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An opinion poll published today has found that a majority of Scotland’s voters would back independence should Boris Johnson become Prime Minister. 53% would prefer independence to seeing Boris Johnson in 10 Downing Street. However even without that scenario, 49% support independence, a figure which is within the normal margin of error of opinion polls, and which therefore means it’s too close to call.
Even before an official independence referendum campaign has kicked off, half of Scotland or more want independence. That’s an incredibly strong position for us to be starting from, one which explains the panic in the ranks of the Scottish Conservatives and their desperate attempts to forestall another referendum. It’s why Jeremy Hunt is in Peterhead today, telling Sky News that he will not allow another referendum. People in Scotland don’t want another referendum, he averred, hoping that if he said it often enough it might become true.
I have tried this myself, every week on a Friday before the Euromillions results are announced, I tell myself in a confident voice that I’m a multimillionaire. It hasn’t worked, and Jeremy’s pronouncements won’t work either. The difference however is that my pronouncements about my impending Euromillions win has no effect on the outcome. The numbered balls don’t hear me saying it and say, “The cheek of him. We’re going to make sure that his numbers don’t come up.” On the other hand the pronouncements of Tory politicians that they’re not going to allow another referendum merely antagonise the large majority of Scotland’s voters who are not Conservatives and make it more likely that a referendum comes about. And that when it does they’ll vote Yes.
Jeremy said on Sky News that if he becomes Prime Minister he’ll hold Nicola Sturgeon to account. But he won’t become Prime Minister, because what he’s not willing to do in this leadership contest is to hold Boris Johnson to account. This weekend his rival is facing calls to explain why the police were called out to the flat he shares with his partner after neighbours heard a loud row between the two of them accompanied by the sound of smahing, yelling, and his girlfriend screaming at him to get off her and to get out of the flat. Neighbours also report that Boris Johnson’s car is frequently parked illegally and accumulates parking tickets.
This latest incident comes of top of all the well known and well documented issues about Johnson’s personality, his lies, his gratuitously offensive statements, and his overweening sense of entitlement. It comes after a series of worrying reports about Johnson’s character from people who know him well. From his former boss at the Telegraph Max Hastings, who described him as a “gold medal egomaniac … He is also a far more ruthless, and frankly nastier, figure than the public appreciates.” From the Tory grandee Michael Heseltine who said that Johnson is “a man who waits to see the way the crowd is running then dashes in front and says, ‘Follow me’.” From Martin Hammond, his housemaster at Eton, who wrote in Johnson’s school report in 1982, “I think he honestly believes it is churlish of us not to regard him as an exception, one who should be free of the network of obligation which binds everyone else.”
Boris Johnson’s moral character is very much the issue here, the questions raised about him go to the very heart of whether he is a suitable person to become Prime Minister. People can change their minds about things. They can change their opinions. They can’t change their personality. But Jeremy Hunt doesn’t want to go there, and that leads inexorably to questions about Jeremy Hunt’s character. What sort of person is Jeremy Hunt really, underneath his carefully constructed front of quiet reasonableness? When you scratch the surface you find a chancer, an opportunist, a man for whom principles are disposable if ditching them can advance his own interests. His flipping on Brexit from remain to being willing to countenance a no-deal crash out of the EU is the least of his character flaws.
Jeremy has his eye on a cabinet position in a Johnson government, so he only punches down, not up. He’d rather pitch himself to Tory voters in England as someone who will put those uppity Scots in their place, because that’s easy. That doesn’t threaten his future career prospects within the Conservative party. Jeremy Hunt won’t speak truth unto power, he won’t challenge Boris Johnson on the question of Johnson’s fitness for high office, but he wants everyone to believe that he’s the guy to take on the EU. If he really did possess a magic plan to get the EU to renegotiate, to ensure that the Brextremists get everything that they want with no damage to the UK economy, you’d think that he’d have mentioned it at some point during the previous three years when he was a senior minister in government. But he didn’t, because he was more concerned to embed himself in Theresa May’s goverment than to challenge her. He didn’t because the plan that he claims to have now is just another unicorn chasing fantasy.
That’s why his campaign will fail, no matter what personal issues Boris Johnson gets mired in, because Jeremy Hunt has personal failings of his own. They may be less spectacular, but they are no less debilitating. They’re just obscured by the blinding light of Boris Johnson’s character flaws, but in the unlikely event that Hunt did win, then his own failures and inadequacies will become the focus of attention. Scotland will quickly discover that the man who trashed England’s NHS will just as willingly trash Scotland’s devolution settlement.
Those No voters in Scotland who say they’d switch to Yes should Johnson become Prime Minister will pretty soon switch to Yes anyway. Jeremy Hunt won’t save the Union. Boris Johnson would wreck the UK in a heartbeat in order to further his own interests. Jeremy Hunt would too, it will just take him a little longer. The end result will be the same. There are no depths of moral squalor, cowardice, and hypocrisy which are beyond the reach of a Conservative MP on the career path. No one who has observed Jeremy Hunt’s career over the past few years can be in any doubt that moral cowardice is his default position.
What sort of union is this really? Brexit, and now this woeful Tory leadership contest, where candidates vie with one another to lecture Scotland and tell us what we will not be ‘allowed’ to do merely shows us that this is not a real union at all. Scottish Unionism is founded upon a lie, the lie of partnership, the lie of participation, the lie of the equality of the nations of the UK. Both the candidates for Tory leadership propose to undermine the devolution settlement even further with a “department for the union” which will impose UK government priorities on spending on what are supposed to be devolved areas. So much for the vow never to make any changes to the devolution settlement without the express consent of the Scottish Parliament.
And while all this is going on, the Labour party is nowhere to be seen. The lies of British nationalism stand exposed. Independence is a question of character, and not just the characters of the two posh boy chancers who seek to become the next Prime Minister and to destroy the devolution settlement. It’s a question of the character of the UK.