Tag Archives: Boris Johnson

Why Boris Johnson is so important to Scottish independence

Why is the presence of Boris Johnson so important to the prospect of Scottish independence? Why is it so important to the fate of the Scottish Conservatives? How are both questions connected?

One way to answer these questions is to think back to the relative success of the Scottish Conservatives in the most recent elections in Westminster and Holyrood. During this period, the party’s Scottish strategy was simple and effective:

  1. Focus on its leader in Scotland – Ruth Davidson – and downplay the party.
  2. Focus almost exclusively on opposing a second referendum on Scottish independence.
  3. Promote Ruth Davidson’s image – as a competent, reliable, and therefore trustworthy leader – to give weight to its message on the referendum.

Another is to remember that some key UK factors helped facilitate this approach:

  1. UK Prime Ministers – David Cameron and Theresa May – were relatively respectful towards Scottish political actors and relatively sympathetic to the Scottish context.
  2. Until the Brexit debate and its aftermath, they were often able to project a sense of order and use it to highlight a set of relatively consistent rules, norms, and expectations about how politics should work.

In that context, think about the extent to which any of these factors now hold:

  1. Boris Johnson will often overshadow the Scottish party and its leader, reinforcing the old association between (a) support for constitutional change, and (b) opposition to the Conservatives.
  2. He will likely slip up, either by appearing to favour a second Scottish referendum on impulse, or by opposing it in an unhelpful way.
  3. His reputation for incompetent buffoonery may seem cute to his supporters, but embarrassing and damaging to Scottish Conservatives.
  4. He is already on record as being disrespectful to the Scottish case, and will be under relatively high pressure to ‘stand up for England’ in the way that the SNP has become known as ‘standing up for Scotland’.
  5. All bets are off in relation to the idea that there is a standard way to deal with demands for things like referendums.

Put more simply, the person in charge of telling the SNP not to be so gung ho, unreasonable, or obsessed with national identity and independence from an external authority, will be Boris Johnson.

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Perspectives on the Scottish independence referendum

Just go to the end if you want the Boris Johnson bit.

It is easy to lose perspective when you are immersed in a continuous, heated debate in places like twitter. Most people do not pay as much attention to these issues as you do. Or, they live outside Scotland, or outside the UK, and they have different understandings and points of reference. They see the debate through different eyes. What are the implications?

What shorthand language we can reasonably use to skip over what we already know, and what we might need to explain?

The obvious example is about the meaning of independence. It is quite common for people new to the debate to quickly realise that independence doesn’t mean independence, and/ or declare that its supporters are stupid if they think it means independence, and/ or that it’s not worth bothering about:

Yet, many have known for some time that the meaning of independence has changed – partly to reflect the SNP’s pragmatic response to interdependence – and many still think that it’s worth doing, for reasons other than a desire to remove themselves completely from the world around them.

What might people need to know about the Scottish context?

The example that springs to mind is Thatcherism and Conservatism. “Not identifying with the Conservatives” was more important to support for devolution than identification with parties like the SNP. There is still great potential in Scotland to demonise the Conservative party. Some people have long memories about the poll tax and associate with Thatcherism the decline of important industries and an assault on the welfare state in Scotland. The Conservative party does terribly in the Scottish part of UK General Elections and secures about one-sixth of Scottish Parliament seats. It still has little chance of forming part of a coalition government in the Scottish Parliament because its inclusion would undermine the status of any other party.

Most importantly, a Conservative-led UK Government, which received little electoral support in Scotland, can sometimes be used to good effect by the Yes campaign (particularly in reference to policies, like the ‘bedroom tax’, that Yes supporters argue can be abolished in an independent Scotland). Things are so bad, for some, that people like David Cameron and George Osborne have to think twice about saying what they think about the referendum, for fear of their statements backfiring.

What might we recognise when engaging with people who view the debate in the rest of the UK?

The main thing is that UK political parties are operating in two arenas. They want to influence the independence debate, but they are also mindful of how their strategies will look to their larger audience, primarily in England. What goes down well in ‘Westminster’ politics, for one audience, may be damaging in Scotland.

Usually, this example is best served by looking at the rising importance of UKIP in England and the need for the main parties to respond, often by taking a tougher line on things like the EU (a referendum now seems inevitable) and immigration. Or, we might note that the UK Government’s rejection of a currency union plays well in the rest of the UK.

However, today, it is best served by the comments attributed to Boris Johnson. Someone who seems, to many, to be an entertaining oaf, worthy of election to London Mayor, and discussed as a potential future leader of the Conservative Party, can be a liability to the No campaign in Scotland. Something that might play very well to many audiences in England – along the lines of ‘Scotland is already privileged, and it deserves no more’ – has the potential to derail the No campaign in Scotland:







Filed under Scottish politics