The prime minister set off almost in secret for the part of Great Britain that wants to break away – much to the displeasure of the head of government there, Nicola Sturgeon.
It seems a little like a secret operation in enemy territory. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson set off for the independence-seeking part of Scotland against the will of the regional government. The visit on Thursday, which was announced at short notice – without the accompaniment of media representatives – was also planned as an appeal to the unity of the country.
Contrary to all custom, no meeting was expected with the Scottish Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who is promoting the separation of the region from Great Britain. Rather, Sturgeon emphasized that the trip from London to the cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh, hundreds of kilometers away, during the pandemic was “not necessary” and that Johnson was not serving as a role model.
In Scotland, as in other parts of the country, strict exit and travel restrictions are in place to stop the spread of the coronavirus. The fact that Johnson drives anyway shows that the Prime Minister is “in a panic”, according to Sturgeon’s Scottish National Party (SNP).
In Scotland, polls show that a majority of people have been in favor of independence for months. One reason is Brexit: In the vote on leaving the EU in 2016, the Scots clearly voted to remain in the confederation. Sturgeon wants to lead the country back into the EU. In a first independence referendum in 2014, a narrow majority voted in favor of unity, and Johnson vehemently opposes a second referendum. Sturgeon, on the other hand, emphasizes that the conditions have changed because of the exit from the EU.
Now Johnson wants to score above all with the commitment of the central government. “The great benefits of the cooperation of the whole of the United Kingdom have never been more evident than since the beginning of the pandemic,” Johnson said in a statement on Thursday night. The government in London has supported the economy and health system in Scotland with billions of pounds.
In line with this, Johnson announced on Thursday that the biotech company Valneva had started production of a corona vaccine at its headquarters in Livingston, Scotland. “We have secured 60 million cans to be delivered by the end of the year,” tweeted Johnson. The prerequisite is the approval of the vaccine.
But the gap between the central government and the Scottish leadership is wide. In London, Minister of State Michael Gove used several interviews Thursday morning not only to defend Johnson’s visit, but also to attack the government in Edinburgh. “When the Prime Minister visits other parts of the UK, other political leaders do not criticize him but welcome him and other ministers who roll up their sleeves and connect with those on the ground,” Gove told Sky News. The largest opposition faction, the Labor Party, also sided with the prime minister.
But the focus is on the person Johnson. The head of government is “a huge plus” for the unit, Gove told the BBC. According to experts, however, this argument could backfire – after all, Johnson was the face of the “Leave” movement in the Brexit dispute – that is, the camp that was in favor of a Brexit. “Scotland did not vote for this Tory government, we did not vote for Brexit and we certainly did not vote for Boris Johnson,” said SNP Vice Keith Brown.
But the pandemic also plays an important role – but different than Johnson hopes. As political scientist John Curtice from Glasgow University of Strathclyde points out, only a small proportion of Scots are satisfied with Johnson’s crisis management in the corona pandemic. His adversary Sturgeon received top marks. Johnson’s visit is now another part of the Scottish drama. What – to quote the works of the great poet William Shakespeare – could be planned as “The Taming of the Shrew” may ultimately only be “Lost Love Labor”.