Prime Minister Boris Johnson has riled Scottish independence campaigners and some of his own party after calling the devolution of powers to Holyrood “a disaster”.
The comments came during a call with around 60 English Conservative MPs, during which Johnson promised to pump money into infrastructure projects in the north.
His comments were seized upon by the Scottish National Party (SNP). Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted: “Worth bookmarking these PM comments for the next time Tories say they’re not a threat to the powers of the Scottish Parliament — or, even more incredibly, that they support devolving more powers.”
The SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford tweeted that the “Tory mask has slipped”. He added: “As we face an extreme Brexit and Tory power grab, it’s clearer than ever that the only way to protect Scotland’s interests is to become an independent country.”
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross also argued against Johnson’s view. He tweeted: “Devolution has not been a disaster. The SNP’s non-stop obsession with another referendum – above jobs, schools and everything else – has been a disaster.”
The comments, first reported by the Sun, come ahead of key elections in Scotland next year. The SNP are expected to win on the back of the rising support for independence. A Yougov poll last week found support for Scottish independence at 51 per cent.
Johnson, who gave himself the title Minister for the Union, had paid lip service to binding the nations of the UK together. That came after concerns about his Brexit strategy, which is unpopular in Scotland.
However, Johnson said yesterday to MPs that “devolution has been a disaster north of the border”. He called the 1999 transfer of powers “Tony Blair’s biggest mistake,” according to details of the call leaked to The Sun.
Downing Street rowed back on the remarks although did not deny them. A Number 10 source told the BBC: “Devolution is great – but not when it’s used by separatists and nationalists to break up the UK.”
Sturgeon said the comments showed that the only way to “protect and strengthen” the Scottish Parliament was through independence.