Boris must ensure Scotland is at the heart of his plans

My Article in today's Scottish Daily Mail (24.07.19)


BORIS Johnson became our party leader yesterday and will become Prime Minister today at a turning point in our long island story.

These are testing times for any leader. Not only do we have Brexit and emerging global issues such as Iran and China to deal with, we also face a significant domestic agenda.

The question of Scotland's place in the United Kingdom and how we can ensure our voice is heard is of vital importance to the new Prime Minister.

I supported Michael Gove during his leadership campaign, but since he left the contest I have kept my own counsel. The votes have been counted and the result announced and I have full faith and confidence in the process we used to elect our new leader.

Thinking about leadership, I believe the most important lesson you can learn as a leader is to be open and honest about what you don't know. I, for one, have always found Boris to be very aware of what he doesn't know and just as keen to learn about new issues and challenges. This is a strength to have as a leader.

A good boss will hire good people, set clear expectations and then let them get on with the job.

Boris, when London Mayor, surrounded himself with exceptional people. He put qualified people in the right roles and then let them get on and get stuff done, delivering for him and for London. He now needs to do this for Britain.

Boris's track record shows he knows how to surround himself with the right people. He knows how to take advice and is good at acting on the advice he receives.

THE most important person who can give him the best advice about Scotland is Ruth Davidson, and Boris would do well to make her his principal adviser on all things that impact on Scotland.

Ruth Davidson and the Scottish Conservatives are the best people to help him put a strong Scotland at the heart of the United Kingdom and the future of the United Kingdom must be the new Prime Minister's top priority. It isn't something that follows on from Brexit, it must be there at the top of his agenda from the start.

The Union was always at the forefront of Theresa May's agenda.

She came to Scotland within a day of becoming Prime Minister and spoke passionately about the importance of the Union, not simply as a set of constitutional mechanisms, but as a Union between people. She knew that people, whether they were in Wales, England, Northern Ireland or Scotland, had more in common with each other than dividing them.

Mrs May was driven by patriotism and duty and I was delighted recently to welcome her to Stirling, where she made an important final speech on the Union in which she announced a review into how best to configure UK Government structures to strengthen the working of the Union.

I am sure Boris will follow Theresa's example and lead from the front on the issue of the Union.

There are a few immediate actions he can take. The first is to keep David Mundell in the Scotland Office. It would be a mistake to move him on because his knowledge of Scotland and the relationships he has built over his years in office are second to none.

What he needs most is back-up. He needs new junior ministers to help him lead a more politically driven campaigning department.

Fortunately, there is a good choice of highly talented Scottish Conservative MPs younger than me, who have shown they are ready to enter the Government.

Beefing up the Scotland Office will help put Scotland at the centre of the Whitehall agenda. It needs to work closely with the promised Union Delivery Unit at Number 10. The Prime Minister needs to staff this with experienced political hands who lived through the 2014 referendum. It is essential he gets access to sound political advice from Scotland.

Scotland must be at the heart of the Union and the beefed-up Scotland Office needs to make our voice heard across the Government. All Whitehall departments need to have Scotland and its place in the United Kingdom at the heart of what they do. Every policy must be Union-proofed.

In the longer term, we need a new powerful constitutional department of state which brings together the work of the Union across Whitehall. This is an issue whose time is coming. I would like to see more discussion about how we can get all the elements of the Union working more closely together, making inter-governmental cooperation and collaboration the new political norm in the UK.

LAST week's report on the rise in drugs-related deaths in Scotland is a case in point. The Speaker refused to grant an Urgent Question and there was no ministerial statement from the Home Office.

That Scotland has become the worst place in the developed world for drugs deaths must be a matter of concern for the UK Parliament. We need the UK and Scottish Governments working together on this issue. Scotland's two governments need to work together. Our Prime Minister should be showing leadership on this issue and I hope that when Boris picks his team he has people around him who will advise him on issues such as this.

Of course, many want Boris to fail before he has even started. The SNP has not been slow to demonise him. It is constantly looking for any slight to get upset about. This is a party that has taken sanctimonious and self-righteous anger to new depths. It is always looking for ways to be offended. It is important we don't give it that excuse and put our focus and effort on building a strong Scotland within a strong United Kingdom.

I believe our country needs Boris to succeed. Recently we had a meeting with him to discuss Scotland in the Union. He was in listening mode and accepted he needs good advice as he assumes office. He told us he is open to our counsel and ideas. We have a duty to be frank and forthright in our advice to the new Prime Minister. We have a duty to enhance Scotland's place in the United Kingdom.

People who underestimate Boris Johnson are making a big mistake. I predict he will confound his critics. I hope we will see a change of gear in how our Union works and an enhancement of Scotland's place in the United Kingdom. As a Unionist by instinct, Boris Johnson gets this. I am convinced there are many sound reasons to believe he will preserve, defend and strengthen Scotland's place in the United Kingdom.