ABSENCE, they say, makes the heart grow fonder, but not it seems when it comes to Boris Johnson and Scotland.

The Prime Minister and self-styled Minister for the Union has happily ventured to Wales and parts of England during the Super Thursday election campaign, meeting voters, giving media interviews and eagerly promoting the blue rosette candidates.

Indeed, he has been but 80 miles from the Scottish border on three occasions to bolster the Conservative cause in the Hartlepool by-election. Yet when it comes to Scotland, an integral part of Mr Johnson’s “wonderful Union”, a nation Downing Street insists he “loves”, it has become an electoral no-go zone for the UK’s invisible premier.

Indeed, Mr Johnson, rather than spend time on the other side of Hadrian’s Wall, was preparing to zip 5,000 miles across the planet to India for talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi before Covid got in the way.

Douglas Ross, Boris’s long-suffering colleague, argued the pandemic had made things extraordinarily difficult when it came to venturing out on to the stump and, in any case, he was the Tory leader in Scotland.

But, of course, it is worth pointing out other UK party leaders, Keir Starmer and Ed Davey, have not been prevented from campaigning north of the Border. Voters are not stupid. They know exactly why the PM – as in the two-year run-up to the 2014 independence vote – has not of late stepped foot on to Scottish soil despite his “wild horses” assertion: Boris is an electoral liability north of the Border; even Corky the cat knows it.

The irony, of course, is profound; the chief advocate of the Union cannot bring himself to campaign in an election dominated by the issue of the Union because he is seen by his colleagues to be the person who undermines the Union the most. Tory election leaflets, if they have gone beyond mentioning the local candidate, referenced Mr Ross or more often Ruth Davidson.

Boris was again conspicuous by his absence. Just this week, new research suggested the lack of trust in the PM was highest in Scotland with 72 per cent of people saying they did not trust him on the pandemic; the figure for England was 47%. Indeed, it is not just Mr Johnson who has stayed well away from Scotland.


Where was the legion of UK ministers, rallying to the Unionist cause in Scotland to stop voters giving Nicola Sturgeon her much-desired Holyrood majority? While some will argue it is simply a wise strategy to keep English Tories away from an important Scottish election, it has to be pointed out that it doesn’t say much for the cohesion of the 300-year-old Union when fellow countrymen and women cannot step foot in one part of the UK for fear of bolstering the cause to break it up.

Last month, Jack McConnell, the former Labour first minister, sincerely exhorted Mr Johnson to “be brave”, to visit Scotland and speak to voters, listen to their concerns and make the case for his Government’s policies.

That, after all, is what politics is, or should be, about. Silence often speaks louder than words and it is clearly not acting from a position of strength when a leading politician, on the dominant subject of the day, absents himself from the fray.

Politicians, particularly party leaders, should have the courage of their convictions, not hide away in their comfort zones.

During the 2017 General Election campaign, Theresa May foolishly absented herself from live TV debates with her political opponents.

Understandably, she was accused of cowardice. Her non-appearance prompted the zinger of that election campaign; when asked what the first rule of leadership was, the Greens’ Caroline Lucas replied without blinking: “To show up.”

Needless to say, once the election is over, the PM will tiptoe back to Scotland. Beyond the Holyrood poll, the UK Government is preparing to enact its love-bomb Scotland strategy. Having spent billions of pounds north of the Border on Covid, the Treasury will be spending billions more on public sector projects in the belief money speaks louder than words.

And then, of course, there is our dear old friend: the constitutional quagmire. It seems the FM has ruled out trying for a second referendum this year but has pledged to start the process of holding one once the pandemic is over; whenever that will be.

By September 2023, a few months earlier than scheduled, we could be looking at another UK General Election, so Ms Sturgeon’s window of opportunity to hold a referendum rerun looks narrow. Indeed, depending on Covid-19, it may not exist at all before the next UK poll when both leading parties could include in their manifestos a pledge not to facilitate Indyref2; so, whoever wins could then claim to have a renewed mandate for kicking another approved vote on Scotland’s future into the long grass.

If, as the FM has promised, the Scottish Government will hold its own Indyref2 regardless, should there be a Scottish parliamentary majority for it, then a battle at the UK Supreme Court – likely to last several months – will ensue.

Given UK legislation is clear, constitutional matters are reserved to Westminster, then only one outcome seems likely.

Yet, it is not impossible Mr Johnson could seek to outmanoeuvre Ms Sturgeon and swiftly introduce a new Westminster bill, a legislative double-lock, to ensure there will be no Indyref2 any time soon.

But whatever mechanism the PM uses to thwart the Nationalist dream, the battle for Scottish hearts and minds will go on.

The bottom line is if a leader cannot show up to fight the good fight, it does nothing to bolster the strength of their fundamental argument; indeed, it only makes it look weaker.