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Is it fair for Scots to argue for independence based on pandemic response?

Boris Johnson heads north of the border as calls for second referendum grow

Boris Johnson is visiting Scotland today as calls grow for a second independence referendum amid anger at the government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.  

The prime minister “emphasise[d] the strength of the UK working together in the fight against Covid-19” with a focus on the successful vaccination campaign, the BBC reports. But independence campaigners sense an opportunity.

Johnson’s visit to Scotland comes after months of polls that suggest “support for Scottish independence is higher than that for staying in the UK”, writes BBC political correspondent Nick Eardley. Scots are unhappy with “the way the pandemic has been handled”, he adds, with voters voicing more support for decisions made by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon than for Johnson.

An Ipsos Mori poll for BBC Scotland in November found that just 25% of people in Scotland believe that Westminster has handled the pandemic well, while 55% believe that it has done badly. By comparison, 72% felt that the Scottish government has handled the coronavirus crisis well, while just 15% think it has done so badly. 

Sturgeon’s own approval ratings also remain high - with 74% of Scots believing she is doing a good job compared to just 9% who back Johnson’s premiership - despite her this week taking responsibility for “bad judgement” throughout the pandemic.

“These decisions were mine and I take responsibility for them,” she said during a daily press briefing. “Some things like the nature of asymptomatic transmission were an underdeveloped part of our scientific thinking [early in the pandemic].”

Data released by the National Records of Scotland reveal that the country last year recorded its highest number of peacetime excess deaths since 1891, when “Russian flu” contributed to 9,253 excess deaths.

Last year saw 6,324 excess deaths, 11% higher than the five-year average, with Sturgeon forced to defend her devolved government in November when death rates rose higher in Scotland than in England.

Claiming it was “too soon” to compare data, the first minister told The Andrew Marr Show that over the course of the whole pandemic, the death rate in Scotland has been “quite significantly lower” than England and Wales.

However, some voters believe that full independence from Westminster would bolster the Scottish government’s ability to handle the crisis even more.

In September, a new convert to the pro-independence camp told The Guardian: “I’ve never been a supporter of the SNP or a massive advocate for Sturgeon, but when she appeared on those daily briefings there was an honesty that shone through.

“Independence scares me. But the current political stagnation is worse.”

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