The Personality of Boris Johnson and His Impact on the Possible Scottish Independence Referendum

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The Brexit referendum in 2016 has sparked new hopes in the matter of Scotland’s independence. Unsatisfied with the UK leaving the European Union, Scottish nationalists represented by the Scottish National Party (SNP) have been promoting Scottish “right to choose” and supporting the notion of another independence referendum for Scotland known as the indyref2. After the SNP’s victory in the Scottish parliamentary election held in May 2021, the first minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, aspires to bring indyref2 by the end of 2023. Nevertheless, the path to a second referendum is unclear, due to the necessary consent from the UK Government in London and the reluctant stance of the British current prime minister Boris Johnson. However, it is the personality of Nicola Sturgeon that seems to contribute to ongoing nationalist sentiments in Scotland greatly and is likely to decide the future of the indyref2.

Scottish National Party

Since the 1970s, the Scottish National Party has been advocating Scottish independence from the rest of the UK. Due to devolution in the late 1990s, Scotland was able to create its own parliament and gained control over some aspects, including healthcare and education. National politics, however, still depends on Westminster. Nevertheless, it can be said that devolution had put the SNP in the spotlight and created a platform for its transformation.[1] The party celebrated great success in the Scottish election in 2007 creating its first minority government and putting an end to fifty years of the Labour Party dominance in Scotland. With a proactive attitude, the SNP succeeded in encouraging Scottish self-confidence, focusing less on maintaining the pro-independence mood among Scots during that time. Instead, the party had proven that the devolution was working well.[2] 

After receiving 69 seats in the Scottish Parliament and creating its first majority government in 2011, the SNP was ready to push the independence referendum. With the consent of the UK Government in Westminster and the conservative prime minister David Cameron, the referendum took place in 2014, although the outcomes did not turn out in favor of the Scottish independence. The settled question was awakened by the Brexit referendum in 2016 in which Scots voted 62 percent to remain in the EU. Brexit results played into the hands of Scottish nationalists who are now demanding another independence referendum for Scotland, accenting the Scottish right to choose.

Nicola Sturgeon

The leader of the SNP and the first minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon pledged to ensure indyref2 by the end of 2023. Her hopes increased after the May election in Scotland last year when the SNP confirmed its dominance and formed a pro-independence coalition government with the Green Party. Sturgeon appears to be one of the most favored political figures in Scotland.[3] Despite the strong will of the SNP to push the adoption of the indyref2, there are several problems Sturgeon must face. Firstly, she committed to prioritize the COVID-19 pandemic and carry out the indyref2 as soon as it is safe to do so. Secondly, there are questions concerning the character of independent Scotland. The Scottish Government should be able to present a solution to various aspects, such as questions on border and currency.[4] The legality of the referendum might be seen as another unresolved issue. Sturgeon demands it to be fully legal and internationally recognized which is now uncertain without the UK Government’s consent. According to Nicola Sturgeon, the indyref2 is: “a matter of when – not if”.[5] 

Boris Johnson and his impact on indyref2

Boris Johnson plays an essential role in the process of the indyref2 since his approval is required. Johnson’s objections to this matter have not changed, he argues that the independence referendum is supposed to happen only once in a generation and Scots already got their chance in 2014. With the constant rejection, he might be buying time for the Union (the UK).[6]

Support for independence in Scotland increased not only because of Brexit, but also because of the pandemic. Both reasons appear to be connected to Boris Johnson. Healthcare is in the hands of the Scottish Government. According to Ipsos MORI poll from November 2020, Nicola Sturgeon won over Johnson in the matter of dealing with the COVID-19, and Scots are contented that their leader is responsible for the decision-making. In general, Boris Johnson seems to be rather unpopular in Scotland, even some Scottish Unionists consider him a liability and an existential threat.[7] On the other hand, his unpopularity brings benefits for the SNP and the pro-independence campaign at the same time.[8] According to Tom McTague, with the recent sensation over prime minister’s parties during the lockdown, he is becoming less approved in other parts of the UK and even among his own party, as well. The antagonism and apathy come rather from his personality, moral issues, and lack of seriousness than from his policy which means he could probably be easily replaced.[9]

Boris Johnson could be among the key factors for the adoption of the indyref2, as his controversial personality and offensive behavior help maintain the views of Scottish nationalists, and perhaps of yet undecided Scots, on the necessity of independence. Therefore, I believe that possible scenarios for the adoption of the indyref2 are likely to be closely connected to the current UK prime minister. Whether Johnson stays in office would probably be an important factor. The chances that he resigns appear to be high nowadays due to his scandals during the hard COVID-19 lockdown in the UK. Some of the PM’s aides have already resigned and according to the BBC, “17 Tory MPs have submitted letters of no confidence in the prime minister – 54 are needed to trigger a leadership contest.”[10] With Boris Johnson’s resignation, the Conservative Party could still have high chances to win the next UK general election in 2024. Simultaneously, with the disappearance of such controversial and scandalous political figures, Scottish people might create a warmer attitude towards the Union and the central government which could lead to a loss of support for independence in Scotland. Even if Johnson did not resign, with the Conservative Party in power, Nicola Sturgeon might have to take the subject of the indyref2 to the Supreme Court. Johnson’s retention as prime minister could pose a serious threat to Tories in the next general election, increasing chances for the Labour Party. For the SNP, this scenario does not look a hundred percent favorable since it could mean calming the situation regarding the desire for independence in Scotland. On the other hand, I would say that the center-left Labour Party tends to be more liberal, and it might not necessarily take as firmly disapproving attitude towards the indyref2 as the Conservatives. In general, Boris Johnson is likely to have a great impact on the future of the indyref2 and the Scottish path to becoming independent.

[1] Gerry Hassan, The Modern SNP: From Protest to Power. (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2009), eBook Collection (EBSCOhost), 79–80.

[2] Eberhard Bort, “On The Threshold of Independence? Scotland One Year After The SNP Election Victory,” Romanian Journal of European Affairs 8, č. 2 (2008), 41–52.

[3] Martin Kettle, “Sturgeon Is Being Forced To Play The Long Game On A Second Referendum,” The Guardian, 2 December, 2021,

[4] Nick Eardley, “Indyref2: Why Has The Campaign For Another Vote Gone Quiet?” BBC, 4 August, 2021,

[5] Francesca Gillett, “Indyref2: Scottish Independence Referendum Unlikely Before 2024 – Gove,” BBC, 23 June, 2021,

[6] Tom McTague, “The Tears of a Clown,” The Atlantic, 24 January, 2022.

[7] Nick Eardley, “Indyref2: Is Boris Johnson An Asset Or A Liability For Unionism?” BBC, 28 January, 2021,

[8] Alasdair Soussi, “Scottish Nationalists See Chances And Pitfalls In Johnson’s Woes,” Aljazeera, 25 January, 2022,  

[9] McTague, “The Tears of a Clown.”

[10] “Boris Johnson rocked by wave of No 10 resignations.” BBC, 5 February, 2022,