Analysis: What are the consequences of Boris Johnson's devolution gaffe?

Yesterday the Prime Minister told his own MPs that devolution had been a "disaster north of the Border” and labelled it the “worst mistake” of Tony Blair’s government.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson had suggest devolution was a "disaster"
Prime Minister Boris Johnson had suggest devolution was a "disaster"

Leaving aside the clear sign Boris Johnson did not read the Chilcot report, it was yet another hammer blow to a union already on life support.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. The last few weeks were supposed to see a reset, with Dominic Cummings and Lee Cain leaving the chaos of Downing Street.

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MPs were told of a one nation PM, who wanted to rebuild relations with the devolved nations. A poll slashed the lead for independence. With a throwaway comment, Mr Johnson has managed to undo the good work he hadn’t even started.

The response from the Scottish Tories was desperate, insisting the PM supported devolution, and it was the SNP’s record he had a problem with.

Douglas Ross toured the broadcast studios today repeating that very message.

Privately many Scottish Tories were incandescent. How can they establish a coherent message when the PM cannot even read out a written down speech without slaloming into disaster? Once again Mr Johnson is not acting in their interests.

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Mr Ross has sought to establish distance with the PM before, with his party no longer voting on England-only matters. The issue is they can isolate themselves from the PM’s policy, but cannot do so from his words.

Coming just six months before the Holyrood elections, his comments pour fuel on the flame of support for the nationalists. Nicola Sturgeon claimed the comments were “worth bookmarking”, in the political equivalent of pinning his speech up in the dressing room.

The difficulty is Mr Johnson was not just suggesting that independence was bad, or even the SNP. His comments suggested ten years of Scotland running itself was a “disaster”. That’s not Westminster just forgetting Scotland, but judging it from afar.

Whether it changes the perception of a leader already cited in polling as the driving factor for independence remains to be seen, but Mr Johnson continues to prove himself as the nationalists’ greatest asset.

There is always the nuclear option. The Conservative and Unionist party turned on Theresa May in an instant to preserve Brexit. Whether they would do so for the union remains to be seen.

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