John­son: No in­dyref even if SNP win Holyrood ma­jor­ity

● PM brands Cor­byn and Stur­geon ‘yoke-mates of de­struc­tion’

The Scotsman - - FRONT PAGE - By SCOTT MACNAB Po­lit­i­cal Ed­i­tor

Boris John­son has claimed Ni­cola Stur­geon and Jeremy Cor­byn are “yoke­mates of de­struc­tion” over the threat they both pose to the future of the UK.

The Prime Min­is­ter hit the cam­paign trail in Scot­land yes­ter­day and ex­plic­itly said he would re­ject a re­quest for an in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum – even if the SNP wins a Holyrood ma­jor­ity in 2021.

Mr John­son vis­ited the Ro­seisle Malt­ings Dis­tillery near El­gin where he set out plans for a re­view of whisky duty.

He also used the visit to ac­cuse the SNP and Labour lead­ers of cook­ing up a “shady” deal that would al­low in­dyref2 to be staged in ex­change for SNP MPS prop­ping up a Cor­byn-led Labour ad­min­is­tra­tion that fails to win a ma­jor­ity on 12 De­cem­ber.

His warn­ing came as the Ref­er­en­dums (Scot­land) Bill, which cre­ates a frame­work for any future ref­er­en­dums in Scot­land, passed stage one by 65 votes to 55 at Holyrood yes­ter­day. Ms Stur­geon is to seek a Sec­tion 30 or­der be­fore the end of the year from the new prime min­is­ter to al­low Scot­land to stage an­other vote on leav­ing

the UK. The SNP will today launch its elec­tion cam­paign in Ed­in­burgh where the First Min­is­ter will tell Scots a vote for her party will mean the chance to choose a “bet­ter future” as an in­de­pen­dent coun­try.

Asked whether Ms Stur­geon or Mr Cor­byn was a greater threat to the Union, Mr John­son de­clared: “They’re yoke­mates of de­struc­tion.”

And he in­sisted he would “ab­so­lutely” pro­vide a cast iron pledge not to grant a Sec­tion 30 or­der.

He said: “There is no case what­ever be­cause peo­ple were promised in 2014 ab­so­lutely clearly that it would be a once-in-a-gen­er­a­tion event and I see no rea­son why we should go back on that.”

This would re­main the case even if the SNP won a ma­jor­ity in the 2021 Holyrood elec­tions, Mr John­son said.

Mr Cor­byn has in­di­cated that a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum could take place in the lat­ter stages of a Labour ad­min­is­tra­tion if the peo­ple of Scot­land want it.

But Labour says no for­mal deal has been done with the SNP – a claim de­rided by the Prime Min­is­ter yes­ter­day.

“Pull the other one – it’s got bells on,” Mr John­son said. “It’s per­fectly ob­vi­ous that Jeremy Cor­byn is go­ing to rely on the SNP to get into power and to do that he’s done a shady deal to have a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum.”

He added: “The peo­ple of Scot­land were told in 2014 that if they had a ref­er­en­dum, that it would be a once-in-a-gen­er­a­tion thing. They were promised that I think by all par­ties on that oc­ca­sion. I’m not sur­prised that there’s a deal now be­tween the SNP and Jeremy Cor­byn. Ob­vi­ously the only way that Jeremy Cor­byn hopes he can get into power is with a deal with the SNP. The re­sult is that next year will be a chaotic year of two ref­er­en­dums.

“One on Scot­land when they were told in 2014 it would be a once-in-a-gen­er­a­tion thing.

And one on the EU, which would be ut­terly bizarre be­cause Cor­byn has pledged to go off and rene­go­ti­ate what is al­ready an ex­cel­lent deal and spend three months do­ing that.

“And then [we would] have six months in a ref­er­en­dum cam­paign when it’s not even clear what his pol­icy is or what he would do if peo­ple voted ei­ther leave or re­main. The best thing for this coun­try, for the whole UK, is to get Brexit done.”

The first days of the Con­ser­va­tive Party’s elec­tion cam­paign have been mired in con­tro­versy fol­low­ing Ja­cob Reesmogg’s in­ter­view sug­gest­ing the Gren­fell fire vic­tims lacked com­mon sense, Ross Thom­son quit­ting amid sex­ual as­sault al­le­ga­tions, which he de­nies, and Alun Cairns re­sign­ing as Welsh Sec­re­tary over a col­lapsed rape trial.

Mr John­son de­clined to say that Mr Thom­son – his lead­er­ship cam­paign man­ager in Scot­land – had been a good MP. He said: “I think that Ross has ob­vi­ously taken the right de­ci­sion and I think that you should di­rect all fur­ther ques­tions to him.

