Daily US Times: On Thursday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson landed in Orkney, an archipelago off Scotland’s northern coast, he strongly proclaimed that the trip proved his commitment to a united nation, United Kingdom.
Mr Johnson said: “The Union is a fantastically strong institution — it’s helped our country through thick and thin”.
“I think what people really want to do is see our whole country coming back strongly together, and that’s what we’re going to do,” he added.
Together, perhaps, but not with Scotland’s leader. This was his first trip to Scotland this year. In the visit, Johnson chose a sparsely populated group of islands hundreds of miles from the seat of Scottish political power in Edinburgh; he did not meet with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.
That may be for good reason. Though Scotland has suffered badly from coronavirus crisis, Sturgeon’s popularity has surged, largely as she has steered a more cautious approach out of the crisis than her English counterparts. Support for her ultimate political goal, Scottish independence from England, is also on the up.
Meanwhile, the British PM’s personal ratings have taken a hit, as the messaging around reopening south of the Scottish border has been more haphazard. His visit to Scotland was an attempt to regain some political backbone north of Hadrian’s Wall.
One of the many lessons from the coronavirus crisis in the UK has been the starkly different governing styles of the country’s political leaders.
Despite being educated at England’s most elite establishments, Mr Johnson has made a career of playing the klutzy everyman. It’s a routine that works great for photo ops — as London mayor, the infamous zipline mishap during the 2012 Olympics was a highlight — but perhaps not so well for global pandemics.
Long before Johnson himself infected by Covid-19, he told a group of journalists with a mischievous smile that he had recently visited a hospital and “I think there were actually a few coronavirus patients, and I shook hands with everybody, you’ll be pleased to know.”
Johnson faced particular ridicule for confusing advice from his administration about reopening. On May 10, he told Brits that if they could not work from home, they should now be “actively encouraged to go to work” but that they should also “stay alert.”
Sturgeon was not impressed by that advice. At that time, she said: “I don’t know what ‘stay alert’ means,” adding that she had asked the British government not to deploy that slogan in Scotland.
When Mr Johnson’s administration introduced new rules that allowed residents to visit certain countries without quarantining on return, Sturgeon called the decision-making process “shambolic.” She refused to allow unrestricted travel from Spain, unlike Downing Street.
Another area of divergence has been over the issue of face coverings.
Sturgeon made face masks mandatory in shops here a full two weeks before Downing Street followed suit with a similar ordinance for England. Sturgeon’s tartan face mask has become a sartorial signature.
Johnson has not resisted masks with the zeal of US President Donald Trump, but he is more often seen without a mask, even indoors, than with one. His visit to Orkney drew a small protest; one man asked, “Where’s your mask, Boris?”
Perception of power
To an outsider, even in fact to many Brits, the division of power in the United Kingdom can be confusing. Boris Johnson is the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. But since the late 1990s, much power has been shifted to the Kingdom’s constituent nations — a process known as devolution.
This means many policy decisions concerning education, transportation and health for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are taken not in London, but in Cardiff, Edinburgh, and Belfast. It has not been unusual to see a grand policy announcement emanating from Downing Street, only to find a postscript explaining that the rule only applies to England.
Despite this different approach, Covid-19 outcomes — so far, at least — have not been so dissimilar. In fact, the death rate in Scotland has only been slightly better than in England. For every 100,000 people, 77 in Scotland have diedwith Covid-19, versus 86 in England.