnson got to the substance of his visit. This was to assert that the demand for an independence referendum was “irrelevant”; that the Scottish government should “get on with their day job”; and that the 2014 referendum was “once in a generation”, never to be repeated.
These are the standard talking points of the Unionist parties in Scotland. They accuse the SNP of being single-minded on ‘the constitution’, whilst simultaneously themselves being single-minded about stopping independence.
Union Jack waving
Outside of Scotland, Tories like Johnson are more candid: describing devolution as a “disaster”; Scots as scroungers; and the SNP as separatist bogeymen.
Why did the prime minister tell his MPs Scottish devolution is a "disaster"? asks Labour leader Keir Starmer— BBC Politics (@BBCPolitics) November 18, 2020
Boris Johnson says the Scottish National Party have used devolution "to campaign for the break up of our country" #PMQs https://t.co/W0CBczVAYo pic.twitter.com/N9KjsaNHW9
This direct appeal to English chauvinism bolsters Boris’ image among the reactionary Tory membership – all the while undermining any real hope of winning voters in Scotland round to the “mutual” benefits of the Union.
Apart from the tired lamentations that the Scottish National Party talks too much about independence, the only other tactic the Tories seem to have is to try and slip in the Union Jack wherever they can.
Vaccine vials were purported to have flags branded on them; and the British army has been put front-and-centre during the pandemic, presented as an institution on a par with the NHS in terms of heroism and esteem.
The ruling class fears that they are losing the battle to keep the United Kingdom together. Many establishment commentators have openly said that they think Boris Johnson does more harm than good.
One Financial Timesopinion piece, written by their chief political commentator Philip Stevens, expressed this view once again. The FT article concluded that the Conservatives can choose “the road to little England, or it can fight to save the Union”. “There is no third way,” the author asserts.
The PM is condemned as a representative of “a reactionary strand of English Toryism” – as if there was any other kind. The article is nothing less than a call for Boris Johnson to be ousted as Tory leader and prime minister, coming straight from a major mouthpiece of the capitalist class.
Even Boris’ old chums are wringing their hands and offering advice. Writing in his Evening Standard, George Osborne says that the Tory Party has “unleashed nationalism” through Brexit. The Conservatives are running out of ways to politically combat Scottish nationalism, the former chancellor remarks.
Osborne writes that Johnson should ‘just say no’ to the SNP’s requests for another Indyref. This raises the spectre of Spain’s repression against Catalan republicans, as an example of how the British ruling class can deal with the movement for Scottish independence. Stevens, by contrast, thinks such a response is “politically unsustainable”, in light of the SNP’s popularity.
Clearly, the British establishment are unsure of what they can do, if anything, to preserve the Union. The only thing that can agree on, however, is that Boris Johnson is not the right man for the job.