His former chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, recently said the prime minister’s plan to “secretly make donors pay for the renovation was unethical, stupid, possibly illegal and almost certainly violated the rules for the proper disclosure of political donations.”
Government officials are concerned that Cummings, who left government in November in a public power struggle, is preparing to take his revenge just as these elections are taking place. When the past week is over, the numerous scandals will distract the public from Johnson’s greatest success since he took office – the introduction of the vaccine.
One place where Johnson could be very painful is Scotland. The Prime Minister already knows that there is little chance that Scottish voters will vote for anything other than a parliamentary majority in favor of independence. The only question is how much the Unionist parties, including its own Conservatives, who want to stay in Britain, will lose.
While Johnson realistically does not need Scottish votes to win general elections, an increase in demands for independence is extremely embarrassing for a man who has given himself the title of Minister for the Union.
For Scotland to become truly independent, Johnson would have to vote in a referendum, as happened in 2014 when the Scots voted to remain in the UK by 10%.
Johnson has so far turned down a second referendum, reminding the Scottish National Party (SNP), which dominates Scottish politics, that the 2014 vote would be a one-off event. However, the more solid the SNP and other separatist parties are, the more problematic it becomes to simply ignore their demand.
But if Scotland is ever to leave Britain, there will be inevitable complications.
“In the case of Brexit, the process was guided by the steps set out in Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union. There is no equivalent process in the UK Constitution,” says Nicola McEwen, Professor of Territorial Policy at the University of Edinburgh.
This means that in the event of an independence vote, the UK Government and the Scottish Government would likely instruct officials to establish a framework for negotiations and a timeframe and agree on how the talks would take place.
McEwen points out, however, that political leaders on both sides must respect this process, which could lead to problems.
“Of course, agreeing a negotiation process doesn’t mean things are easy. Relations could be less than warm and both sides would have their own interests that they should protect in the negotiations and in the wider political arena,” she says.
Negotiations are likely to begin with the Scottish Government to come up with their best idea for the division of property based on population and other practical considerations – for example, there are many nuclear submarines in Scottish waters for which there are no obvious ones anywhere else in the home.
It is unlikely that the UK government will accept this, at least under Johnson. “This government is full of Brexit veterans who have been pitted by a bigger partner. This time they will be more than happy to be the obstructionists,” said Rob Ford, professor of politics at the University of Manchester.
Opponents of independence argue that Scotland is at the mercy of a hostile government in Westminster and no guarantee of basic issues such as the currency they would use, what assets and institutions they could keep and what kind of border would England exist with.
“Independence is the wrong solution for Scotland, not just because of its economics and inevitable costs, but because it rests on the false claim that the people of Scotland have less in common with others in the UK than they do with what they have in common,” says Eddie Barnes, former Scottish Conservative Communications Director.
While far from being the only claim made by the nationalists, a central argument of the SNP is that after Britain leaves, it could eventually rejoin the European Union. Kate Forbes of the SNP says Scotland was “taken out of the EU and the huge European single market – seven times the size of Great Britain – against our will”. She believes that “with full control over the powers that go with independence, combined with our abundant resources, we can mimic the success of independent countries of similar size to Denmark”.
As the leader of the Brexit campaign in 2016 and a self-proclaimed defender of the Union, it is hard to imagine any greater humiliation for Johnson than watching Scotland leave the UK and return to the EU.
Brexit attracted people to the independence movement, and the SNP knows that Scotland’s forced exit from the bloc radicalized the keepers north of the border.
The independence movement is no longer just a “rabble” of the working class against the establishment, as a senior SNP adviser described it, but the new political home for many of Scotland’s wealthy, outward-looking voters.
“In 2014, the Tories told the Scots that saying no to independence was the only way to guarantee your EU citizenship. Now we are the party of responsible global citizens,” said the SNP adviser.
While SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon and her foot soldiers are smart about committing to reunification, it is a bit of a pipe dream if they need Johnson’s permission to even cast a vote.
There is less discussion about whether Brussels would be ready to let them in again. Forbes is optimistic that the accession process would be easier for Scotland than it is for most countries, “which have been in the EU for nearly 50 years and by definition obey all the rules”. . ”
There is some value in this argument as it is unlikely that even Johnson would leave Scotland so bleak that it does not meet the EU criteria for running. That is, it will likely be in a state where its institutions match what they currently have, it will have a functioning democracy, it will be economically able to support itself if it joins the union, among other things.
However, it overlooks other political obstacles that could arise in Brussels – and this will ultimately be a political choice.
First, the border issue will be extremely complicated if the post-Brexit Irish border negotiations are not completed and the EU may be reluctant to reopen it.
Second, it creates a blueprint for other separatist movements across Europe. The most obvious example of this is the Spanish autonomous region of Catalonia, where opposition leaders have been arrested and protesters violently attacked by Spanish police.
However, EU officials say privately that the Brexit saga, which ends with the return of part of the UK, is a delicious narrative that is very enticing to those who want to catch the eye of Johnson. Some even consider it a blessing for the EU to have a nuclear power other than France in the bloc in order to reach consensus on a common defense policy.
While Sturgeon’s European dream is a little more complicated than some might suggest, there may be enough EU hostility towards Britain that a coalition of Johnson’s enemies could do serious damage to the legacy of a man who made a career in Brussels wielding wrecking balls .
Obviously, this is all hypothetical as long as Johnson refuses to vote the Scots. In the event that the Scottish Parliament is indeed dominated by independent parties after next week, it is difficult to predict whether the Prime Minister’s tenacity will be a political aid or an obstacle across the UK.
“There is still a long way to go before the next elections in 2024, and without the EU, Johnson needs a new enemy to appeal to his grassroots,” says Ford. “Scotland is near perfect as many UK voters believe that the Scots get a lot out of the Union and find the complaint a bit irritating. ”
One way Ford gets this wrong for Johnson is that the blocking of demand leads to complaints in a way that makes life in Scotland hostile.
McEwen believes the problem could also expose Johnson politically, since the problem will not go away.
“It will likely play a prominent role in the UK’s next general election. If the SNP again wins the vast majority of Scottish seats in these elections, they could be a sizable force in the House of Commons and be much harder to ignore, especially in one scenario. ” where they keep the balance of power, “she says.
Of course, all of this is a long way off, and probably not on Johnson’s mind, given the recent departures of employees specifically working on the issue. Yet even members of his own government fear privately that the actions of Johnson, the unionist who sought to unite the nation after Brexit, could spark a chain of events that lead to Scotland’s permanent separation from the UK.