Priti Patel will have woken up in a bad mood this morning, as presumably she does most mornings. Her war on immigration was dealt a severe blow in Glasgow yesterday, when a seething mob of peaceful protesters prevented immigration officers from detaining two asylum seekers. It must have been a terrifying ordeal for those officers to be surrounded by people screaming slogans like “leave these people alone. These are our neighbours”.
This incident, perhaps even more than the result of the Holyrood elections last week, demonstrates the gulf that exists between Scotland and Westminster. Johnson set up a task force to promote the Union, whose staff thought that their ‘look at all the good things we have done for you’ would enthuse Scottish voters. There are rumours that Johnson is planning a charm offensive of public spending in Scotland with a view to doing the same. Money always helps, but money alone doesn’t remove the insult to Scottish people’s sense of decency that is Priti Patel’s Home Office.
Make no mistake, the sentiment that prompted the action in Glasgow yesterday is widely shared across Scotland. And, in case anyone is in any doubt about that, this is not the first time that Westminster politicians have fallen foul of Scottish sensibilities. At the beginning of the 1980s Scottish Tories formed a large minority of the country’s electorate. The vulgarity of ‘Greed is Good’ put an end to that. Today the hostile environment policy causes widespread offence across the spectrum.
Johnson was advised during the election campaign that the Scottish Conservatives would be best served if he stayed out of the country altogether for the duration. Johnson duly obliged. The question now arises as to whether Scotland is now also a no-go area for Patel. The authority of the Home Office has been challenged; if she does not now enforce those detention warrants, she is implicitly accepting that she does not have jurisdiction in at least certain parts of Scotland. If she does insist that those warrants be served, then she risks the action being seen as government by force.
And should Johnson continue to deny the Scottish people an independence referendum, it has already been pointed out that this would constitute maintaining the Union by force. Some may consider this an exaggeration. Combine it with yesterday’s stand-off, however, and it starts to look as if it is precisely this that’s taking shape. The problem for Westminster is that, while the debate on independence may be seen as ideological, the hostile environment policy is a moral issue. And morality is not Boris Johnson’s strong point.