Boris Johnson is set to take a leading role in shaping Number 10’s strategy to save the union, amid polls indicating the SNP are on course for an outright majority at May’s Holyrood election.
Downing Street have confirmed a new “union cabinet committee“, led by the prime minister, will take charge of strategy after the ill-fated “union unit” lost two bosses in three weeks.
As we reported earlier this month, the union unit has been folded into a Cabinet Office “union directorate” run by the civil service.
The prime minister’s new Cabinet committee will “build on” the work carried out by Michael Gove’s “union policy implementation committee” formed last year, Number 10 have said.
Mr Gove, along with Chancellor Rishi Sunak, Brexit minister David Frost and the secretaries of state for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will all attend the committee, which will meet “regularly”.
Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross and the party’s Holyrood leader, Ruth Davidson, will not be invited to attend, but Number 10 said there may be occasions “when others are required at the meeting”.
‘Tories are in turmoil’
The SNP’s deputy Westminster leader, Kirsten Oswald, labelled the changes “shambolic”, adding: “The reality is that no amount of rebranding or merging can take away from the fact the Tories are in turmoil and their anti-independence campaign in disarray.”
Scotland Office minister Iain Stewart dismissed suggestions Number 10 was in “disarray” on the union, telling MPs: “I know these sort of staff changes excite a lot of political commentators, but the the government’s commitment to the union is undiminished and unchanged.”
The row came as a new opinion poll showed support for independence now stands at 52%.
The poll for Ipsos MORI/STV News showed in the constituency vote, 52% are likely to vote SNP, with 23% backing the Tories, 15% supporting Labour and the Lib Dems on 5%.
According to STV News, the poll projects the SNP will win 72 seats – a majority – with the Tories trailing on 26 seats, Labour on 17, the Greens on nine and the Lib Dems on five.
Asked about which, if any, issues will be very important in helping decide which party to vote for, 44% said independence and 32% said education.
Emily Gray, managing director of Ipsos MORI Scotland, said: “At this point the SNP look on course to win a majority of seats, but the next few weeks are set to be challenging for the party, with the Salmond inquiry ongoing.”
‘Damaging and divisive independence referendum’
A Scottish Tory spokesman said: “At the same stage in 2016, the polls put us on lower numbers than these, but we stopped an SNP majority. As Scotland’s largest opposition party, we can do so again in May’s election.
“Pro-UK voters know we are the only party with the strength and determination to stop another damaging and divisive independence referendum.
“Only the Scottish Conservatives can prevent an SNP majority, stop indyref2 and get the Scottish Parliament 100% focused on rebuilding Scotland.”