Boris Johnson’s team of union advisers is to triple in size this year, marking a major change in the UK Government’s approach to the SNP and Scottish independence.
It is understood the issue has been made a top priority in Downing Street, with the prime minister privately admitting not enough time has been devoted to securing the Union during the Brexit and coronavirus crises.
In response, the newly formed “union directorate”, headed by Dominic Cummings’ protégé, Oliver Lewis, will draft as many as “30 to 50” officials to help formulate policy and hone communications, we understand.
The directorate, which currently employs 15 people, replaces the ill-fated union unit that lost its head, Luke Graham, last month.
One senior government source likened the team’s challenge to that faced by US generals in Vietnam.
Using inflammatory language, they said: “The strategy has been a bit like the US dealing with the Viet Cong.
“The generals there were playing chess, trying to land that killer blow, but the game they should have been playing was Go, where you surround the opposing side.
“We need a much more holistic approach against the SNP, there needs to be work with charities, opinion formers and civil society to change people’s minds.
“There’s too much soft support for independence.”
Such schemes have garnered criticism from the Scottish Government, however, as they, in effect, supplant the devolution settlement.
‘SNP never front up’
But those in Westminster are unconcerned by such complaints, a source told us: “The SNP never front up if something has been made possible through UK Government funding, we need to show people what the UK Government is doing.”
The SNP’s deputy Westminster leader, Kirsten Oswald, said the Number 10 manoeuvres demonstrated a second independence referendum is coming.
She said: “It’s now beyond any doubt that the Tories are gearing up for a referendum on Scotland’s right to choose, which they now accept is inevitable.
“People in Scotland have the right to determine their own future in a post-pandemic referendum. Boris Johnson knows he cannot stand in the way of democracy any more than Donald Trump.”
She added: “It is outrageous for the prime minister’s taxpayer-funded advisers to paint people in Scotland as the enemy and to use the language of war.
“It’s no wonder the growing majority of people in Scotland want to escape Westminster, and build a country based on compassion and equality, instead of this ridiculous rhetoric.”
Number 10 last week justified the creation of the union directorate, dismissing accusations it had been born out of “panic” over surging support for Scottish independence.
The prime minister’s spokesman said: “Our focus is to ensure that we deliver for people across the United Kingdom and that’s what the union directorate will allow us to do.”