Britain’s prime minister reportedly called the devolution of powers to Scotland “a disaster,” triggering criticism from Scottish Nationalists who want a second independence referendum.
In a video call on Friday with northern English Conservative Party lawmakers, Boris Johnson said that devolution, introduced by Tony Blair, had been the former Labour prime minister’s “biggest mistake” and “a disaster,” The Sun reported.
He also said there was no case for giving Scotland’s semi-autonomous government and parliament, which are dominated by the pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP), any further powers.
Reacting to Johnson’s comments, SNP leader and Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon implied that Conservative public statements in support of Scottish devolution were two-faced.
She wrote on Twitter that it was “Worth bookmarking these PM comments for the next time Tories say they’re not a threat to the powers of the Scottish Parliament—or, even more incredibly, that they support devolving more powers.”
She added that the only way to “protect and strengthen” Scottish Parliament is with independence.
Worth bookmarking these PM comments for the next time Tories say they’re not a threat to the powers of the Scottish Parliament – or, even more incredibly, that they support devolving more powers. The only way to protect & strengthen @ScotParl is with independence. https://t.co/Hk7DqoFeuY
— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) November 16, 2020
The Conservative leader in Scotland, Douglas Ross, contradicted Johnson but redirected criticism back to the SNP.
He wrote on Twitter that it was not devolution that had been the disaster but rather the SNP’s “non-stop obsession with another referendum—above jobs, schools, and everything else.”
Devolution has not been a disaster. The SNP’s non-stop obsession with another referendum – above jobs, schools and everything else – has been a disaster. https://t.co/WEOJubpDVG
— Douglas Ross MP (@Douglas4Moray) November 16, 2020
In the 2014 Scottish referendum, 55.3 percent of voters rejected the proposition that Scotland should become an independent country (pdf) while 44.7 percent voted that it should be independent.
Since then, the SNP has won all elections in Scotland by huge margins. They are expected to perform strongly in elections to the Scottish parliament in Holyrood in May, and Sturgeon is pushing for a second referendum.
In the 2016 Brexit referendum, England and Wales voted to leave the European Union but Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain. Due to the much bigger English population, however, there was a win for Brexit.
This disgruntled many Scots, because a central argument for voting to stay part of the UK had been that it was the only way to stay part of the EU.
‘Greater Say Over Their Own Destiny’
This dissatisfaction was later echoed in the SNP’s 2016 manifesto (pdf), which said that Scotland was “being taken out of the EU against our will”.
Defending Johnson, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick told the BBC’s Breakfast programme that “the prime minister has always supported devolution”.
He said the PM wants “greater say over their own destiny” for people in devolved administrations as well as in England “through the devolution towards regional mayors”.
He said, however, that he agreed with Johnson that “devolution in Scotland has facilitated the rise of separatism and nationalism in the form of the SNP”.
This was “trying to break apart the United Kingdom,” he said.
He added that for anyone like the PM who “loves the UK and wants to keep it together” that was a “very, very, dangerous and disappointing outcome that we need to battle against”.
Asked by Sky about another Scottish referendum, Jenrick said, “I don’t think this is the right time to do that.”
He added that any politician not instead focused on facing the disruption caused by “the biggest health crisis for generations” is “frankly deluding themselves”.
The Prime Minister’s Downing Street office had not responded to a request for comment at the time of this report.
Reuters contributed to this report.