By travelling to Scotland tomorrow, Boris Johnson risks undermining his own public health advice, and handing the SNP another weapon against him in the fight for Scottish independence.
Stay at home. Protect the NHS. Save Lives.
This is the refrain repeated at the end of every coronavirus press conference delivered by Prime Minister Boris Johnson. You would therefore be forgiven for expressing some confusion at the news that he is due to visit Scotland tomorrow in what political commentators are claiming is an attempt to ‘save the union’.
If the newspapers are to be believed, Mr Johnson will visit key Scottish venues in the fight against coronavirus, using the UK’s success in procuring vaccinations as an example of the broad shoulders of the Union, from which Scotland benefits. The idea is that by showing the Scottish people how they benefit from the Union, Johnson will be able to reverse the growing support for Scottish independence and improve his image amongst the Scottish people.
No mean feat for a Prime Minister with an approval rating of -40% in Scotland, and unfortunately for him, a strategy I fear is destined to fail.
Travel between Scotland and the rest of the UK, unless for essential purposes, has been banned for some time now. People across the UK are being told to stay at home, with Scots not even allowed to leave their own council area, and yet here is a Prime Minister travelling from London to Scotland when the general public are confined at home unless for essential exercise.
Is his journey essential? He is the Prime Minister of the whole UK and his advisors will no doubt ensure he is obeying the letter of the law. But as any comms pro will advise you, technicalities like that don’t really matter to the public who are increasingly tired of lockdown, but still trying their best to not only obey the regulations, but also the spirit of the regulations.
Optics matter, and the perception of this journey will be that it is one rule for the Prime Minister and another for the everyday people who haven’t seen their families, let alone an airport, for months.
There might have been a legitimate argument for a morale boost, or that seeing the Prime Minister of the UK stand on Scottish soil and advocate for vaccines could boost public confidence, but that only works when the person doing the talking carries the gravitas to boost that confidence. Unfortunately, with Ipsos Mori finding that 62% of Scots believe that Boris Johnson is handling the pandemic badly, the evidence shows that this is unlikely to be the case.
And it also gives those he is fighting against yet more ammunition in the fight for independence. We have already seen the First Minister of Scotland compare her own actions to those of Johnson’s, stating that while the country remains in lockdown, you won’t see her going to vaccination centres to give a press conference because it simply isn’t essential, and it undermines public health messaging.
In the absence of any legitimate reason to visit Scotland, aside from political point scoring which his opponents will pounce upon at any given opportunity, the trip risks being seen by the Scottish public as being at best tone deaf, and at worse, dangerous.
In light of this, would it not be better to let your new and talented leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Douglas Ross, do the talking for you? Afterall, he doesn’t run the risk of being seen to ‘break’ lockdown and genuinely understands the arguments made by both sides of the Scottish divide. Equally, there is nothing stopping Boris from making all the same arguments from London, over zoom, working from home like the majority of the country.
All that said, I think it’s best that you take your own advice Boris. Stay at home.