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

The Conservative frontrunner's election could result in either another independence referendum or more devolved powers. 

NS

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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. 

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. 

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.