UK: Boris Johnson heads to Scotland amid independence calls | News | DW | 28.01.2021
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UK: Boris Johnson heads to Scotland amid independence calls

The coronavirus and a row over Brexit have strained internal UK ties. Scotland's leader, Nicola Sturgeon, questioned whether the trip was "really essential" during a lockdown.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson meets troops as they set up a vaccination centre in the Castlemilk district of Glasgow, Scotland.

Johnson meets troops as they set up a vaccination center in the Castlemilk district of Glasgow

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson visited Scotland on Thursday as support grows for a second independence referendum in the country.

Scotland, which makes up the northernmost part of the United Kingdom, voted against independence in 2014. But ties have strained since the 2016 Brexit vote to leave the European Union.

"I think what people want to see is us bouncing back more strongly together," Johnson told reporters. "I don't see the advantage of getting lost in pointless constitutional wrangling when, after all, we had a referendum not so very long ago," he added, referring to a 2014 vote when Scotland opted to remain in the United Kingdom.

The majority of Scots voted to stay in the EU, setting it apart from the UK that as a whole voted to leave.

The coronavirus pandemic has also taken its toll on relations between the two neighbors.

The semi-autonomous administration has had a large say in dictating Scotland's own response, often pitting it against the central government in London.

"Mutual co-operation across the U.K. throughout this pandemic is exactly what the people of Scotland expect and it is what I have been focused on," Johnson said.

Where did Johnson visit?

Johnson, who visited a laboratory at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow, argues that Scotland is benefiting from his Conservative government's approach to getting vaccine shots out quickly.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is shown the Lighthouse Laboratory used for processing PCR samples, during a visit to the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital campus in Glasgow

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is in Scotland to highlight the UK's vaccination drive

Critics say the prime minister is politicking at a time when the U.K. is in a strict lockdown as a result of a huge resurgence of the virus.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon says Johnson's visit is "not essential" under current lockdown rules.

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But Michael Gove, a close ally of Johnson's, insisted the prime minister's visit was "absolutely essential" because Johnson has to ensure that the country's vaccine rollout is working properly.

“It’s critically important that the Scottish government and the U.K. government are working together to do everything we can to support the rollout and see what we can do to improve it," he told the BBC.

Keir Starmer, leader of the opposition Labour Party, came to Johnson's support.

“I’m with the prime minister on this one," he said on radio station LBC. “It’s important that he travels to see what is going on, on the ground.”

He also praised Scotland's contribution to the fight against the pandemic. "I think you can see the amazing contribution of Scotland, Scottish scientists, Scottish people to the national effort and I don't want to break that up," he said.

How likely is Scottish independence?

Sturgeon is hoping a strong performance by her SNP in May elections for the country's devolved Parliament would give her the mandate to hold a second referendum.

Scotland voted against independence by 55% to 45% in the 2014 referendum. But recent polls showing Scotland would vote to leave the union in any re-run.

kmm/rt (Reuters, AFP)

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