Skip to main content
Welcome to
super saver spring
offer ends april 20
save over $140
save over 85%
$0.99
per week for 24 weeks
Welcome to
super saver spring
$0.99
per week
for 24 weeks
// //

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks at 10 Downing Street in London on Nov. 9, 2020.

Tolga Akmen/AFP/Getty Images

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has called the devolution of powers to Scotland “a disaster”, a comment that played into the hands of Scottish nationalists as recent polls show a majority of Scots now support independence.

The bonds holding the United Kingdom together have been severely strained over the last five years by Brexit, the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, and repeated calls by the Scottish National Party (SNP) for a new referendum on independence.

In a video call on Friday with northern English lawmakers from his Conservative Party, Johnson said that devolution, which was introduced by Tony Blair, had been the former Labout prime minister’s “biggest mistake” and “a disaster”, media reported.

Story continues below advertisement

He also said he saw no case for giving Scotland’s semi-autonomous government and parliament, which are dominated by the SNP, any further powers in addition to the ones they hold now.

Asked about the comments on Tuesday, Johnson’s spokesman did not deny them but said: "The PM has always fully supported devolution and this government continues to put the union in the heart of everything that we do.

“He will always stand against those trying to separate the United Kingdom. He is very clear that he rejects the SNP’s call to break up the U.K..”

But Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP leader, said Johnson’s comments to the lawmakers showed the Conservatives' public statements of support for devolution were duplicitous.

“Worth bookmarking these PM comments for the next time Tories (Conservatives) say they’re not a threat to the powers of the Scottish Parliament – or, even more incredibly, that they support devolving more powers,” she said on Twitter.

Independence is the only way to protect and strengthen the Scottish parliament, she added.

In a sign of the nervousness that Johnson’s comments caused among Scots who support staying part of the United Kingdom, the Conservative leader in Scotland, Douglas Ross, immediately contradicted the prime minister.

Story continues below advertisement

“Devolution has not been a disaster,” he said on Twitter. “The SNP’s non-stop obsession with another referendum – above jobs, schools and everything else – has been a disaster.”

SECOND REFERENDUM?

Scottish voters rejected independence by 55 to 45 per cent in a 2014 referendum, but since then the SNP have become stronger, winning all elections in Scotland by huge margins. They are expected to perform strongly in elections to the Scottish parliament in May. Sturgeon is pushing for a second referendum.

In the 2016 Brexit referendum, England and Wales voted to leave the European Union but Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain. Due to the much greater size of England’s population, the overall result was a win for Brexit.

This was galling for many Scots as one of the central arguments put forward in favour of remaining in the United Kingdom in their own 2014 referendum was that it was the only way for Scotland to remain part of the European bloc.

In an attempt to defuse the row caused by Johnson’s comments, housing minister Robert Jenrick said it was not realistic to demand a second referendum.

“Any politician who wanted to hold a referendum on a topic like this, at this moment in time, is frankly mad,” he said, accusing the SNP of prioritizing their cause above the fight against COVID-19 and the economic damage it has caused.

Story continues below advertisement

However, polls suggest that Scots have a more favourable view of how Sturgeon and her administration have handled the pandemic than the rest of the country has of how Johnson’s government has performed.

SNP lawmaker Drew Henry said Johnson’s comments showed his and his party’s “contempt” for the people of Scotland.

“Effectively what they are saying is it’s all right for Scotland to have devolution as long as they vote for the Westminster party we want them to,” he told the BBC.

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies