Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
17 July 2019updated 08 Sep 2021 7:56am

Why Boris Johnson as prime minister would be a win-win for the SNP

By Aoife Petrie

As a 17-year-old living in Glasgow, a city which voted for Scotland to leave the UK in the 2014 independence referendum, it’s difficult to ignore the rumblings of discontent that have grown louder during the Conservative leadership election. 

Before the grim contest began, and prior to Theresa May’s resignation as Tory leader, a YouGov poll found that only 51 per cent of Scots would vote to stay in the Union. This desperately small lead for the No side demonstrates how the Scottish public were already beginning to turn towards independence. Now the will to separate Scotland from the increasing chaos south of the border is obvious from daily chatter. 

The initial blow of the 2016 Leave result, in the face of a strong Scottish Remain vote (62 per cent), reignited the antipathy towards Westminster. The unfocussed, divisive Brexit process that has ensued has fueled dislike of the Union while also allowing the SNP to mount a three-pronged anti-Brexit, pro-independence, pro-EU campaign.

The near-certainty that Johnson will become our prime minister has sowed further distrust towards the Conservatives, and Westminster as a whole, among the Scottish electorate. Unsurprisingly, should Johnson win the Tory leadership, a poll has suggested that 53 per cent of Scots would vote to leave the UK: a significant, and possibly decisive, increase from the previous level of 49 per cent. Johnson represents precisely the kind of uber-privileged, arrogant, pompous Englishman that has historically antagonised most Scots. 

To say the intentionally-dishevelled, Old Etonian Johnson is unpopular among the people of Glasgow is an understatement. David Cameron was passively disliked but the fervent abreaction to Johnson is unprecedented. 

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

The dislike of the Tory frontrunner is not a recent phenomenon — the clown-like figure starkly contrasts with popular Unionist politicians such as Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson. Her careful and consistent messaging is the antithesis of Johnson’s wild lurches. 

Content from our partners
Harnessing breakthrough thinking
Are we there yet with electric cars? The EV story – with Wejo
Sherif Tawfik: The Middle East and Africa are ready to lead on the climate

His tousled blond hair, and lack of attention to detail, of course remind the public of another reviled figure: Donald Trump. But, perhaps in contrast to Trump, it seems that Johnson may recognise his unpopularity in Scotland. Despite his past public denouncement of the Barnett formula — the Treasury mechanism used to determine the level of public spending in Scotland — he has suddenly pledged to maintain it if elected. This is a typically Johnsonian ploy, which graphically demonstrates his opportunistic nature — he had previously called the formula “monstrous”. (One is reminded of Groucho Marx’s quip: “Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them … well, I have others.”) 

It is not merely the Scottish public that finds Johnson unendearing. He has struggled to attract support among the Scottish Conservative hierarchy, with the unsuccessful “Operation Arse” launched by the group last year in an attempt to deny Johnson the Conservative leadership. 

Throughout the campaign, Davidson, who is respected among Scots, has been a sharp critic of Johnson and has refused to say she believes that he would be a good prime minister. The conditions under which she has stated that she would back Johnson are limited to defeating Jeremy Corbyn — as any Conservative would reluctantly do. David Mundell, the Scottish Secretary, has also refused to endorse Johnson. 

Scotland’s First Minister is not one to pass up such an opportunity to rally the country’s people. Nicola Sturgeon is campaigning for another Scottish independence referendum in 2021 — a policy that Johnson is ardently against. As a means of trying to stem the tide of Scottish nationalism, he has previously suggested to Sturgeon that he would grant Holyrood more tax powers if he became prime minister, effectively seeking to buy off the SNP. The crowning of the Scottish-unfriendly Johnson could result in either another referendum for the Scots, or more power to their devolved parliament. The SNP have been gifted a pantomime villain — and a win-win scenario.

Topics in this article :