Tony Blair has said Boris Johnson is not the person to save the Union as he criticised Labour for playing around with nationalist sentiment.
The former Prime Minister admitted it was “a possibility” that Scotland would quit the UK as he lamented the lack of opposition to the SNP.
Appearing on Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday show, Mr Blair said Brexit and the failure of Labour and the Tories to oppose the SNP effectively had contributed to the threat to the United Kingdom.
Asked by Ms Ridge, if he thought Scotland would vote to leave the UK as a result of Brexit, Mr Blair replied: “It’s a possibility, yes.”
Mr Blair argued that it was not in the interests of Scotland to become independent because of the UK’s strong economic and cultural ties.
But Brexit, he said, had added “an additional dimension”.
“My view about Scotland is that there have been two problems over the last decade,” the former Prime Minister said.
“The first obviously was after Brexit. But even before that the Labour party went off, in my view, the completely wrong direction in Scotland and the Conservative Party – at least until Ruth Davidson -looked as if they were nowhere. There was no proper opposition to the SNP.”
He argued that a Labour revival in Scotland under Keir Starmer would be a “significant advantage” to the pro-Union cause.
He’s not going to be the person who’s going to save the Union in that sense. But we do need a viable opposition in Scotland and we’ve not really had that.”
Tony Blair on Boris Johnson
Ms Ridge drew the former prime minster’s attention to a recent poll suggesting a majority of Scots felt Mr Johnson was not doing a good job.
“He’s (Boris Johnson’s) not going to be the person who’s going to save the Union in that sense,” Mr Blair said. “But we do need a viable opposition in Scotland and we’ve not really had that.
“The problem (was) when the Labour Party went off to the left and played around with nationalist sentiment instead of being clearly in the centre left position and strongly in favour of the Union, it lost its purchase as the opposition.
“Then, other than that period of time when Ruth Davidson was leading the Tories, there was no-one who was able to provide a coherent alternative to Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP.”
Mr Blair’s remarks came after Mr Johnson made a high-profile visit to the north of Scotland to argue that the Union had resulted in 900,000 Scottish jobs being saved during the coronavirus crisis and billions poured into the economy.
The prime minister’s visit came after a Panelbase poll put support for Scottish independence at 54%.
The pro-Union-side’s “huge strategic error”
At the weekend, Ms Davidson, the former Scottish Tory leader, claimed the pro-Union side made a “huge strategic error” by not taking a more aggressive approach to nationalism after its victory in the 2014 independence referendum.
In an interview with the Sunday Times, Ms Davidson said: “Mistakes have been made, and one of these was not sticking the boot in after the 2014 referendum. We wanted the country to come back together and we were, if you like, interested in showing ourselves to be bigger people than them. That was, morally, the right thing to do, but tactically it was a mistake. A huge strategic error in fact.”
She added: “I’m not as depressed as a number of unionists seem to be right now. That’s not because I’m complacent. I can read a poll as well as anyone and see long-term trends in data.
“However, the fundamental strengths of working across the UK remain. So too do the fundamental weaknesses of pro-indy positions on key economic elements such as currency, central bank. That’s not enough, and we know that, and work is going on to develop a new Union story. But I do disagree with those who think the SNP trajectory is inevitably ever upwards.”
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab disagreed with Mr Blair’s assertion that the prime minister was not the person to save the Union.
Also appearing on Sophy Ridge on Sunday, Mr Raab said “no, not at all” when it was put to him that Mr Johnson could break the Union.
“I think if you look at the economic benefits and the cultural togetherness of the Union if you look at our clout on the international stage we are much better as one United Kingdom,” Mr Raab said.
“I think what we do need to do is much more powerfully make the positive case. If you look at referendums and elections recently there’s been a bit of project fear has crept into all of them. I think we can have a full-throated heartfelt, positive case for the UK. I think Boris Johnson is exceedingly well placed because of that optimistic fizz he has about himself and his leadership style to make the case for the Union in that way.”