Scottish Secretary Alister Jack has said the perception former prime minister Boris Johnson is unpopular in Scotland is “false”.
Mr Jack, an ally of the beleaguered former premier who was found last week to have deliberately misled MPs in his denials over partygate, said he had never witnessed any abuse when Mr Johnson had visited Scotland.
An Ipsos Mori poll of 1,000 Scots released in May last year in the midst of press reports about parties in and around Downing Street during the pandemic, and just two months before he was forced from office, suggested Mr Johnson had a net approval rating of -71%, with 83% of respondents reporting a negative view of him.
Contextually, Sir Keir Starmer boasted a -2% net rating while then first minister Nicola Sturgeon had a 12% rating.
The former Uxbridge and South Ruislip MP’s dissatisfaction rating among Scots in the same Ipsos poll never dropped lower than 60%.
Speaking to Holyrood magazine before the Privileges Committee recommended a 90-day suspension from the Commons for the former prime minister had he not stood down as an MP, Mr Jack said: “I think the decisions (Mr Johnson) took for Scotland will serve Scotland very well for decades to come.
“I know the public perception was that he was not popular in Scotland, I understand that, but it was a false perception. I found when I walked the streets with him in Scotland, people were incredibly supportive.
“We never received any abuse in the time I was with him, and we made four or five visits together.
“I’m not someone who bears grudges. I don’t smoulder over things.
“But my view is that I’m very fond of Boris, I think he’s an enormous talent and I was very sorry the way things ended.”
The Scottish Secretary also finds himself in a number of spats with the Scottish Government, including over the deposit return scheme and his decision to effectively block controversial gender reforms.
In his interview, Mr Jack said the Scotland Act – the legislation which created the devolved Scottish Parliament – may have been “loosely written” by the then Labour government, who believed they would perpetually be in power both at Westminster and Holyrood.
“I think if Donald Dewar (Scotland’s first first minister and the architect of Scottish devolution) was putting that Scotland Act together again, knowing what we know now, as opposed to what they thought then, it would have been a different Scotland Act.
“I’ve made this accusation to some in the Labour Party, including Tony Blair, that the Scotland Act maybe wasn’t as tightly written at the time as it could have been.
“It could have included a requirement for more transparency on spending, for instance, there could have been more accountability, and it maybe was a little bit loosely written because a Labour government was writing it from basically a belief that there was always going to be a Labour regime in place, a Labour prime minister, a Labour secretary of state, Labour first minister, and they obviously thought they were going to have control of Scotland forever.”
SNP MP Tommy Sheppard said: “Alister Jack must be living on a different planet if he thinks Boris Johnson has done any good for Scotland.
“Boris Johnson has been one of the most unpopular Prime Ministers in Scotland since Thatcher. More than anyone he turned our political discourse into a cesspit, trashing integrity as he went.
“He imposed the unmitigated disaster that is Brexit on us despite a majority of Scots voting to stay in the European Union and grabbed powers back from the Scottish Parliament through post-Brexit legislation, including the Internal Market Act.
“We are already seeing the consequences of that with the UK government effectively having a veto over legislation passed by our democratically elected Parliament here in Scotland.
“It is only with independence that Scotland will finally be able to rid itself of power-grabbing Westminster Tory governments led by disgraced Prime Ministers like Boris Johnson for good.”