Nicola Sturgeon has described the prospect of Boris Johnson becoming prime minister as “deeply concerning”, saying the Tory leadership favourite “seems to relish” the prospect of a “catastrophic” no-deal Brexit.
The Scottish First Minister spoke out shortly after the former foreign secretary topped the second poll of Conservative MPs as the party searches for a successor to Theresa May.
Mr Johnson’s performance in government was “risible”, Ms Sturgeon insisted, accusing him of “lacking in any seriousness of purpose or basic competence”.
She hit out at the Tory leadership front-runner as she warned the new PM could cause as much damage to Scotland in 18 weeks as Margaret Thatcher and John Major did in 18 years of government at Westminster.
Speaking at an event organised by the think tank Reform Scotland in Edinburgh, Ms Sturgeon voiced her fears of the impact an “out of touch Tory Party” led by an “even more reckless leader” could have.
With the UK facing the prospect of a no-deal Brexit at the end of October, she will again insist Scotland “must have the option of choosing a different course”.
Ms Sturgeon said she had not many dealings with Mr Johnson, but stated: “It is surely deeply concerning that the Conservative Party is even contemplating putting into the office of prime minister someone whose tenure as foreign secretary was risible, lacking in any seriousness of purpose or basic competence, and who over the years has gratuitously offended so many, from gay people to Africans, Muslim woman and many others.”
She added that while that was “a matter for the Tories”, the possible election of Mr Johnson “does further illustrate the different political trajectories of Scotland and different parts of the UK”.
The SNP leader has already earmarked the second half of 2020 for when a second Scottish independence referendum could be held, but she is unlikely to get permission to hold such a ballot from the new prime minister, no matter who is voted in to succeed Theresa May.
— reformscotland (@reformscotland) June 18, 2019
However she used a speech to mark the 20th anniversary of the establishment of Holyrood to argue that the people of Scotland must be given the opportunity to decide the country’s future “given the material changes of the last few years”.
With Scotland having to leave the European Union along with the rest of the UK, despite voters north of the border having rejected Brexit, she said there were currently “echoes here of the years before devolution”, when the “democratic deficit” was a key argument for the establishment of a devolved assembly.
Ms Sturgeon said: “People disliked politics being imposed on Scotland against the will of the vast majority who lived there. The poll tax became the totemic example of that.
“But it was just one example.
“Immense damage to Scottish communities, like the one I grew up in, was caused by an out of touch Conservative Party that governed, unelected in Scotland for 18 years.”
Over the last 20 years, she will argue Holyrood and its MSPs have “sought to improve the lives of the people of Scotland”.
She added: “But now I fear a similarly out of touch Tory Party, led by an even more reckless leader, could cause as much damage as Mrs Thatcher and John Major did.
“But while they took 18 years, he, whoever it is, could do as much – or more – damage in just 18 weeks.
“Because by the end of October this year, Scotland could be heading not just for a damaging Brexit we didn’t vote for, but for a catastrophic no-deal Brexit.
“Indeed the person who seems almost certain – although you never know – to be the next Conservative leader and prime minister seems to relish that prospect.”
The First Minister went on to claim that “instead of the chaos and dysfunction at Westminster, I believe people want a welcoming, tolerant, internationalist, European, equal, caring Scotland”.
The next six months could bring “greater challenges” to Scotland than the first two decades of devolution, she said.
This would “inevitably require greater powers for Scotland, indeed the full powers that come with independence”, she added.