Why I say Scots should be thanking Boris Johnson - Brian Monteith
It is now a year since the prime Minister won a comfortable majority in the 2019 general election. It is probably unknown for a Scottish political commentator to give Boris Johnson some praise, any praise, but there are some aspects of his time in power I believe are worthy of thanks from the majority of Scots. Better then that I make them now, before he goes and makes it more difficult for me to applaud him by the likelihood he’ll accept a sub-optimal trade deal from the EU before the year is out.
The passing of years allows some perspective to weigh-up what might have seemed a critical event when it was happening only to dismiss it as eventually of little consequence when compared to a strategic decision given little weight at the time but now recognised as being of crucial importance.
Thus, just as we can look back and cast a now critical eye over much of Gordon Brown’s period as Chancellor and then Prime Minister we can thank him for ensuring that the UK did not join the Euro while Labour was in power.
There was a great deal of pressure on Brown to accede to the idea of joining the EU’s single currency – which we were repeatedly told was inevitable – but he prevented it. Thank you Mr Brown.
Likewise, Boris Johnson has lost many friends since his victorious general election – and may yet lose some more – but he already has a number of achievements that need to be put down to him even if he were to fall under that ever present metaphorical omnibus.
The first decision worthy of our thanks is his unstinting opposition to the idea Holyrood can decide whether or not to hold a second independence referendum. It matters not what is in any SNP manifesto, it matters not how well presiding SNP leader in next May’s election performs – the decision to hold a legal referendum rests with the UK Government legislating through the House of Commons and no other body.
Some people contest Johnson’s ability to enforce this, and it is their right to do so, but let them raise it on the floor of the Commons; let them move a motion and see if they can win a majority for their view, but they will lose. Let them challenge the UK Government in the courts and establish if Johnson’s position is wrong, that too is their right. British constitutional matters are, however, reserved to Westminster, and further, Johnson made it plain in the election of 2019 he would not support a referendum during the lifetime of the current UK parliament. He has a cast iron mandate and it overrides any claimed mandate the SNP might assert by winning an election for a Scottish Parliament that has no authority to decide the matter.
The impact of Johnson’s principled stand is the SNP is, mostly behind the scenes, becoming bitterly divided over how to respond to the Prime Minister’s steadfast approach. There is no better example of this than the writing of separatist blogger Stuart Campbell on his website Wings Over Scotland, who points out with clear logic and rational argument the current SNP leadership has been out-thought and has neither the resources nor the wherewithal to fight an independence referendum.
I may remind readers that six years after the last referendum with Nicola Sturgeon at the Helm the SNP still has no settled belief on which currency to use, nor can it explain how EU membership can be secured when no EU member can use the currency of another country. Using the British pound might reassure voters nervous about secession but it blocks EU membership. The inability of the SNP to resolve this and other fundamental policy contradictions that will prevent EU membership will only grow in difficulty.
This growing internal tension is being exposed by Johnson’s indefatigable approach to denying the ability to hold a referendum. For this he deserves to be thanked by people of all parties that wish to see the United Kingdom preserved – it is therefore utter madness the Scottish Conservatives do the work of the SNP by continuing to undermine his premiership from within.
The other action of Johnson’s I wish to praise is his conscious decision to swim against the treacly tide of European consensus and use the emergency powers at his disposal to introduce the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid vaccine once it gained certification by the UK’s Medicines Approval Agency. The EU’s European Medicine’s Agency will not even consider the Pfizer vaccine until December 29, by which time I fully expect tens if not hundreds of thousands of British people to have received the Pfizer vaccine, possibly even the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine too.
Yes, the regulations that allowed Johnson’s decision are part of the current EU rules the UK continues to use, but this is an irrelevance – every other EU member state, including Germany where the research laboratory that perfected the vaccine is based, or Belgium where the vaccine is manufactured, chose not to use the same powers available to them.
By deciding to act in Britain’s interests and not waiting on the EU’s more bureaucratic approach Johnson has demonstrated how Brexit gives our country the freedom of action that can be employed across economic, social and cultural policy. Until the day comes when the EU approves the Pfizer vaccine and members states start to administer it every life saved in the UK stems from that decision of Johnson – born of Brexit. It is a decision politicians such as Starmer, Sturgeon and Blackford never wanted the independence to be able to make and that given the chance would hand back to the EU in a heartbeat.
Yes, Johnson has made missteps, but in dealing with the SNP and obtaining British approval for the vaccine he deserves to be praised.
Brian Monteith is Editor of ThinkScotland.org