Henry McDonald: Boris Johnson gives a boost to Irish nationalists and Scots separatists

Nicola Sturgeon and Connolly House will all sleep in their beds soundly this weekend knowing that their greatest objective ally remains in situ.

Saturday, 15th January 2022, 10:07 am
Updated Saturday, 15th January 2022, 10:15 am
Boris Johnson at the front door of 10 Downing Street. The longer he clings on as prime minister, the more damage he does to the Union

Separatists and nationalists on either side of the North Channel will be relieved that Boris Johnson still resides in Number 10 Downing Street.

For the longer Johnson clings on as prime minister after repeated scandalous revelations of pandemic restrictions allegedly broken by him and his team of partying Hooray Henrys and Henriettas the more damage it does to the Union.

Because Johnson has become the key lightning rod that the SNP and Irish nationalists are drawing most of their energy from in their respective bids to break up the UK.

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Henry McDonald will from next month be the News Letter political editor. He is a former Guardian and Observer Ireland correspondent and author of books including a biography of David Trimble and 'INLA: Deadly Divisions'

The deep building resentment towards the PM and his team’s alleged breaches of lockdown rules the rest of the nation in general endured for nearly two years bolsters separatism.

The public perception (especially in the Celtic parts of the UK) that there is one rule for the ordinary people and one for those at the centre of power is viewed by millions through the prism of English class privilege.

It is then refracted into an alternative vision of UK breaking apart as advocated by the SNP and Irish nationalism.

It is no surprise that one of the sharpest critics of Johnson and the No 10 good time girls and boys has been Ruth Davidson, the former leader of the Scottish Conservatives.

Davidson didn’t hit and miss the wall on learning about the BYO (Bring Your Own) booze up in the Downing Street garden back in May 2020.

“WTF were these people thinking?” was her incredulous reaction to the news. Given that this is a family newspaper we don’t need to spell out what Davidson meant but we can all guess what she was saying.

Davidson is recognised as one of those pro union political figures in Scotland that had a ‘good Independence battle’ and was credited as one of the voices that persuaded a majority of fellow Scots back in 2014 to reject independence.

She is therefore in a strong position to recognise the damage an English-dominated political elite can inflict on support for the union such as those allegedly arrogant breaches of the lockdown.

Her successor Douglas Ross also senses the danger that an increasingly soiled and discredited PM can do to the cause of preserving the UK. The present leader of the Scottish Tories has submitted a letter to the power Conservative 1922 Committee calling for a vote of no confidence in Boris Johnson.

For daring to suggest Johnson is now an asset rather than a liability for the union Ross got slapped down by one of the PM’s parliamentary loyalists.

Jacob Rees Mogg dismissed the Scottish Tory leader as a “lightweight figure” for calling on Johnson to resign. Which in turn gifted the SNP another golden opportunity with First Minister Sturgeon charging that Rees Mogg’s attack on a fellow Conservative north of the border says “something much deeper about the Westminster establishment’s utter contempt for Scotland”.

Cue another few percentage points in the next opinion poll in favour of Scottish Independence.

Strangely, there have been no parallel demands for the Tories to act against Johnson from this side of the Irish Sea. The Democratic Unionists are the only opposition party at Westminster not yet to call on the PM to resign over the string of ‘Partygate’ scandals since Christmas.

Their inaction thus far over Johnson is odd given the depth of anger and sense of betrayal within unionism at large over Johnson selling out his former DUP allies over the Brexit deal that produced the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Perhaps the DUP’s reticence is linked to its hope that Foreign Secretary Liz Truss will stand up to the EU and fight for a deal that severely dilutes the Protocol in the next round of negotiations with Brussels.

Yet Jim Shannon’s personal account of how lockdown rules led to his mother-in-law dying alone at a time when senior staff around the PM were allegedly having a knees-up will strike a chord with tens of thousands of people in Northern Ireland.

Those who put up with the sacrifices to prevent the virus killing more of their fellow citizens as well as shattering the local NHS are right to be furious over what went on the Downing Street garden back in May 2020.

The DUP would be wise to pay heed to that public fury over here as the Scottish Tories seem to get over on their side of the sea.

Sinn Fein meanwhile have thus far been rather quiet about raising the double-standards regime in Downing Street when it came to lockdown rules.

This is undoubtedly motivated by a desire not to remind the public about the massive breach of those rules at the Storey funeral in west Belfast. However, Sinn Fein doesn’t really have to do say or do anything on the scandal but simply sit back and let Johnson and his team do the work for them.