British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has inflamed Scottish discontent with his Conservative government by reportedly saying giving governing powers to Scotland had been a “disaster”.
British media reported Johnson made the remarks during a video meeting with Conservative Party legislators on Monday evening, in which he also said Scottish devolution had been former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s “biggest mistake”.
Scotland has an Edinburgh-based government and Parliament, set up in 1999, with broad powers in areas including health and education. Wales and Northern Ireland also have their own legislatures and regional administrations.
Johnson’s office did not deny he made the comments. But it said he was not criticising devolution, only its use “by separatists and nationalists to break up the UK”.
The Scottish National Party, which wants Scotland to become an independent country, leads the government in Edinburgh. It is strongly critical of the UK’s Conservative government over the decision to leave the European Union. Brexit was championed by Johnson and supported by a narrow majority of UK voters in a 2016 referendum, but strongly opposed in Scotland.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has also been critical of Johnson’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Britain has seen more than 52,000 deaths from the virus, the highest toll in Europe.
Scotland voted to remain in the UK in a 2014 independence referendum that was billed as a once-in-a-generation event. But the SNP claims Brexit has fundamentally changed the situation by dragging Scotland out of the EU against its will and is pushing for a new independence vote. Recent opinion polls suggest a majority of Scots now favour independence.
Sturgeon tweeted that Johnson’s remarks showed his government was “a threat to the powers of the Scottish Parliament”.
“The only way to protect & strengthen @ScotParl is with independence,” she said.
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