Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to visit Scotland on Thursday, despite First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s questions over its necessity.
Mr Johnson will use the coronavirus crisis to illustrate the benefits of the Union, arguing that it has been integral in administering the coronavirus vaccine, providing Covid testing and giving economic support north of the border during the pandemic.
The Prime Minister has spoken before his trip on Thursday about the “great benefits of co-operation” that the Union has brought while dealing with the coronavirus crisis, which has claimed more than 100,000 lives in the UK.
The visit comes as calls grow for a second independence vote for Scotland.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is arguing that should her SNP group win a majority at the Holyrood election – currently still scheduled for May – then that would be grounds for a new border poll.
Boris Johnson is ‘absolute asset’ to Union as PM makes first visit to Scotland of 2021
Ms Sturgeon, who has said Mr Johnson’s visit to Scotland is “not essential” during the current lockdown, this week accused the Conservative Party leader of being “frightened of democracy” in his refusal to back another poll on the union, following 2014’s independence defeat.
Downing Street plans to stress the benefits of being in the UK for Scotland, with Mr Johnson highlighting the support afforded Scots during the Covid-19 crisis.
Officials said the UK Government had delivered more than one million rapid lateral flow test kits to Scotland so far and is funding testing sites across the country – including seven drive-through centres, 27 walk-through sites and 21 mobile testing units, along with the Lighthouse Lab in Glasgow.
Westminster cash has provided 62% of testing kits in Scotland, Number 10 added.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said Boris Johnson’s visit to Scotland is ‘not essential’
Speaking ahead of his visit to Scotland, the Prime Minister said: “The great benefits of co-operation across the whole of the UK have never been clearer than since the beginning of this pandemic.
“We have pulled together to defeat the virus, providing £8.6 billion to the Scottish Government to support public services whilst also protecting the jobs of more than 930,000 citizens in Scotland.
“We have a vaccine programme developed in labs in Oxford being administered across the United Kingdom by our armed forces, who are helping to establish 80 new vaccine centres across Scotland.
“That’s how we are delivering for the people of Scotland so we can ensure the strongest possible recovery from the virus.
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“Mutual co-operation across the UK throughout this pandemic is exactly what the people of Scotland expect and it is what I have been focused on.
“The people of the UK have stood together during this pandemic: from our doctors and nurses in our hospitals to our shop workers, scientists, lorry drivers and teachers – working together as one truly United Kingdom is the best way to build our Covid recovery.”
SNP depute leader Keith Brown said the Prime Minister’s jaunt was evidence that he was in a “panic” about the prospect of another referendum.
The SNP have accused the Prime Minister of being ‘rattled’ before his latest trip to Scotland
The MSP said: “Clearly, Boris Johnson is rattled. By branding this campaign trip as ‘essential’, this is clearly a Prime Minister in panic, who knows the Tories are losing the argument on independence.
“Twenty polls in a row have shown that a majority of voters believe Scotland’s future should be in Scotland’s hands – not Boris Johnson’s.
No 10 hits back at Nicola Sturgeon’s criticism of PM’s Scotland visit
“Scotland didn’t vote for this Tory Government, we didn’t vote for Brexit and we certainly didn’t vote for Boris Johnson. Yet, in the middle of a global pandemic, we’ve been ripped out of the world’s biggest single market against our will causing havoc for businesses and piling even more pressure on our NHS.
“No wonder that more and more people in Scotland want the right to choose their own future.”
On #BBCBreakfast Cabinet Minister Michael Gove responds to the PM’s plans to visit Scotland despite the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon questioning whether the trip is necessary.
More here: https://t.co/NoQhKk1lhP pic.twitter.com/cgJTuJKWXe
— BBC Breakfast (@BBCBreakfast) January 28, 2021
Meanwhile, Michael Gove has defended Boris Johnson’s trip to Scotland during lockdown restrictions despite First Minister Nicola Sturgeon criticising the visit as “not essential”.
The senior Cabinet minister told Sky News: “The Prime Minister has a responsibility and a role to make sure the vaccine roll-out is proceeding appropriately, to thank those on the front line, NHS professionals and those in the British Army who are making sure things work well.
“It’s also important the Prime Minister hears from those on the front line what is going well and what needs to improve.
“When the Prime Minister visits other parts of the United Kingdom, other political leaders don’t criticise him, indeed there is a welcome for the Prime Minister and other ministers who are rolling up their sleeves and are getting in touch with those on the ground who are making a difference.”
He insisted all UK nations are “stronger together when we work together”, highlighting the vaccine roll-out.