Scotland's first minister, Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: POOL VIA REUTERS/ANDY BUCHANAN
Scotland's first minister, Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: POOL VIA REUTERS/ANDY BUCHANAN

London — UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson came under fire from Scottish independence campaigners and his own party for criticising the transfer of powers from London to Edinburgh.

After the Sun newspaper reported Johnson told a private meeting of MPs that devolution was a “disaster” and no further control would be passed to the constituent nations of the UK, leading members of the Scottish National Party used the comments to bolster their calls for a breakaway from England.

Johnson’s team did not deny the remarks and said former Prime Minister Tony Blair had failed to predict the rise of the Scottish independence movement when he passed control to Edinburgh. “Devolution is great — but not when it’s used by separatists and nationalists to break up the UK,” Johnson’s office said.

The dispute comes as Scotland prepares for crucial elections to its Parliament in 2021 that the governing SNP is expected to win. A YouGov poll of Scottish voters published on November 12 showed support for independence at 51%, while approval for First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is running at 67%, compared to 20% for Johnson.

Douglas Ross, the Conservative leader in Scotland, took to Twitter to contradict the claim that passing powers to Edinburgh had been a mistake.

“Devolution has not been a disaster,” he wrote. “The SNP’s nonstop obsession with another referendum — above jobs, schools and everything else — has been a disaster.”

The SNP immediately highlighted the split and said it showed Johnson’s government in London was out of touch with Scotland and he is a liability for the party.

Sturgeon, who has pledged to hold a second referendum on independence, also used Twitter to say Johnson’s comments showed his Conservative Party was a threat to devolution and would not give more powers to people north of the border. “The only way to protect and strengthen the Scottish Parliament is with independence,” she wrote.

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick also defended Johnson’s comments, saying the disaster he was referring to was the rise of separatism and nationalism in Scotland.

Devolution has been “misused by the SNP to drive a wedge between people who are ultimately part of the same country with hundreds of years of friendship and partnership,” Jenrick said on Sky News on Tuesday. “It’s very disheartening to see people trying to break up the Union.”

Bloomberg

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