Johnson rejects calls for second Scottish independence referendum

Pandemic has strengthened case for union, says prime minister on visit to Scotland

London Editor Boris Johnson has used a visit to Scotland to reject calls for a second independence referendum, asserting that Britain's response to the coronavirus pandemic strengthened the case for the union. The prime minister's Scottish visit, one of only a handful since he took office in 2019, came as 20 opinion polls over the past six months showed a majority in favour of independence.

“My strong feeling is that the whole country needs to work together. I want to work together with the devolved administration to get through the pandemic and to bounce back strongly the other side. I think that’s the focus that people have. I think that talking about another referendum is really not the priority of people,” he said.

“There was an independence referendum in 2014, which was clearly advertised by leading members of the SNP I think, possibly, including the current first minister, as a once-in-a-generation event. I think we should stick to that.

“I don’t think that the people of Scotland or anywhere else are focusing on constitutional wrangling or necessarily want constitutional wrangling to displace our joint efforts, our energies which should be focused on beating Covid, beating the pandemic and bouncing back strongly together.”


Scotland's first minister Nicola Sturgeon this week promised that if her Scottish National Party (SNP) returns with a majority after next May's Holyrood elections she will press ahead with a second referendum even if Mr Johnson declines to authorise it.

Under the devolution settlement, constitutional issues and the future of the union are powers reserved to Westminster, and the 2014 referendum took place after David Cameron’s government issued a section 30 order under the Scotland Act 1998, giving Holyrood the power to schedule the vote.

Section 30

Mr Johnson has repeatedly ruled out granting a section 30 order even if the Scottish parliament votes in favour of a second referendum and polls continue to show a majority for independence.

Briefing journalists during his visit to Glasgow and Edinburgh on Thursday, he asked what a second referendum was intended to deliver.

“What happens to the pound? What happens to the foreign service? What happens to the army? What happens to the queen? What happens to our security services?

“None of these questions, fundamental to statehood, have been asked or answered. To say you want a referendum is a bit like saying you don’t mind what you eat, provided you eat it with a spoon. What’s it all about?”

The SNP dismissed the prime minister's visit as evidence that he was panicking over the rise in support for independence, and the party's deputy leader Keith Brown accused him of aping Donald Trump by attempting to block democracy.

“Twenty polls in a row have shown that a majority of voters believe Scotland’s future should be in Scotland’s hands – not Boris Johnson’s. Scotland didn’t vote for this Tory government, we didn’t vote for Brexit, and we certainly didn’t vote for Boris Johnson.

“The longer Boris Johnson reads from the Trump playbook of democracy denial the more support for Scottish independence will grow.”

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times