David Cameron’s Legacy? Preserving the Union or presiding over the Break-Up of Britain

4 April 2013

Politics is at least partially a matter of perspective. The same object can look very different depending upon the angle from which it is viewed. Which brings me to Brother Forsyth’s latest column. I bow to no-one in my admiration for James’s reporting and astute analysis. Nor do I dispute much of what he says in his analysis of David Cameron’s legacy. No, what’s interesting is what isn’t there.

The Union.

I know. Scots go on and on and on about this stuff. It is true that the Caledonian gene is strong on self-absorption. Nevertheless, I think it can reasonably be considered revealing that this type of column, written by one of Westminster’s smartest analysts and based, one presumes, at least in part upon conversations with leading MPs and Prime Ministerial aides makes no mention of the fact that this time in 2015 the United Kingdom may no longer exist as we have come to know it. It is not, it seems, something worth mentioning, far less a matter that might go some way towards determining David Cameron’s legacy.

As it happens, I know that Cameron does consider the Union important. He has no desire to become this century’s Lord North. Nevertheless, it is surely striking that Scotland’s independence referendum still seems not to interest large parts of the Westminster elite. It is not as though the future of the country is not at stake or anything…

Perhaps it stems from a breezy confidence that, dash it, Alex Salmond and the Scottish nationalists cannot possibly prevail. True, the opinion polls presently support that conclusion. But, viewed from Scotland, I’m not so sure Unionists should be quite so complacent. A nationalist victory is far from impossible.

But even if the SNP and the wider nationalist movement is defeated it matters, I think, that they be defeated after a full and serious campaign. Victory by default or inertia is not quite good enough for the No campaign. Or, rather, should not be considered good enough.

Which poses a problem for Cameron. He knows that the SNP want to drag him into the fight thinking that the more often the Prime Minister comes to Scotland the more votes he pushes into the Yes camp. Understandably, he is reluctant to debate Salmond.

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And yet there comes a point at which battle mut be joined. Cameron is wary of nationalist tank traps but, eventually, there comes a time when he has to go on the offensive. To switch military considerations, there comes a moment when he has to be Ulysses S Grant, not George B McClellan. There are often good reasons to avoid a battle but battle cannot be avoided forever.

Besides, there is something pathetic about a British Prime Minister shirking this kind of contest. It amounts to a kind of dereliction of duty. If the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom will not make the case for the United Kingdom then who will? And what kind of case will it be?

No, it will not do. A Cameron-Salmond square-go might cheer the nationalists but what of it? It might cheer Unionists too. (Well, some Unionists. Labour Unionists might be unhappy.)

It is not a risk-free enterprise of course. It may well be that the nationalists are correct to suppose that a reinvigorated Cameron would boost the Yes vote. The SNP actually needs a Tory recovery in England. The more it looks as though Cameron will win a second term, the more votes in Scotland will shift into the Yes camp. That, at any rate, is the theory.

Stephen Noon, a canny nationalist operative, suggested that Cameron’s UK fortunes would be boosted by a No vote in the Scottish referendum. I pooh-poohed this at the time, suspecting that the good people of Devon or Hereford are not much interested in, and perhaps even only dimly aware of, Scotland’s constitutional stramash. But I think I may have been mistaken. Mr Noon had a point.

It is not so much that there is a clear connection between Cameron winning in Scotland and him then prevailing in England too. No, I doubt voters will be persuaded to put aside their own concerns just to plump for Bold Dave, Britannia’s Saviour. Rather the impact of a No vote would be felt in other, different ways. In the first place it would give Cameron a much-needed triumph. One that produced acres of copy too. And that would, presumably, put a spring in the Cameronian step that might, in turn, help persuade voters that he’s the fellow to entrust with the keys to Downing Street. It’s not impossible.

But of course that requires Cameron to play a proper part in the campaign. As Iain Martin says he should spend more time in Scotland.  If he doesn’t then it cannot really be his victory. He will have been skulking, feart, on the sidelines while other folk do the fighting. Little good can come of that.

Moreover, leaving the field to Alistair Darling and Labour leaves Cameron in the worst position of all: victory would hand him no credit but he’d still be blamed – by posterity, anyway – for defeat.

That would be his legacy. Avoiding that negative stain might not seem like a great achievement but nor is it the worst thing in the world. Better, certainly, than being recalled as the man who presided over the break-up of the United Kingdom. Because, in the end, that’s what Cameron is playing for. To win he must risk losing too.

At some point even Westminster will have to start to pay attention to all this. Tiresome, I know, but there you have it.



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Show comments
  • TomL

    Westminster don’t care, particularly the Tories because the outcome for them is a win:win. An independent Scotland would be the end of the Labour Party in England, if the Union remains it will be on condition that more power is devolved to the MSPs and the West Lothian Question will be answered – with the same result, the end of the Labour Party in England.

