November 25, 2020

UK politics live: minister seeks to clarify PM’s claim about Scottish devolution ‘disaster’

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/live/2020/nov/17/uk-politics-live-boris-johnson-scotland-devolution-disaster-covid-tiers

Good morning. When Boris Johnson became prime minister last year, he decided that, among his other responsibilities, he would serve as minister for the union. According to the Cabinet Office website, in this capacity it’s his job “to ensure that all of government is acting on behalf of the entire United Kingdom”. But if you measure his success by the impact he is having on support in Scotland for independence, he has failed. Support for independent is now consistently higher than it has ever been in modern times. Here is the polling, from the What Scotland Thinks website, since Johnson was appointed PM.

Polling on independence since July 2019


Polling on independence since July 2019. Photograph: What Scotland Thinks

And now Johnson has told Conservative MPs in private that devolution has been a “disaster” in Scotland. The SNP view his words as a gift. Here is our overnight story.

After the Sun revealed last night that Johnson had called devolution a “disaster”, No 10 claimed that that was not the PM’s view, that he had always supported devolution, but that he did not support it when it was “used by separatists and nationalists to break up the UK”.

Robert Jenrick, the communities secretary, elaborated on this this morning when he defended the PM in an interview with BBC Breakfast. He said:


The prime minister has always supported devolution, he wants to ensure that local people and communities can have a greater say over their own destiny, whether that’s in the devolved administrations or within England through the devolution to regional mayors.

What he does feel strongly, and I would agree, is that devolution in Scotland has facilitated the rise of separatism and nationalism in the form of the SNP, and that that’s trying to break apart the United Kingdom and anybody, like the prime minister, who loves the UK, but wants to keep it together, thinks that that’s a very, very dangerous and disappointing outcome that we need to battle against to… keep the UK together.

Jenrick also said that having a second independence referendum now would be “mad”. He said:


I also think, frankly, that any politician who wanted to hold a referendum on a topic like this at this moment in time, you know, is frankly, mad. We’re in the middle of a very serious health situation, a pandemic, and we’re also seeing massive disruption to people’s lives and livelihoods as a result of the economic disruption that’s flowed with it.

If the SNP win an outright majority in next year’s Holyrood elections, as polls suggest they will, then they will demand a referendum. Ian Blackford, the SNP leader at Westminster, has said it should take place before the end of 2021.

Here is the agenda for the day.

9.30am: Boris Johnson chairs cabinet. He will be doing so virtually because he is self-isolating.

9.30am: The ONS publishes its weekly death figures for England and Wales.

9.30am: Sir Mark Sedwill, the former cabinet secretary, gives evidence to the Commons public administration and constitutional affairs committee about the work of the Cabinet Office.

11.30am: Matt Hancock, the health secretary, takes questions in the Commons.

11.30am: NHS Providers, the Royal College of Surgeons of England and The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists give evidence to the all-party parliamentary group on coronavirus.

12.30pm: Downing Street is expected to hold its daily lobby briefing.

After 2pm: Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister, gives a statement to the Scottish parliament. She is expected to announce tougher controls for large parts of western Scotland.

Politics Live is now doubling up as the UK coronavirus live blog and, given the way the Covid crisis eclipses everything, this will continue for the foreseeable future. But we will be covering non-Covid political stories too, like the devolution row, and when they seem more important or more interesting, they will take precedence.

Here is our global coronavirus live blog.

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