SCOTS are set to see a lot more of Boris Johnson in 2020 as the Prime Minister seeks to strengthen the Union and up the UK Government’s involvement in Scotland.

As Mr Johnson considers his forthcoming Cabinet reshuffle and shake-up of Whitehall, expected in early February, The Herald has been told that he is planning to visit Scotland on a more frequent basis with longer overnight stays and to hold more full Cabinet meetings north of the border to underpin his role as Minister for the Union.

“Once Brexit is done on January 31 the big focus domestically will be on strengthening the Union,” declared one senior Government source. “Scotland is going to see a lot more of Boris and his ministers in 2020.”

Another Tory insider noted: “Once more people see Boris on the ground, they will warm to him. He has to have longer stays in Scotland, for two or three days, and not just be seen as a visiting Governor General who pops across the border every now and again for a few hours.”

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The Government plans for stronger engagement with Scotland come as Mr Johnson and his administration appear to be enjoying a honeymoon period with an opinion poll by Opinium giving the Tories a healthy 17-point lead over Labour[47 points to 30] with 42 per cent of people saying the PM is doing a better job than expected while 33 per cent said he is performing as badly or worse than they had thought.

At present, the PM and the senior colleagues in the Downing St inner circle are piecing together how to recalibrate Whitehall and redraw the constitution so that it “makes devolution work better”. This includes a plan to relocate the House of Lords to York with the representation of the nations and regions of the UK at its heart.

The Dunlop Review on “strengthening the Union,” commissioned by Theresa May in one of her last acts as PM, has been held back and will be published to coincide with Mr Johnson’s grand unveiling of his reshuffle and plans for Government departments next month.

Much thought is being given as to the relationship between the Cabinet Office, run by Michael Gove, No 10 and its fledgling Union Unit and the Scotland Office. Mr Gove, who is highly regarded by Downing St as a media operator in defending the Union and taking the political fight to the SNP, has been tipped to become effectively the “Minister for Delivery” in the recalibration of Whitehall.

Several sources have told The Herald that, in terms of defending and promoting the Union, one of the problems Whitehall has suffered from is a “silo mentality” with each department not plugged in to an overall constitutional strategy. One of the key aims of Mr Johnson’s shake-up will be to instil a “Union mindset” across the whole of Government. This will involve more visits to Scotland by senior ministers.

Another key aim will be to deliver more infrastructure projects on the ground, so that Scots will see tangible benefits of the Union. This is likely to see more direct investment from Whitehall, which will lead the Government to come under fire from its critics that the devolution settlement, far from being strengthened, is being bypassed. However, from the PM’s viewpoint “delivery is key”.

The political backdrop is mounting pressure from Nicola Sturgeon and her SNP colleagues for Westminster to grant Holyrood the power to hold a second independence referendum. The First Minister is expected to set out her “next steps” in the coming days to counter what she sees as Downing St’s anti-democratic intransigence.


Last week, however, Mr Johnson once again made clear he had no intention whatsoever of granting Ms Sturgeon her wish, saying that the 2014 poll was a “once in a generation vote” and that allowing another referendum would simply “continue the political stagnation that Scotland has seen for the last decade”.

Yet, senior Conservatives are mindful that, a “no, nay, never” rejection, as one described it, was building up a “pressure cooker of resentment” and that in the long run, particularly if the SNP were to secure a majority in the 2021 Holyrood election, it could blow; to the detriment of keeping Scotland in the Union.

Mr Johnson and his senior colleagues are said to be fully aware of the political dangers and see making Scots more aware of the “value of the Union” in their everyday lives as the way to, over time, avoid the political pressure cooker bursting.

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Responding to the plan to have Mr Johnson spending more time in Scotland, a senior SNP source said: “Good. Johnson is poison in Scotland. Seeing more of him will only help our cause for independence.”

Meanwhile, James Cleverley, the Conservative Chairman, commenting on the possibility of moving the Lords to northern England – which would be more evidence of the Tories seeking to consolidate their gains there at the December election – said: "What we are looking at is a whole range of options about making sure every part of the UK feels properly connected from politics."

"When the PM stood up the day after the election and said this is going to be the People's Government he meant it. That meant connecting people with government and politics.

"The referendum in 2016 wasn't just about our relationship with the EU, it was about millions of people and their relationship with politics as a whole."

When pressed to say if the move would happen, he replied: "We might. It's one of a range of things that we are looking into. But fundamentally what this is about is about demonstrating that we are going to do things differently."

Alok Sharma, the International Development Secretary, told BBC Radio 5 Live’s Pienaar’s Politics: “I'm not involved in the detail of it but as a principle it's a perfectly good thing that we are connecting government to all parts of the country.

“I mean,[in] my own department, we've got over 1000 people based in Scotland, East Kilbride. We're investing in that. And it's absolutely right that if you want to be a government of the people, you must reach out to people across the country,“ he added.

Wendy Chamberlain for the Liberal Democrats said: “Boris Johnson is the man who tried to silence our democracy by unlawfully shutting down Parliament. How can anyone trust him to fix our broken politics?

"Our politics doesn't need piecemeal change. It is in need of an urgent and radical overhaul. It is time to hit the refresh button.”

The Fife MP added: "That's why Liberal Democrats are fighting to give real power to people with an elected House of Lords, a fairer voting system and to ensure 16- and 17-year olds have their say at the ballot box.”