BFF-27 British PM rivals woo Scotland with union at stake

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BRITAIN-EU-BREXIT-POLITICS

British PM rivals woo Scotland with union at stake

PERTH, United Kingdom, July 5, 2019 (BSS/AFP) – The finalists in the race
to succeed Theresa May as Britain’s prime minister wooed voters Friday in
Scotland, where frontrunner Boris Johnson’s “no-deal Brexit” threats are
fanning the flames of independence.

Built on fishing and oil, Scotland has been traditional tricky terrain for
Britain’s ruling Conservative Party, which has not won a general election
there since the 1950s.

But Johnson ventured up north for the first time Friday in the latest leg
of a month-long campaign that will conclude with the July 24 confirmation of
Britain’s next premier.

UK media reports paint a portrait of a confident Johnson already drafting
the makeup of his future government.

But it is his rival, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who has won the coveted
endorsement of the Scottish Conservatives’ leader Ruth Davidson, who is weary
of the prospects of Britain splitting away from the EU without any plans for
what happens next.

Hunt, widely viewed as less charismatic but more pragmatic than Johnson,
already dropped by Scotland last month in his bid to mount a late comeback.

While there, Hunt “ticked the most basic box of the leadership race” — in
the words of the BBC — by being photographed holding up a can of Iron-Bru, a
sweet orange cola known here as “Scotland’s other national drink”.

– Deciding the union’s future –

Prior to meeting some of the 160,000 party members who will ultimately
decide the name of the next British leader, Hunt promised on Friday to
deliver a boost to the region’s main drink, whisky, by securing “a good
Brexit deal”.

“If we follow it with the right trade deals, we can continue the Scottish
whisky boom,” Hunt told the head of the local Scotch Whisky Association.

It is unclear if these pledges will convince the locals that Hunt can
accomplish by the new, extended October 31 deadline what May failed in her
three years in charge.

But Hunt might be helped by Scottish apprehensions of Johnson’s main
campaign promise — to get Britain out of the EU, deal or no deal, without
any further delays.

Scotland voted overwhelmingly in favour of staying in the EU in the 2016
referendum, worried that its trade-dependent economy will be hurt by the loss
of low-tariff arrangements with Britain’s main economic partner.

Those pro-EU sentiments remain strong, with one poll showing 53 percent of
the respondents saying they would vote in favour of Scotland’s independence
were Johnson to become UK premier.

Scotland already held one such vote in September 2014, which the pro-union
camp won with 55 percent. But that was before Brexit — and Johnson.

But feeling a shift in opinion, Scottish Prime Minister and SNP
independence party leader Nicola Sturgeon has aired plans to hold another
sovereignty referendum by 2021.

Four polls published between mid-April and mid-June show the pro-
independence camp gaining ground, especially among Scots who voted against
Brexit three years ago.

“It would seem that the Brexit impasse has motivated some Remain supporters
in recent months to re-evaluate their attitudes towards the (British) union,”
said John Curtis, a polling expert and professor Glasgow’s Strathclyde
University.

This means “the outcome of the Brexit process could potentially change the
balance of support for independence versus staying in the union — and so
determine the future of the British state.”

The possibility of Britain breaking apart was on May’s mind when she
visited Scotland on Thursday to warn about the “undoubted consequences” of a
no-deal Brexit.

“A lot of people have taken the union for granted over the years,” May
said.

The paying Conservative Party members have more anti-European views than
the nation as a whole, pushing Hunt to also take a more hawkish line on
future negotiations with Brussels.

Hunt said he, too, was willing to take Britain out without a deal, adding
that he would seek a short delay of a few days or a week if a new agreement
seemed imminent.

BSS/AFP/FI/ 1950 hrs