Covid: How essential is Boris Johnson's journey to Scotland?

He is telling us all to stay at home, so is Boris Johnson’s trip to Scotland on Thursday an ‘essential journey?’ Well, it depends what we mean by essential. Nicola Sturgeon thinks not. Scotland’s First Minister argues the Prime Minister should “lead by example” and stay in London. “People like me and Boris Johnson have to be in work for reasons people understand, but we don't have to travel across the UK,” she said on Wednesday.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said Boris Johnson’s visit to Scotland is ‘not essential’ Credit: Jane Barlow/PA

Boris Johnson has already made visits outside of London this year - to Manchester to visit flood victims last week, to Bristol to meet staff vaccinating the vulnerable - and those journeys weren’t brought into question. Like it or not, Boris Johnson is as much the Prime Minister of Motherwell as he is Manchester, Barrhead as he is Bristol. Downing Street argues therefore it is important the Prime Minister is “visible and accessible” during the pandemic to the whole UK. And while much of Scotland’s response to the pandemic has been controlled by Nicola Sturgeon (health is a devolved matter), there have been UK-wide initiatives announced by Boris Johnson’s government, most notably the furlough scheme that has kept Scots in work. A more pressing question (certainly a more complex and interesting one) is whether Boris Johnson’s journey is essential for the future of the United Kingdom.

During his visit on Thursday the Prime Minister will extol the virtues of the Union, specifically in the context of the pandemic, with a particular focus on the hitherto success of the vaccination rollout. Some Scottish conservatives fear his presence north of the border does more harm than good.

Douglas Ross (right) with prime minister Boris Johnson (left) in November 2019. Credit: PA

Douglas Ross, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, in an interview with ITV News, said there was no denying Mr Johnson’s low approval ratings in Scotland could damage the case for remaining a part of the UK. Claims by pro-independence campaigners that support for their cause “soars” every time the Prime Minister visits are hard to prove but it is inconceivable right now to see him as the face of the ‘No’ campaign should a second independence referendum materialise. Thursday will also be Boris Johnson’s first visit since Britain fully left the European Union and, as we’ve been reporting on ITV News, Scottish fisherman, even those who backed Brexit, are not happy one bit with the what has swiftly become the pretty bleak reality of life outside the EU. The next big constitutional row is likely to come after May’s Holyrood elections, where the SNP have vowed to hold a second referendum on independence should they win and the Scottish parliament approve it. Boris Johnson says that needs the UK government’s approval, which he won’t give.

Yet support for independence has remained consistently ahead in the polls for some time and the UK government know they need to do more than just say no - they have to offer a much more compelling case for Scotland remaining. Whether Boris Johnson is the right person to make that case, and if not him then who, could soon be the essential question.

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