DEVOLUTION has not been a disaster, Boris Johnson has insisted, as he said the way public services had pulled together through the pandemic had shown the “strength of the Union”.
Last November, the Prime Minister infamously told a virtual meeting of Conservative MPs that devolution in Scotland had been a “disaster” and “Tony Blair’s biggest mistake,” only later to insist that he had been talking about how devolution under the SNP Government had been disastrous.
Downing Street sources at the time reinforced the point, insisting Mr Johnson had “always supported devolution” but “not when it’s used by separatists and nationalists to break up the UK”.
Quizzed during a visit to a mass vaccination centre in Cwmbran, south Wales, if he still considered devolution to be a disaster, Mr Johnson replied: “A lot of people looking at the way the NHS across our whole country has performed, the way the armed services have been so valuable, the way the drugs that we have had been procured nationally, invented nationally, people can see the strength of the Union.”
Asked the same question again, Mr Johnson said: “Certainly not, overall; absolutely not. I speak as the proud beneficiary of devolution when I was running London. I was very proud to be doing things that made a real difference for my constituents and my electorate, improving quality of life.”
He added: “Devolution can work very well but it depends very much on what the devolved authorities do.”
As Minister of the Union, the PM is overseeing an expansion of the Union Directorate, which is based in the Cabinet Office. The former Vote Leave campaigner Oliver Lewis is heading what was previously called the Union Unit with a new team of analysts and advisers as the Government seeks to undertake a “big push” promoting the Union in the run-up to the May 6 Holyrood election.
Part of the strategy is to increase the Union context in Government announcements and press releases and it is expected more UK ministers will make visits to Scotland in the coming months to press home a “love and reconciliation” strategy towards Scotland.
Mr Johnson has already made clear he intends to make several trips north of the border in the coming weeks and months ahead of the Scottish poll.