It is probably one of Boris Johnson's worst nightmares: to become known as the one who divided the more than 300-year-old British Union. But it can no longer be ruled out that this may actually be the case. For the British electorate John Curtice recently stated that for the first time ever a series of opinion polls shows that a majority of Scots want independence.
In the 2014 referendum, the Scots voted no to independence by a ten percent margin. It was a painful process and the debate led to families splitting up and friends becoming enemies.
Several factors are behind the increased support for the yes side. Already after the Brexit vote in 2016, when the Scots voted to stay in the EU, the nationalists in the SNP began to actively advocate a new independence vote. This time it is the corona crisis that has triggered the demands.Scotland just below England in mortality
Scotland's Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon points out that her popularity increased during the crisis while Boris Johnson's declined. The Scottish Parliament has the power to decide on healthcare, and Sturgeon has in part handled the corona pandemic differently than Boris Johnson did. For example, she was more careful about opening up Scotland after the closure.
But at the same time, statistics show that Scotland is just below England in terms of excess mortality.
It is obvious that Boris Johnson is not very popular with the Scots. According to the leading Scottish historian Sir Tom Devine, he is as unpopular in Scotland as Margaret Thatcher once was. But where at the same time there was a certain amount of respect for Thatcher, there is only contempt for Johnson.
"If you ask people on the streets in Scotland, they describe him as a clumsy clown," says Sir Tom Devine to the BBC.Can there be an independence vote?
How likely is it then that there will be a new independence vote? First of all, Nicola Sturgeon must ask Boris Johnson for permission to hold one. So far, he has said no with the motivation that it is something you do only once per generation. But in May next year, there will be parliamentary elections in Scotland. If the SNP wins the election with a convincing majority, Nicola Sturgeon will claim that there is a clear mandate for a new referendum and the pressure on Boris Johnson will increase.
So there is reason for the British Prime Minister to be worried. The visit to Scotland is part of a charm offensive to win over the Scots on Boris Johnson's side. He has also called on his ministers to become more visible north of the border, and his government is bombarding the Scots with much-needed monetary subsidies.
When Boris Johnson came to Orkney, he was met by bureaucrats and protesters who want independence. No meeting with Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon was on the agenda.
Instead, the harsh verdict from the SNP read afterwards: Boris Johnson's visit to Scotland is the best advertisement for independence one could wish for!