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23 July 2020

Boris Johnson has a Scottish problem, but he doesn’t have a solution

David Cameron promised further devolution in response to rising support for independence. What is Johnson’s equivalent?

By Stephen Bush

Party like it’s 2014! A Conservative prime minister has headed to Scotland on the back of polling that suggests the country’s place in the United Kingdom is under considerable threat. 

The difference, of course, is that back in 2014, just one poll showed a small and fragile lead for independence. As it stands, a poll showing support for independence or the SNP at below 50 per cent would be more newsworthy than the opposite. 

The other significant difference is that when David Cameron packed his bags and headed to Scotland he did so carrying a substantial and serious set of constitutional changes in his back pocket – the so-called “vow”, which devolved a swathe of further powers to the Scottish Parliament.

You can argue that the vow didn’t live up to its billing, or that Cameron gave away too much on the back of a single YouGov poll. But the significant thing was that he responded to a political problem with a serious, policy-based answer. What’s the serious answer to Scottish discontent with the Union as it operates? How is Boris Johnson’s governing philosophy, such as it is, changing to meet the challenge of combating Scottish independence? 

Without some kind of answer to that question, it’s hard to see how Johnson’s government will be able to repeat Cameron’s trick of turning voters back towards “no”.

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