As I See It: TERRY MURDEN says Boris Johnson is failing to sell the benefits of the United Kingdom
There has been a lot of talk about Boris Johnson’s vision of a bridge linking Scotland with Northern Ireland, a project that the Prime Minister sees as part of his grand plan to rebuild the UK.
It hasn’t gone down too well. Far from exciting the Scots, the prospect of a £20 billion bridge is seen as little more than a Downing Street vanity project and a waste of money. A solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.
The Prime Minister would be better advised trying to build bridges with those Scots who’ve turned their backs on his party. His dwindling band of supporters should have a quiet word, get him to drop his bridge plan and instead invest in something that would truly turn the heads of the Scots. Moreover, he needs to provide them with a reason to back his other key objective – rekindling their affection for the union.
It requires some imagination and an appeal to the nation’s instincts for creativity. He could try luring some of the biggest brains, investors and top technologists to Scotland to support new manufacturing and science; research into new fuels, food technology, and building turbines and trains that we currently buy from abroad.
Fundamentally, investing in getting the country back to work, improving productivity and wellbeing would also be an investment in those who might then be convinced of the merits of the union and that Scotland cannot thrive without it.
Mr Johnson pulled off the seemingly impossible by winning over the north of England on his way to a landslide general election victory. He faces a bigger task turning the tide in Scotland, but it needs to be done if he’s to save his union of nations.
The north of England constituencies were a different ball game. They were disillusioned with a Labour party which was seen to be making unrealistic promises even to those who had been loyal Labour backers for generations and had never contemplated voting Tory.
They’d vote Labour routinely, without question. But Britain has never been radically left wing and even Labour loyalists distrusted Jeremy Corbyn’s brand of socialism more than the Eton-educated incumbent in Number 10. A door that had been slammed firmly shut for a century was suddenly opening to the Tory leader who had already given them Brexit. Traditional Labour voters therefore did the unthinkable, betraying their forefathers by handing Mr Johnson swathes of northern seats served with Mr Corbyn’s head on a plate.
By contrast, creating a Scottish Powerhouse will require a battering ram to break through barricades that have continued to be reinforced by a nationalist movement whose supporters now include those who regard support for the union and the Tories as akin to a hate crime. It is scary politics, with the divide growing ever wider. Support for independence is now around 54%, and Nicola Sturgeon appears to be safely resident in Bute House for as long as she wants the job.
‘Just as the SNP moved its tanks on to Labour’s lawn and stole its supporters, the Conservatives have to appeal to those soft SNP supporters who believe that devolution is no bad thing’
Mr Johnson needs nothing short of a miracle if he is to make any sort of inroads into this Tory-forbidden territory where it is no longer unusual for even the police to turn a blind eye to banners and placards requesting the Tories go forth and multiply.
But he has to start somewhere. Just as the SNP moved its tanks on to Scottish Labour’s lawn and stole its supporters, the Conservatives have to appeal to those soft SNP supporters who believe that devolution is no bad thing; that just getting more control, rather than full control, would actually give Scotland the best of both worlds.
Just now, the Tories are failing to sell the benefits of the union to the Scots and are led by a man best known to many as a blundering buffoon, out of touch with life outside the Westminster bubble, and seemingly unaware of what is driving Scotland ever closer to disengaging with London. The SNP has created a vision of independence in which all things attached to Scottish sovereignty are good, positive, just and deserving, while the union is viewed as a bleak and rudderless notion championed by a mean-spirited party that only the misguided could possibly support.
Mr Johnson wants his ministers and MPs to talk up the union, but he’s the boss and the buck stops with him. To that extent, he has made few worthwhile contributions of his own. If he wants to be Prime Minister of the whole UK he has to be regarded as a true representative of the people of Dundee and Dumfries, as well as Dulwich and Dover, showing he really believes in their future and not just in the ideal of a United Kingdom.