Alex Salmond, Better Together, David Cameron, Democracy, Ed Miliband, George III of the United Kingdom, Leadership, Opinion, Politics, Scottish Independence, Scottish Nationalism, Sovereignty, Unionism
If Scotland votes “Yes” to independence on September 18th, then David Cameron need not look far for a sound bite. “I was the last to consent to the separation; but the separation having been made and having become inevitable, I have always said, as I say now, that I would be the first to meet the friendship of Scotland as an independent power.” These are the words, albeit refreshed for 2014, of King George III when he met John Adams, the then American ambassador, in 1785. Hopefully Cameron will not follow the King’s example and go completely round the bend. Perhaps when people spot Cameron chatting energetically to oak trees in Winsor Park, they will shake their heads sadly and remark to each other, “well, he was the man who lost Scotland.”
History will not look kindly on Cameron if there is a Yes. He will be “the man who lost Scotland.” I know that Alex Salmond has queried the definition of Scotland as “a kind of property you can lose or find.” Moreover, unlike the mad King George, today’s constitutional monarch will not have to countenance any separation or independence from her kingdom. But the correspondence between George III and Cameron essentially concerns their historical reputations.
After all, Cameron’s premiership often looks like a phantom of Tony Blair’s, with the same foreign interventions and welfare state and social liberalism, but with all of them thinner and more fleshless. Cameron dropped a few mild bombs on Libya and he married some homosexuals, so to speak, and he lost Scotland. Losing Scotland would be remembered as the only big thing that Cameron had done, the only moment of drama in his otherwise dreary story.
In the remainder of the UK, however, Cameron could console himself with a Tory electoral majority which will have jumped like a cow over the moon. The opposition, demoralised by its Scottish amputation, could hardly exploit Cameron’s historical failure because Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, has been even more passive than Cameron towards Scottish independence. No doubt being “the man who lost Scotland” would spur on a second-term Cameron to try and achieve something so monumental that the Scottish disaster would be overshadowed. A British space mission to Jupiter? A gigantic Pyramid of the Sun beside the Thames?
In his 2012 Edinburgh speech, Cameron acknowledged that, for a Tory, “it might be wiser not to speak at all” on the subject of Scotland because “the Conservative Party isn’t currently Scotland’s most influential political movement.” Yet he admirably resolved to “speak out, whatever the consequences” about Scottish independence. If only he had stuck to this gun. He has rarely travelled to Scotland or actively intervened in the referendum debate. His interventions have been few and far between, giving the sense of calling from a remote shore rather than wading right in.
Cameron’s approach to Scotland has been predicated upon a calculation which is in fact a miscalculation. He thinks that because the Tories are unpopular in Scotland, with their lone Westminster parliamentary seat, that they should accept their unpopularity as an immovable object. For Cameron, conservatism is a passionate political belief from which Scotland is somehow geographically exempt. Such an assumption is almost awesomely odd, and it seems to readily confirm the theory, which is now practically Cameron’s own shadow, that he doesn’t have any real political beliefs at all.
Cameron is unpopular in the new Islamic state, but that doesn’t mean that he refuses to pass comment on the massacres and beheadings, on the grounds that it would be insensitive for the Tories to dictate to jihadists. With this we reach the comical paradox of Cameron’s political distance from Scotland: his centre-left, modernised-right mixture of welfarism and neo-liberalism is today not qualitatively different from Salmond’s own programme of government. The respective unpopularity and popularity of the Tories and the SNP in Scotland has no actual rational element: it is just pure tribalism.
Yet Cameron continues to hold back from Scotland out of an apparent fear that his own unpopularity will contaminate the Union. This is not a vote of confidence in our, the public’s, intelligence. We are so stupid, it seems, that we cannot tell the difference between the Union and the Tories. Better then, not to mix up the two, in the very person of David Cameron, or else we’ll be too confused to vote properly.
Cameron is nonetheless the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Moreover, the office of the UK Prime Minister still has more democratic legitimacy than that of Scottish First Minister. In the last UK general election there was a 63.8% turnout; whilst Salmond was elected from a 50.4% turnout. More Scots may vote for the SNP than the Tories (although any ideological difference is probably accentuated by depleted turnouts), but a higher number of Scots vote for the Prime Minister than for the First Minister.
Cameron is just as much the Prime Minister of Inverness as he is of Oxford; his job is to represent the people of Inverness just as determinedly as he does those of Oxford. But Cameron’s general attitude to Scotland carries the implication that this nation is already a secondary member of the Union. Scotland is only a day student in the great British boarding school. Consequently, Cameron is not defending the Union from independence: he has already compromised the ideal of Unionism, and mentally demarcated an independent Scotland. This is, alas, not merely one politician in a muddle, but the result of a fundamental crisis of sovereignty which has stricken Scotland since 1998.
The only way out of this mess is to ignore the politics completely and focus on the cultural grandeur and the international uniqueness of the Union. In fairness to Cameron, his 2012 Edinburgh speech had a very good go at outlining such an approach. He asserted that, “We have shared achievements that more than match those of any other country in the world” and he asked “could you explain to someone in America, or France, or Australia what was so intolerable about Great Britain that we decided to build artificial barriers between our nations?” Lately, however, he can be only seen peeping out from the ranks of the CBI, or from behind the coattails of the Chinese premier, with a limp economic protest against an independent Scotland. It all, mostly, comes down to the currency, as if the tribulations which a nation goes through when it changes its currency (as many nations in Europe have done over the last twenty years) are all that can be said against ending a 300 year old Union.
I would move on to discuss Ed Miliband, except that putting the words “Ed,” “Miliband” and “Prime Minister” in the same sentence makes me automatically fall in love with Yes (oh no, I can already hear the romantic music playing). If the Labour leader cannot come up with just one or two policies to help working people, it would be remiss to put even more on his plate. In any case, Miliband has problems of his own: he is a Labour leader of such supreme uselessness that if he ever came to Scotland, he might be soon upstaged by his “invisible” Scottish equivalent Johann Lamont.