PM aims to build bridges
Johnson to quell indyref calls by promoting ‘union dividend’
Boris Johnson hopes to build bridges with Nicola Sturgeon
Boris Johnson is to instigate new measures to protect the integrity of the UK by ensuring the interests of the regions and nations are at the heart of all policy making.
It will see the creation of a First Secretary of the Union – with Michael Gove suggested as a condender – in addition to the First Ministers of Scotland and Wales, with more focus on promoting the “union dividend”.
The plan is part of a wider shake-up of Whitehall departments that will deliver on promises to invest in the NHS, transform the transport network and reward those constituencies in the north of England that Mr Johnson thanked for “lending” their support to his party in last week’s General Election.
There will be a new department of borders and immigration working alongside the Home Office, and a merger of the international trade and business departments to create a more powerful office to strike overseas trade deals. They will be announced in the Queen’s Speech on Thursday along with a plan to split up the energy and climate change department.
In Scotland, Mr Johnson will aim to neutralise growing demands for independence by embedding devolution into the everyday business of Westminster decision making, thereby ensuring the benefits are spread beyond the south of England.
A review of the structure of government by Lord Dunlop, a former adviser to David Cameron, has been under way since the summer, according to The Sunday Times, and its recommendations will be discussed this week by Mr Johnson and the Scottish Secretary Alister Jack.
Daily Business Editor’s comment on Friday
The ideas being promoted are designed to quell the growing cross-border divisiveness and hostility and build bridges. It would put pressure on First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to work with, rather than against, the Conservative government.
There is likely to be a greater acknowledgement of the specific needs of the regions and nations on issues such as transport and immigration, and build on other powers being devolved such as social security and VAT.
Ms Sturgeon is unlikely to be persuaded by Mr Johnson’s gestures and will formally request a second referendum on independence claiming that the Scots have a right to self-determination after the SNP won 48 of the 59 Scottish seats contested in the General Election.
Her opponents point out that 54% of the electorate voted for parties supporting the union and that in a referendum, which is decided on a majority of votes, rather than a majority of constituencies, she is likely to lose.
Mr Johnson told her in a phone call on Friday that he would not agree to a second poll, a view echoed over the weekend by a number of senior Tories.
Support for Ms Sturgeon came from a series of senior Labour figures who said the Conservative party should recognise the SNP’s mandate and support an independence referendum.
But Labour was once again sending out contradictory messages. While two MSPs said a referendum should be held, Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard, announcing a review of Labour’s tactics, said: “Neither the status quo nor the SNP’s vision for cuts and separation offers the way forward for Scotland.”
Neil Findlay MSP said: “We cannot deny the people of Scotland a second referendum where the majority is calling for it.”
Monica Lennon MSP said: “If Boris Johnson isn’t prepared to grant this request” for a section 30 order “he should allow the Scottish Parliament to decide.”
Alison Evison, President of COSLA and Leader of the Labour group on Aberdeenshire Council, said: “It’s straight-forward to me: democracy must be at the core of all we do … that must mean a referendum on independence.”