Johnson Tells Scotland Now Is Wrong Time for Independence Vote

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson set out his program to stop the Scottish National Party from gaining a majority in regional elections in May, saying the coronavirus pandemic is the wrong time for a referendum on independence.

“I just find it incredible then that the SNP would choose this moment to again push their campaign for separation,” Johnson said in a virtual gathering of members of his Conservative Party on Sunday. “Just when everything is beginning to reopen again, when we will soon be reunited with our friends and family, the SNP think that this is the time to turn us all against one another.”

Polls suggest the SNP is on course to win control of the Scottish Parliament in a vote on May 6, strengthening First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s ambition for another plebiscite on whether to leave the three-century old union with England and Wales. Johnson is seeking to exploit a thin lead for keeping the U.K. together, pointing out how the government in London benefits Scotland.

He also took a swipe at Labour leader Keir Starmer, whom he called “too weak” to save the union.

“Keir Starmer had to pay for independent marketing advice to tell him that he shouldn’t be scared to be seen with the union flag,” Johnson said. “We cannot put the future of our country in Labour’s hands.”

Johnson said Scotland has benefited from 13.3 billion pounds ($18.5 billion) in spending on public services during the Covid-19 crisis. Further measures include:

  • Furlough payments to 930,000 workers in Scotland whose businesses were shut by lockdown rules
  • 3.4 billion pounds in loans for 90,000 businesses
  • Access to Britain’s coronavirus vaccine program, which has secured 400 million doses
  • 1.5 billion pounds in City and Region Growth Deals
  • 220 million pounds in a Community Renewal Fund to tackle inequality
  • A North Sea Transition Deal to ensure 100,000 Scottish oil industry workers have opportunities once fossil-fuel emissions are phased out
  • Access to trade in 65 nations through deals valued at more than 200 million pounds a year
  • A suspension of U.S. tariffs on whiskey that benefits the Scotch drinks industry
  • Study-abroad opportunities for students through the Turing program

Support for Scottish independence declined in the past few weeks after a political dispute between Sturgeon and predecessor Alex Salmond. Two separate polls by YouGov and Savanta ComRes done earlier this month showed 51% of voters favored remaining in the union. YouGov showed the SNP could still win a majority.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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