Mr Johnson said he had always fully supported Scottish devolution after he reportedly described it as a “disaster” in a conference call with Tory MPs branding it “Tony Blair’s biggest mistake”. On Saturday, in a speech at the Scottish Conservative Conference, however, the Prime Minister insisted his remarks had been reported “not entirely accurately”.
Mr Johnson stressed his “round, unvarnished view” was that “the way the SNP has handled devolution in Scotland has been a disaster”.
Addressing delegates, he claimed the coronavirus pandemic means the Scottish and UK governments need to work together to “rebuild from its ravages” and give people a “better, brighter future”.
Mr Johnson made clear that despite the increase in support for Scottish independence, he insisted “frankly” that this was not the time for “division or distraction about our national constitution”.
The most recent YouGov polling conducted earlier this month put the SNP on 56 percent for the constituency vote and 47 percent for the regional list.
The Scottish Conservatives stood at 19 percent and 20 percent respectively, while Scottish Labour were on 15 percent and 13 percent.
Professor of Politics at Strathclyde University John Curtice, and Scottish polling guru, said the SNP had been handed a Christmas present from the comments about downplaying devolution.
He said: “The UK government has been concerned about Scotland for quite a while.
“The comments count in the ‘not helpful’ category.
“Boris has gifted them [the SNP] the opportunity to portray the UK Government as them trying to curb the powers of the Scottish Parliament.
“The SNP probably can’t believe their luck.”
Mr Johnson also said the SNP led administration had caused “plummeting education standards, low business confidence and the lowest satisfaction in public services ever” in Scotland.
He continued: “The key is to have policies to show how devolution can work for Scotland, rather than the SNP obsession with making devolution work against the rest of the UK.
“However, just because I criticise devolved performance, does not mean I want to end or undermine devolution.”
Turning to the coronavirus pandemic, Mr Johnson thanked Nicola Sturgeon and her government for the way they had worked together with UK ministers and fellow politicians to tackle the virus, which he branded a “plague”.
But he stressed politicians regardless of their party needed to work together making use of “vaccine stocks, test kits and new technology that come from being part of what is one of the world’s leading scientific superpowers”.
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He continued: “COVID-19 doesn’t care about constitutional arrangements and whatever our political differences.
“We all need to work together at this time to protect the health and jobs of the people of Scotland.”
He stressed the “cut and thrust” of normal political debate would “return in full force when the threat of the virus has abated.”
Mr Johnson continued: “When we take up the cudgels of political battle again, let’s never forget what we have achieved through cooperation – through working across the whole of our United Kingdom to face down a deadly threat that respects no tier of government or boundaries.
“My view is clear – nobody could be more proud than I am of our United Kingdom and the vital contribution Scotland makes to it.
“Too often this conversation becomes about pounds and pence, but what I know, and many others believe also, is that our United Kingdom goes much further than that.”
The PM had recently fallen out with Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross over his Scottish devolution comments, a concept which the Moray MP was in favour of.
Mr Ross said: “The Prime Minister was elected as mayor of London twice, so he believes in devolution.
“Devolution is not the problem, the problem has been the SNP’s obsession over its thirteen-and-a-half years in power with separating Scotland from the rest of the United Kingdom.”
But Mr Johnson sought a united approach during the conference on Saturday, and said of his Scottish counterpart: “In my friend Douglas Ross, you have a leader of our party in Scotland who is the very personification of Unionism – someone who believes deeply in the United Kingdom and in fighting for Scotland’s best interests within that Union.”
SNP depute leader Keith Brown responded by saying it was “a nothing speech that demonstrates exactly how much thought and consideration the Prime Minister really gives to Scotland.”
The Nationalist MSP said: “Zero effort, zero consideration, zero thought, just 10 minutes of hollow nothingness beyond more weasel words of deflection from his blunder in revealing he thinks devolution has been a disaster.”
Mr Brown said the Prime Minister should have apologised for “insulting the democratic choice of the people of Scotland and for the litany of toxic Tory policies”.
The depute leader compared these from a “disastrous Brexit in the midst of a devastating pandemic.”
He concluded: “Once again, untrustworthy Johnson has demonstrated the Tories don’t care about the needs of the people of Scotland.
“The only way to properly protect Scotland’s interests is to become an independent, European country.”