Johnson: No indyref even if SNP win Holyrood majority
● PM brands Corbyn and Sturgeon ‘yoke-mates of destruction’
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