“Ob­vi­ously I re­gret very much what has hap­pened, but he has done the right thing.”

SNP West­min­ster leader Ian Black­ford last night con­demned the Tory leader’s res­o­lute re­fusal to grant a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum.

“The sim­ple fact is that the SNP al­ready has a cast-iron man­date for a ref­er­en­dum and the Scot­tish peo­ple want the chance to have their say,” Mr Black­ford said.

“Ev­ery­one knows there is go­ing to be an­other in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum. It is in­evitable – and with sup­port for in­de­pen­dence on the rise, the Tories sound rat­tled and are be­com­ing in­creas­ingly des­per­ate.

“But they can’t con­tinue to stand in the way of democ­racy in­def­i­nitely – the peo­ple of Scot­land won’t stand for it.”

The visit to Scot­land’s whisky heart­land in the Mo­ray con­stituency held by Tory Dou­glas Ross also saw the Prime Min­is­ter un­veil plans to re­view al­co­hol tax­a­tion in the UK as part of the Tories’ elec­tion man­i­festo.

The move was wel­comed by in­dus­try lead­ers and the Prime Min­is­ter said he was hope­ful of “al­le­vi­at­ing” duty as a re­sult of the re­view.

He also said he had “in­ter­ceded” with US pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump to get new whisky tar­iffs dropped – an is­sue he claimed was a “cyn­i­cal” act by the EU. Mr John­son said: “You know why this hap­pened, why they put a tar­iff on Scotch whisky? It’s be­cause the EU Com­mis­sion de­cided to put a tar­iff on bour­bon, so the Amer­i­cans au­to­mat­i­cally re­tal­i­ated by hit­ting whisky.”

It’s over now; but for a cou­ple of glo­ri­ous days in the mid­dle of this week, amid an avalanche of deeply dam­ag­ing rev­e­la­tions, res­ig­na­tions and scan­dals, it looked as if the Con­ser­va­tives and their al­lies might have lost con­trol of the nar­ra­tive sur­round­ing the gen­eral elec­tion cam­paign.

In­deed, if Labour’s deputy leader Tom Wat­son had not cho­sen to an­nounce his res­ig­na­tion on Wed­nes­day – just be­fore the Tories’ de­layed, messy and unim­pres­sive cam­paign launch in what looked like an un­der­pop­u­lated ware­house in Birm­ing­ham – it seemed as if the me­dia cam­paign could have been lost for the Tories, al­most be­fore it be­gan.

Yet, for those an­tic­i­pat­ing an easy Tory win on 12 De­cem­ber, there must be an un­easy feel­ing that some of the mud thrown up by this week’s se­ries of dis­as­ters may stick; and in par­tic­u­lar there is one word – Gren­fell – that must give them pause. Last week’s pub­li­ca­tion of a first-stage re­port plac­ing most of the blame for the 2017 disas­ter on the fire ser­vice has al­ready caused real fury among hard-pressed fire­fight­ers, and many oth­ers who have had enough of sys­temic fail­ures in our so­ci­ety be­ing blamed on or­di­nary work­ers rather than real de­ci­sion-mak­ers.

Then, on Tues­day, all hell broke loose when Ja­cob Rees-mogg told an LBC pro­gramme that Gren­fell res­i­dents should have used “com­mon sense” and left the build­ing, in­stead of lis­ten­ing to fire ser­vice ad­vice to re­main in their flats. The im­pli­ca­tion was that they lacked the ini­tia­tive that Rees-mogg would have used to save his own life; and mat­ters were made much worse when right-wing Tory MP An­drew Brid­gen, try­ing to de­fend his hero, seemed to agree with an in­ter­viewer’s sug­ges­tion that Reesmogg saw him­self as more in­tel­li­gent than the av­er­age Gren­fell res­i­dent – and was there­fore, in Brid­gen’s view, bet­ter qual­i­fied to “run things”.

Now it is dif­fi­cult to know where to start with this car crash of an in­ci­dent. As Jeremy Cor­byn put it in a con­cise tweet this week, there are three things “com­mon sense” tells us about the Gren­fell fire. The first is that highly flammable cladding should not be used on peo­ple’s homes. The sec­ond is that it is dan­ger­ous to make deep cuts in the fire ser­vice. The third is that res­i­dents should not be ig­nored when they say that their home is a fire-trap.