  • paulus

    You have the wrong end of the stick my sporan sporting friend, I didnt infer that Scotland couldnt govern itself, clearly it can and a lot of competences are already devolved, morover, Scots seem to govern the UK on a regular basis. The point I was making was that the UK is a major global player, whilst Scotland alone would be a fourth ranked nation by dent of its limited population.

    One thing Scotland does produce in abundance is hungry young men looking for fame and glory and Scotland is too small for their ambition.

  • terregles2

    Think Paris Brown has put the final nail in the coffin of the Better Together Campaign. Really shocking.

  • paulus

    No you are wrong, it must be others that amke the case for the union, the longer it goes on the more disheartened they will become, slowely fear and doubt will be sown, insecurity will be present and when bewilderment sets in: that is the time to strike.

    By the time the sound of the guns roll north, they will be afear, and when the tanks roll up on the Lawn they will not be insight.

    The battle must be one of psychology, of being ignored, of moving to the unknown.

    Scotland byitself is not worthy of any attention and no leader of a country who has a permenent place on the security council of the untied nations would never visit it.

    Lost ,lonely, barren and bewildered. Thats what the SNP offer

    • terregles2

      A country with a police force and a Government that gives us Paris Brown has the audacity to suggest that Scotland is in any way inferior or would be any less able to govern itself than the incompetent morally bankrupt rabble at Westminster. You really are having a laugh. Unbelievable….thanks for sharing the joke.!!!!!

  • ScaryBiscuits

    What I would do if I was Cameron would be to prepare full financial accounts of what a divorce would look like on both sides of the border. Preparing budgets assuming an independent Scotland would make it plain that England is fully prepared to split if that is what Scotland asked for. I suspect that this would be a more powerful persuasion than any amount of PR and photo opportunities.
    Of course the idiot isn’t doing anything of the sort but instead following his mentor John Major’s strategy of sticking his head in the sand.

    • terregles2

      In fairness the Westminster government does produce the GERS stats. The figures for 2011-2012 show that Scotland has a fiscal deficit of 2.6% compared to 6% for the rest of the UK.
      Although most of us agree he is not up to the job. Many Scots now cannot trust Westminster to properly manage Scottish resources, We really do not think the Westminster governemnt is competent. They have a very poor track record.

  • Noa

    Cameron’s legacy?

    £1.4 trillion on the national debt.
    Scotland’s share on secession from the Union? TBA.


    • terregles2

      Scotland will be happy fo pay its fair share of the national debt No problem. We are also looking forward for the return of our maritime border that Blair moved up from Berwick to Carnoustie in 1999.

  • andagain

    The SNP position seems to be “vote for independence, because there is a Tory in No.10”.

    Does it really help the unionist cause to remind people that there is, indeed, a Tory in Number 10?

    • FF42

      There might be a bit of anti-Toryism, but the debate is mostly about what’s best for Scotland between Scots who are all very conscious of their nationality. You might vote for independence and Scotland’s rightful place amongst the Commonwealth of Nations, or you might vote for Union and the strong bond with those that Scotland shares an Island with. Maybe this is wrong but it parallels the debate about the European Union, where no-one concerns himself with what other people in that Union think.

      Cameron’s problem is that he is not Scottish, unlike Salmond and Darling, and is not going to cut any ice in Scotland. It’s a bit like Herman von Rompuy or Angela Merkel pushing for Britain’s membership of the EU on the grounds that the EU would benefit.

  • Hellen

    They’re not going anywhere.

  • CraigStrachan

    You mention General McClellan, and the Caledonian tendency to self-absorption.

    I take it you know that McClellan was a founder of the St Andrew’s Society of Illinois?

  • Salmondnet

    if the Union breaks up the responsibility will rest squarely with Anthony Charles Lynton Blair, not David Cameron. Devolution was always going to boost Scottish separatism. If Blair had been an intelligent Unionist he would have offered the Scots only the options of full independence or remaining within a Union with one shared Parliament. Instead he went along with devolution in the hope that it would leave Labour permanently in power in Scotland, while retaining the same Scottish voice at Westminster to help Labour govern the English.
    Should Cameron debate with Salmond? Of course not. The referendum is a purely Scots affair to be decided between Scots..The demand that he should debate with the First Minister is a transparent device to enable the SNP to represent the issue as Scots versus the English, rather than, as it is in fact, Scots against Scots
    Cameron is the Prime Minister of the United Kingom. If the rest of the UK had a vote then there would be a role for him in the debate in persuading the rest of the UK not to vote for Scotland to leave, but sadly the rest of the UK does not have a vote. We will just have to hope that the Scots themselves decide to go and save us all from the dog’s breakfast of a constiution which is just another poison chalice left through Blair’s appalling incompetence..

    • terregles2

      I take it that you don’t live in Scotland from that rather inaccurate summary. The present wish for independence was planted by Thatcher, You refer to the issue as Scot versus Scot. Actually there are many different nationalities living in Scotland who intend to vote YES. That YES vote intention also includes many English people living here.
      Independence has nothing to do with being anti English it is a wish for self government that no other country in the world is denigrated for wanting to have.

