Johnson champions “might” of the union ahead of Scotland visit
Prime minister Boris Johnson has said that the UK’s response to the Covid-19 crisis has demonstrated the “sheer might” of the union and has saved 900,000 Scottish jobs as he prepares to visit Scotland on Thursday.
Johnson’s visit comes a year after he became prime minister and will see him meet with members of the armed forces in Scotland and their families.
Johnson was full of praise for the work that British troops had put in to support the NHS during the lockdown period and reiterated his promise to be a “prime minister for every corner of the UK”, adding that his response to the pandemic showed a commitment to the entire country.
The prime minister said: "The last six months have shown exactly why the historic and heartfelt bond that ties the four nations of our country together is so important and the sheer might of our union has been proven once again.
"In Scotland, the UK's magnificent armed forces have been on the ground doing vital work to support the NHS, from setting up and running mobile testing sites to airlifting critically-ill patients to hospitals from some of Scotland's most remote communities.
"And the UK Treasury stepped in to save the jobs of a third of Scotland's entire workforce and kept the wolves at bay for tens of thousands of Scottish businesses.
"More than ever, this shows what we can achieve when we stand together, as one United Kingdom."
However, the SNP said that Johnson’s trip to promote the union showed Westminster’s worry about the rise in Scottish nationalism.
First minister Nicola Sturgeon said that she was not planning to meet with the PM during his stay and would instead continue working on Holyrood’s “immediate priority” of battling Covid-19, but would be happy to meet with Johnson should he wish.
Sturgeon said: "We're all very focused on the immediate priority of continuing to suppress Covid and I look forward to working with the UK government on that basis.
"We have got our political disagreements, and disagreements over aspects of Scotland and the UK's future, and I'm sure we'll continue to discuss those constructively as well."
Westminster has taken the lead on the majority of the UK’s economic response to the pandemic, including the introduction of the job retention scheme, while the devolved administrations have been in charge of their own regional public health measures and have set their own timetables on the easing of lockdown restrictions.
Speaking at Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons, SNP leader in Westminster Ian Blackford said: "Yesterday the Tory party held a political cabinet with the prime minister in a panic about the majority in increasing support for Scottish independence. Apparently, their great strategy amounts to more UK cabinet ministers coming to Scotland.
"Can I tell the prime minister - the more Scotland sees of this UK government, the more convinced they are of the need for Scotland's independence."
Sturgeon has suggested previously that Holyrood’s response to the Covid-19 crisis was helping convince Scottish citizens of the viability of independence.
Speaking in an interview during her 50th birthday on Sunday, Sturgeon said: "As we have stopped shouting about independence, and shouting to ourselves about how we go about getting independence, and just focused on [dealing with the crisis] it has allowed people to take a step back and say 'well actually that's the benefit of autonomous decision-making' and also 'perhaps things would be better if we had a bit more autonomous decision-making,' and to come to their own conclusions."
During his visit, Johnson is due to outline details of £50 million of funding as part of a new series of “city and region deals” which will go to Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles. These deals will see Westminster and Holyrood provide funding to different areas to upgrade infrastructure and go toward local development initiatives.
Meanwhile, the Scottish government will invest £50 million into an “Islands growth deal”, which is aimed at bolstering the tourism, energy and skills sectors.