Ev­ery one of these things hap­pened at Gren­fell, the first two demon­stra­bly driven by the Tory love-af­fair with “aus­ter­ity” in public spend­ing (now ap­par­ently over, for the du­ra­tion of the elec­tion cam­paign at least), and the last by the same at­ti­tude so chill­ingly re­vealed by Rees-mogg and Brid­gen; that at­ti­tude which un­think­ingly as­sumes that the res­i­dents of a coun­cil tower block like Gren­fell are where they are be­cause of stu­pid­ity, or lazi­ness, or some other form of so­cial in­fe­ri­or­ity that makes them barely worth lis­ten­ing to. Of course, these views are shock­ing to ev­ery­one – in­clud­ing many Con­ser­va­tives – who takes se­ri­ously the fun­da­men­tal idea of hu­man equal­ity, and be­lieves that peo­ple’s life chances should not be dic­tated by the wealth or oth­er­wise of their par­ents. Yet, dur­ing a re­cent de­bate about pri­vate ed­u­ca­tion, I heard some right-wing com­men­ta­tors se­ri­ously ar­gu­ing that it is ac­cept­able for the pri­vately ed­u­cated to dom­i­nate most ma­jor pro­fes­sions in the UK, be­cause those who can af­ford to ed­u­cate their chil­dren pri­vately ob­vi­ously rep­re­sent a ge­netic elite, se­lected by abil­ity and de­ter­mi­na­tion, who are likely to pass on those su­pe­rior genes to their chil­dren.

The idea that bril­liant, high-achiev­ing peo­ple might choose not to pri­ori­tise mon­e­tary wealth and the buy­ing of priv­i­lege for their chil­dren, and in­stead to ex­press their gifts in some more mean­ing­ful and gen­er­ous way, never seems to cross the minds of peo­ple who have suc­cumbed to this kind of ‘money-brain’. With this ul­tra-thatcherit­e ob­ses­sion with money as the mea­sure of all things comes the equally ab­surd con­vic­tion that any­one who is wealthy and priv­i­leged must also be clever; when in fact – to judge by the re­cent per­for­mance of suc­ces­sive Tory gov­ern­ments – there is sub­stan­tial ev­i­dence of the ex­act op­po­site.

What­ever this kind of think­ing is called – eu­genic, elit­ist, aris­to­cratic, or just plain snob­bish

– it is clearly un­demo­cratic and au­thor­i­tar­ian, of­ten pay­ing public lip ser­vice to demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions, while pri­vately see­ing for­mal democ­racy only as a use­ful smoke­screen through which vot­ers can be ma­nip­u­lated into sup­port­ing the lat­est elite scam.

The Prime Min­is­ter’s chief ad­viser, Do­minic Cummings, pulled this off once, as chief ex­ec­u­tive of the 2016 Vote Leave cam­paign. If the same play­ers, with the same back­ers, suc­ceed in win­ning the cur­rent gen­eral elec­tion, then there can – given all the above – be no doubt that dark days lie ahead for any­one who truly be­lieves in the rights and dig­nity of or­di­nary peo­ple in Bri­tain, who may well be left with lit­tle to con­sole them in the postbrexit waste­land of lost rights and pri­va­tised ser­vices, be­yond the bar­rage of lies and myths fired at them by the prac­tised pro­pa­gan­dists of the right, from the Daily Ex­press to No 10 it­self.

This week, I went to the Fes­ti­val Theatre in Ed­in­burgh to watch Ru­fus Nor­ris’s fine pro­duc­tion of the mu­si­cal Cabaret, set in Ber­lin in 1931. It ends with the young Amer­i­can hero, Cliff Brad­shaw, start­ing to write his story. “There was a city called Ber­lin,” he says, “in a coun­try called Ger­many, and it was the end of the world. I was danc­ing with Sally Bowles; and we were both fast asleep.”

This is an elec­tion where the peo­ple of the UK must choose whether to sleep on, or to wake up and tell Boris John­son’s gov­ern­ment of ly­ing, self-serv­ing, and none-too-bright mil­lion­aires to pack their bags and go, tak­ing their bil­lion­aire back­ers and their post-demo­cratic at­ti­tudes with them. I know which way my par­ents and their wartime gen­er­a­tion would have liked us to jump; but I fear that the temp­ta­tion to down an­other sleep­ing pill and al­low those al­ready in power to con­tinue march­ing us to­wards disas­ter will fi­nally prove too strong.

HAVE YOUR SAY www.scots­man.com

Boris John­son en­joys a wee dram on a visit to Ro­seisle Malt­ings Dis­tillery near El­gin yes­ter­day

← Ni­cola Stur­geon opens Scot­land’s first stu­dent cam­pus for adults with learn­ing dis­abil­i­ties in Leith while Jeremy Cor­byn was on the cam­paign trail in Liverpool

← Ian Black­ford says the Con­ser­va­tives are rat­tled

0 Born to rule? Com­mons leader Ja­cob Rees-mogg sug­gested vic­tims of Gren­fell Tower fire lacked com­mon sense

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