One can’t help but get the feeling that Boris Johnson was determined to get the tricky business of meeting up with two of his main detractors in Scotland out of the way as soon as possible, writes Steve Cardownie.
Having cocked a snook at Ruth Davidson by refusing to heed her advice and leave David Mundell in his position as Scottish Secretary, he rubbed salt into the wound by appointing Alister Jack MP to that post, then proceeded to ignore the other Scottish Tory MPs by installing Worcester MP Robin Walker as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Scotland. It would appear that Johnson’s contempt for Scotland is only matched by his scorn of Scottish Tory MPs.
Not that Davidson could have expected anything less given that she endorsed three other candidates in the recent Tory leadership contest but it was a spectacular fall from grace nevertheless and the friction seems set to continue.
Davidson made her position on a no-deal Brexit crystal clear at the weekend when she wrote in a Sunday tabloid: “When I was debating against the pro-Brexit side in 2016, I don’t remember anybody saying we should crash out of the EU with no arrangements to help maintain the vital trade that flows uninterrupted between Britain and the European Union.” She went on to say: “I don’t think the UK Government should pursue a no-deal Brexit and if it comes to it, I won’t support it.”
Given that Michael Gove recently stated that a no-deal Brexit was the Government’s operating assumption it would appear that Davidson and Johnson may well be set on yet another collision course, the outcome of which should prove to be very interesting indeed.
Johnson’s other, more formidable detractor, is of course First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who hosted a meeting with him at Bute House on Monday where two of the topics of discussion were Brexit and a Scottish independence referendum. After an hour of talks, she emerged to tell journalists that the Prime Minister had “set the UK on an almost inevitable path of a no-deal Brexit”.
On the question of a future independence referendum, Sturgeon said there was a “very lively exchange of views” and she suggested to him that rather than just debate the pros and cons of independence within the confines of the walls of Bute House why not take the debate out into the public and let them decide?
She said: “I even suggested we might debate it live on television – at which point his adviser said it was probably time he left.”
So, hardly a meeting of minds for Johnson in Edinburgh then, with his position on the two main issues of the day being challenged by the two politicians he elected to meet on his first visit to Scotland as PM and with the mood hardly likely to lighten any time soon.
His exclusive visit itinerary prompted the comment from Sturgeon, “I’m slightly surprised that he didn’t have the chutzpah or the guts to actually go and meet people in Scotland” but he couldn’t totally avoid them as he was met by roughly 200 protestors as he arrived on the steps of Bute House.
Not wishing to repeat the experience he slunk out of the back door. As an ardent admirer of Winston Churchill, it was hardly a shining example of the backbone expected of a man in his position.