The Scottish Question
I have written about David Cameron’s character in The Independent on Sunday today, prompted by our ComRes poll which asked respondents to say which of a set of 14 statements applied to him. Apart from being “out of touch with ordinary people” — not fatal but not great — little about him seemed to have made much impression.
I was, incidentally, struck that only 10 per cent thought that he “seems to have similar views to those of Tony Blair”. So much for the heir, then.
Cameron is adroit at responding to events, but not at making them happen, which means that his personality has not yet strongly come across to people. One of the examples I give is his “Lincoln First Inaugural” — for the Union and against Secession — speech in Edinburgh on Friday. In this he was responding to Alex Salmond rather than taking the initiative, but it required emollience and he did it well.
By which I mean that Scotland and the universe is against him, and he managed not to make matters worse. Which, while there is a majority among the Scots people against independence, is all he needs to do.
As an English Conservative Prime Minister, Cameron cannot be too sure how this is going to work out. Even Blair, like Cameron English with Scottish roots, could not be sure. Only while Gordon Brown was Prime Minister did a referendum on independence seem a hopeless proposition for the Scottish National Party.
Scotland has its own media-political culture, and Blair and Cameron have both been caught out by it. As leader of the opposition, Blair tripped up in an interview because he had never heard of the Claim of Right. Last week, Cameron in his speech said that the Scotland Bill now going through the Westminster Parliament would give the Edinburgh Parliament the power to raise taxes “for the first time”. Surely he knows that the second question in the devolution referendum of 1997 granted the Scottish Parliament the power to vary the basic rate of income tax by up to 3p in the pound? It is a power of which Salmond, the consummate opportunist, once took advantage to promise a tax cut. (A tax cut that never materialised.)
These finer points do not matter much in themselves. Such as the intricate details of devo-max, which sounds like a loo cleaner, and about which Scottish journalists and politicians are inordinately interested. True, Cameron’s offer in last week’s speech to consider “what further powers could be devolved” if Scotland votes no to independence was inconsistent. The Prime Minister says he wants a straight yes or no on independence, not complicated by other options for “maximum devolution”, but then immediately complicates it by suggesting that a “no” vote would mean more devolution.
His calculation is simple, which is that he wants to soften the edges of a binary choice, but the effect in Scotland is to reinforce the belief that the London Prime Minister does not understand their country. Cameron will never be able to overcome that. It was bad enough for Blair. It is worse for a Conservative.
The SNP strategy is a long-term conspiracy out in the open. It is the slippery slope — the very thing about which the devolutionists were warned and of which they were scornful, in 1979 and in 1997 and all the years in between and since, until recently.
Thus Blair, who introduced devolution, ended up with an SNP minority administration in Edinburgh in May 2007, just before he stepped down; then a Tory government in London gave Salmond a majority in the Scottish Parliament last year. It was a majority for the SNP, not for independence, but we in the rest of the UK should not be too disdainful. We used to elect Labour governments that were formally committed to the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange.
At every point, English politicians and commentators have said that they did not think the next stage would happen. Every time, it did. Against that tilt, Cameron made the best speech he could last week.
Screen shot of BBC News live coverage of David Cameron’s Edinburgh speech on Friday, “United Kingdom is a previous thing”: thanks to Guido FawkesTagged in: david cameron, Scotland
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