09 January 2012

Cameron's playing it clumsy in Scotland (possibly deliberately?)

Dave Cameron has chosen an interesting tactic in response to the Scottish National Party's plans for a referendum on Scottish independence. He has said that the Westminster Coalition government supports the idea of a legally binding referendum - on two conditions:

  1. that the referendum is held by summer 2013;
  2. that the question format is a straight Yes/No choice on full independence for Scotland versus staying in the UK, with no third option of "devolution max" (whereby Scotland would still formally remain in the UK, but with pretty much all domestic policy - including taxation - delegated to Scotland).
Both these conditions run counter to Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond's preference, which is for a referendum in 2014 or 2015, with "devolution max" as an option on the ballot. Having said that, the restriction to a two-question referendum without devolution max will probably be more of an issue for Salmond than the timing issue. After all, if Scotland were likely to vote for independence in 2014, it'd probably be pretty much as likely to vote for it in 2013. Polls at the moment show a slight shift in favour of independence but in a two-choice referendum, "Yes" is still only running at around 32 percent or so. That isn't necessarily a guarantee that a two-choice referendum would produce a "No" vote but Salmond must know the odds are against it - unless there is some kind of game-changer between now and the referendum. Oddly enough, that game changer could be Dave Cameron.

As an English "Tory Toff", quite why Cameron would think that clumsy top-down intervention in the referendum process would make people in Scotland more willing to listen to him and less willing to listen to the SNP - who have a far stronger mandate in Scotland than the Tories do at Westminster - is hard to fathom. Given that Dave is no imbecile, my guess is that he knows the intervention will piss Scotland off, and is actually hoping to get shot of them somehow. After all, Scotland is pretty much a Tory-free zone and getting rid of it from the UK would make it easier for the Tories to win outright majorities on a relatively low vote share. It can't be said often enough: breaking up the Union is a good deal for the Tories. Of course they are the "Conservative and Unionist Party" and a few Tory peers and grandees would be slightly miffed were Cameron to preside over the break up of the Union: but so what? A few Tory peers and grandees are miffed about going into Coalition with the Lib Dems, but from Dave's point of view it was a masterstroke. If he loses Scotland but wins 3 general elections in a row and secures Tory hegemony, who on earth is going to care?

From Alex Salmond's point of view, my advice would be: just carry on doing what you were going to do anyway, and use Cameron's intervention to promote support for full independence. Cameron is trying to argue that any referendum later than 2013 would only be advisory, but if Scotland does hold a vote in 2014 or 2015 and the result is Yes to independence, I'd advise Salmond to make a Unilateral Declaration of Independence. If support is that strong then there would be nothing the Westminster government could do about it, short of sending in the army, arresting the Holyrood parliament, and declaring direct rule from Westminster. And who the hell thinks that is going to endear the Tories to the Scottish people? In short, I think there is a good chance Scotland will have gone fully independent by 2020, however this pans out. And although it's a shame for the people left in England who are more likely to suffer the Tories as a result, I have to say good luck to the Scots really. At least they don't elect insufferable ConDems like Dave Cameron, George Osborne and Danny Alexander... oh, wait.

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