      • Reconstruct

        ‘A wish for self government that no other country in the world is denigrated for wanting to have’ . . .

        Except the English, of course.

        • terregles2

          I have not heard anyone in Scotland denigrating the English for having a Referendum on leaving the EU. YES/NO in 2016 we wish you well.It is good when we all get a democratic voice.
          Also if any political party came along and campaigned for English Independence if enough English people voted for it we would wish you well.
          It is becoming tedious to have people trying to imply that a Scottish YES vote is against English people when so many Scots have friends and family in England.
          A YES vote is a wish to be governed from Edinburgh rather than Westminster. It is against English governemnt not English people.

  • terence patrick hewett

    If the fields of oil were fields of potatoes Salmond would be in Westminster and the only SNP supporter would be in the mountains playing the pipes.

    • Spammo Twatbury

      If my granny had balls she’d be my grandad. What’s your point?

      • terence patrick hewett

        I think you just answered it.

        • terregles2

          If there was only one SNP supporter who would have voted Salmond into Westminster?

        • Jambo25

          And I think you just answered his.

    • terregles2

      If the fields of oil were fields of potatoes Tony Blair would never have moved the Englsh maritme border up from Berwick to Carnoustie as he did in 1999.

  • Eddie

    Yes, the SNP is self-absorbed; yes, they seem a one man band (the Scottish state is Salmond; Salmond is the Scottish state. Heil laddie Heil…).
    But really, what is so absurd about this is that the main argument amongst Scots Nats is that there is aTory govt in Westminster (inaccurate, for one thing) and that the way to get rid of this is to vote for independence – rather than, y’know, voting in a UK General Election.
    And let us not forget that we owe several years of Labour governments in Westminster to Scots and Welsh votes – so the English have often had governments they didn’t vote for.
    It’s called democracy actually, and the Scots seemed happy enough with it when they could be linked to a world empire and have access for a fifth of the globe.
    The SNP’s arguments are racist, bigoted, queasily romantic, unrealistic, and based ona fabricared history and good ole-fashioned chauvinism. When the Westminster wafflers start focusing on the fiscal arguments, all SNP ones crumble into dust. Time to crunch the numbers and bury Salmond in the rubble, methinks…

    • Alan O’D

      Some forensically inclined (that lets me off the hook) ‘Cybernat’ blogger should copy the post above and do a line by line deconstruction number on it. It contains more glaring misconceptions per column inch than anything I’ve ever read on the topic, which is quite a lot. It’s like a big straw man filled with tinder, soaked in petrol in the middle of an arsonists firework party. Eddie, expect flames…

      • terregles2

        The most incredible point in this post is that all Eddie’s abusive rants are happily passed by the moderator. Other non offensive coherent points are blocked by the moderator if they dare to contradict anti Scottish misinformation.
        Speaks volumes about the Spectator. Perhaps Eddie will be given the job of Spectator editor soon.

        • Jambo25

          It’s not just the Spectator though terregles2. The same thing applies in most of the MSM.. Insulting Scots is, somehow OK.

    • Theuniondivvie

      ‘so the English have often had governments they didn’t vote for’

      Just so I can use it as a measure of the veracity of the rest of your assertions, can you tell me specifically how many governments the English have had imposed on them?

      • terregles2

        There is really no point in trying to reason with Eddie. He accused me of being a Scottish bigot who had never seen a black or brown face in my life. When I asked him how he knew I did not see a black face when I looked in the mirror he started another hysterical stream of abuse telling me I must be against English people because it says so in the Radio Times.
        At that point I gave up. Best to just let him rant and ignore it.

    • Spammo Twatbury

      “And let us not forget that we owe several years of Labour governments in
      Westminster to Scots and Welsh votes – so the English have often had
      governments they didn’t vote for.”

      If by “several” you mean “three out of the last seventy”, sure. Seems a bit of a stretch to call that “often”, though.

  • terregles2

    Don’t see much point in Mr Massie writing on these Scottish issues when so many of the perfectly reasonable responses are censored and not passed by the moderator.

    • Spammo Twatbury

      For how long have comments on Mr Massie’s posts been pre-moderated? This one, for example, seemed to appear immediately. (I’ve edited it.)

  • MichtyMe

    I think it incongruous that a Tory should endorse dependency and eschew self reliance, self determination and national sovereignty.

  • Neil Lovatt

    Please do not encourage Cameron to fight for the Union in Scotland. Those of us in Scotland who want to preserve the devolved union don’t want to be give Salmond such an easy target. It may not do Cameron much good politically to sit this one out and leave it to Darling but that’s surely better than him having to resign having presided over the break up of the UK.

  • terregles2

    Hopefully the break up.Fingers crossed.

  • Robert Taggart

    The break-up – PLEASE !

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