Prime Minister Boris Johnson was in Scotland on Thursday to make his case for the union between Scotland and the rest of the UK.
Johnson started his trip to the Orkney Islands seeking to counter growing calls for a new referendum on independence.
While Scottish voters against the breakup of the UK in 2014 by a margin of 55% to 45%, the divisive issue of Brexit and a widening political chasm between Scotland and England have seen the question resurface.
Polling shows that independence advocates the Scottish National Party could make significant gains in elections to the Scottish parliament next year. However, Johnson said there was no case for another vote.
"We had a referendum in 2014," said Johnson. "It was decisive — it was, I think, by common consent, a once in a generation event."
The Scottish National Party argues that the Brexit referendum altered this, seeing as one repeated warning from the No campaign in 2014 argued that Scotland would lose its EU membership if it voted for independence.
Cheese, fish and a Sturgeon, of course
A small group of protesters gathered ahead of the visit, during which Johnson met fishermen and visited a cheese factory, saying "Hands off Scotland" and "We have a voice."
Read more: My return to Brexit Scotland for auld lang syne
Johnson said the coronavirus pandemic had shown why it was important for the nations of the United Kingdom — England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales — to stick together.
"I think that the union — the merits of the union — are very, very strong," said Johnson. "They've been proved throughout this crisis."
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who leads Scotland's devolved government, said Johnson's visit served only to make the case for independence.
"One of the key arguments for independence is the ability of Scotland to take our own decisions, rather than having our future decided by politicians we didn't vote for, taking us down a path we haven't chosen. His presence highlights that,'' Sturgeon tweeted.
Sturgeon has won praise for her handling of the coronavirus crisis, while Johnson's government has been accused of delivering mixed messages on how people should behave.
Read more: Brexit trade deal appears 'unlikely,' says EU's Michel Barnier
Only 25% of Scottish voters chose Johnson's Conservatives in the 2019 general election. In the 2016 Brexit referendum, 62% of Scottish voters wanted to remain in the EU, while across Britain 52% were in favor of Brexit.
Two polls have recently indicated that 54% of those surveyed would like to see Scotland leave the UK, also predicting that Sturgeon's SNP will win a majority of seats in the Scottish Parliament next year.
rc/msh (AP, dpa, Reuters)