2014 Referendum, Better Together, David Cameron, Ed Miliband, Edinburgh, Monarchy, Nicholas Witchell, Opinion, Politics, Queen Elizabeth II, Referendum Panic, Scottish Independence, The Queen, Unionism
Not with a bang, not even with a whimper, but more with a sort of frightful squeal. If we are going to end our great political and cultural Union, then we surely have a responsibility to the last three hundred years to do this with some semblance of dignity. Rather than singing the sun in flight and grieving it on its way, however, the Westminster establishment are currently scrambling about as witlessly as savages during a solar eclipse.
Aside from when a political leader has been assassinated prior to an election, I cannot think of any time in history when a political campaign has been this calamitous. Panic at least puts the passion back into the referendum debate; panic is at least authentic. Unfortunately, it is not very statesmanlike. David Cameron is supposed to be a military interventionist, but to hear him now trying to meddle in the internal affairs of Ukraine and Iraq, when his own country is falling apart around his ears, would be piteous. It is almost as striking as the difference between Clark Kent and Superman. At home, a mild-mannered weakling and helpless spectator of state-collapse; abroad, a fearless and noble defender of jeopardised states.
And so, having declared that he would not “clear his diary” for the referendum campaign, Cameron today materialised in Edinburgh, as part of a slickly managed and strategically clueless PR event. He appeared at the Scottish Widows offices – probably because these are dispersed across several Edinburgh sites, meaning that they couldn’t be gate-crashed by Yes activists. His audience were literally at work, meaning that their reaction to the speech was always monitored and controlled by their employer. Cameron’s “panic” about the people’s decision was never going to override his automatic professional phobia of real people.
Despite having largely missed out on the last two years of the referendum debate, Cameron took it upon himself to explain to the public what the referendum was: “this is totally different to a general election; this is a decision about not the next five years, it’s a decision about the next century.” He said that he would be “heartbroken” if there was a Yes vote, which only comes across as banal. People are usually heartbroken for a few days after their girlfriend has dumped them.
The leaders of the other Westminster parties were also filmed and photographed giving speeches in Scottish locales. These speeches are worthless; their purpose is that they have value only as photo-opportunities, that they exhibit the parties’ mechanical responsiveness to today’s issue of Scotland. Alas, the choreography of these public appearances ultimately recalls Westminster’s panicky reaction to the Somerset floods. Scottish voters will only be reminded that after the floods had dried up, Westminster departed en masse and that they never darkened Somerset again.
Although I am a republican, I have to at least grit my teeth and pay tribute to the Queen. Buckingham Palace made it clear yesterday that she would not be participating in the referendum debate. Private Eye has been reporting for months about Cameron’s attempts to pressure the Queen into publicly supporting the No side. Over the last few days, the Telegraph and several MPs have urged her to come out of the closet as a Unionist. Whilst these calls issue more from the press than from mainstream politics, they are profoundly irresponsible. We are undoing the last three hundred years, not journeying back to medieval times.
Presumably the Queen is a monarchist and so she is obliged to defend the 1603 Union of the Crowns, which is not up for discussion in the current referendum. The 1707 Union of Parliaments is, however, quite another matter. The United Kingdom is only threatened in its political unitedness; it will still remain intact as a kingdom. The Telegraph asserts that a break-up of the Union would put the Queen “in an even greater quandary if, for instance, she became caught up in a row between two independent nations.” “To whose counsel,” the paper wonders, “would she be expected to listen?” But this is constitutionally inside-out: the Queen should never become “caught up” in any political dispute within her kingdom. If there was a war between the UK and Scotland, this would be a political conflict and so she would have to remain neutral.
But the most jaw-dropping constitutional blunder is contained in yesterday’s report by the BBC’s Nicholas Witchell:
The Queen will accept the referendum result whatever it is, that’s her duty as a constitutional monarch. But nobody should be in any doubt: any break-up of the United Kingdom would be a matter of deep private sadness to her.
What on Earth is this? Pillow talk? Telepathy? How has the BBC achieved a direct line to the monarch’s “private” thoughts? Witchell’s knavery is extraordinary: he has spoken over the Queen’s constitutional silence and made the pro-Union comment which she has gone to considerable lengths to avoid making herself (including barricading herself in Balmoral for the final weeks of the referendum campaign).
The Queen has kept her head, but if we were all living a few centuries back, I’m not sure that Witchell would have kept his.
[Newsnet Scotland has previously picked Witchell up for a similar indiscretion in July 2012.]