Boris Johnson launched a pointed attack on the SNP, insisting that the coronavirus pandemic should not be the time for “division or distraction about our national constitution” but instead one for the UK governments to “rebuild from its ravages” and work together.
In a speech made to Scottish Conservatives during a virtual conference, he told Nicola Sturgeon and her party: “To tackle the shared and common threat that is Covid-19, the focus on separation has got to stop.”
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He made the address just days after he reportedly told Tory MPs in the north of England that Scottish devolution had thus far been a “disaster”.
Mr Johnson – who is currently self-isolating – insisted that the remarks had been “not entirely accurately” relayed by the media.
Instead, he claimed his “round, unvarnished view” was meant to describe “the way the SNP have handled devolution in Scotland”.
‘An abysmal record’
Under the SNP, he said, Scotland had seen “plummeting education standards, low business confidence and the lowest satisfaction in public services ever”.
The Prime Minister told his audience he believed this made for “an abysmal record”.
“Just because I have criticised the performance of devolution does not mean I want to oppose devolution as a concept,” he continued. “I’m a former mayor of London, I know how effective devolved powers can be.
“The key is to have policies to show how devolution can work for Scotland, for the people in Scotland, rather than the SNP obsession with making devolution work against the rest of the UK.”
Mr Johnson later thanked the Scottish First Minister and her government for the way she had worked with the other devolved nations of the UK during the Covid-19 “plague”.
However, he went on to claim that rival politicians in the UK need to continue to work in partnership “making use of the vaccine stocks, test kits and new technology that come from being part of what is one of the world’s leading scientific superpowers”.
“Covid-19 doesn’t care about constitutional arrangements and whatever our political differences,” Mr Johnson added.
“We all need to work together at this time to protect the health and jobs of the people of Scotland.”
‘Hope on the horizon’
Despite the “last very difficult eight months”, he added that there was now “hope on the horizon”.
“The best way to take that hope, and turn it into a better, brighter future we all want to see, is to continue to work together,” he said.
“The cut and thrust of normal political debate will return in full when the threat of the virus has abated. And we all will welcome that, the clamour and vibrancy of a healthy democracy.
“But when we take up the political cudgels again, let’s never forget what we have achieved as a country through co-operation – through working across the whole of the United Kingdom to face down a deadly threat that respects no tier of government or boundaries.
“We’ve never seen a challenge quite like this in our lifetimes, and there are real lessons.
“I am an optimist by nature. I believe that with continued and sustained effort we can defeat the coronavirus. That we can turn the page on this troubled chapter of our history. That we can build back better from it, from this plague.
“But I am also a realist. I know that we can only achieve this if we resolve to work together for that better, brighter future we all want for Scotland and the whole of the Kingdom.”
Additional reporting from agencies