Is David Cameron the Biggest Threat to the Union?
Sunday Mail, March 15th 2015
Scotland has become one of the main issues in the forthcoming UK election.
It is not only that Jim Murphy and Ed Miliband feel anxious about the number of Labour seats they will hold in Scotland and the extent of the SNP juggernaut.
What is also true is how Scotland is playing out in Conservative strategy and how David Cameron is using it to hurt Labour in two ways. First, he is aiming to hurt them in England and take votes from them with the threat of the Nationalists, and second, he plans to hurt them north of the border by pushing votes into the arms of the SNP to harm Labour’s chances of forming a government.
This has become one of the most prominent Tory election themes – along with ‘A Recovering Economy: Don’t Let Labour Wreck It’. This can be seen by Cameron’s approach this week in Prime Minister’s Questions, and in a number of Tory election posters, the latest of which had a huge Alex Salmond looking down on a tiny Ed Miliband tucked into Salmond’s top pocket.
Cameron called Miliband ‘weak and despicable’ in the Commons and accused him of wanting to ‘crawl to power in Alex Salmond’s pocket’. Previously he has said that Labour and SNP were ‘halfway up the aisle’ as they made plans for ‘a honeymoon in North Korea’.
The Tory calculation is that an unsure Labour Party and leader can be further weakened by this two front attack: hitting them in England with the spectre of Alex Salmond while talking up the SNP in Scotland.
This might be considered good short-term tactics by some. But in political nous and consistency it is disastrous. Cameron is not now articulating a very informed unionist message, but one which has an element of separation and maximising the difference between Scotland and England.
The current Cameron line contradicts all his and Tory pronouncements in the referendum. These stated that the debate was not one between Scotland and England, but between two different visions of Scotland – one independence and one in the union.
Whereas before Scottish voters were wooed and told how much Scotland was loved, appreciated and that we would all be less if the UK broke-up, now the emphasis points in the opposite direction.
Cameron is maxing out the difference between Scotland and England – underlining one of the Nationalist key messages of the referendum; this after all was the point of Salmond continually referring to ‘Scottish values’ and their innate progressive, centre-left disposition compared to England.
Explicit in this is that Scotland, its politics and parliamentary representatives are somehow a threat to the body politic of England. And that a collective decision to elect a large swathe of SNP MPs could prove an insurmountable threat to British democracy.
This is alongside serious consideration of ‘English votes for English laws’ making Scottish MPs second class and probably second rate, and even talk of further reducing the number of Scottish MPs at Westminster. The SNP will be happy with that direction of travel, and the number eventually falling from 59 to zero.
The lack of political foresight and statesmanship in Cameron’s politics is breathtaking. This is opportunist politics at its worst, but sadly it is what Cameron’s leadership of the Tories and Premiership have become defined by: bending to the political wind, one day ‘compassionate Conservative’ and the ‘heir to Blair’, the next inexorably continuing the march of Thatcherism.
It is driven by the limited appeal of the Tories and Labour as we approach what is likely to be the closest UK election since 1974. Cameron sees knocking Labour off their stride more, embarrassing them in relation to the SNP, and potentially winning some votes, as aiding the parliamentary numbers game of how he remains in Downing Street after the election. There is the added plus that this doesn’t go down badly with ‘angry at the state of the world’ UKIP voters.
Yet, what this short-term calculation shows is the long term problem that the pro-union case has. To win a referendum six months ago with an argument that you now throw to the wind and charge a horse and coaches through is terrible politics.
Not only that it is bad for the self-interest of your own party. Cameron’s approach may win him some converts in England, but what it also does is undermine the small, but steady progress Ruth Davidson has made in telling a more nuanced Tory message.
Cameron is doing everything he can to desperately hold on to power and win a second term. But at what wider cost to his and his party’s core credo and the union they profess to care about?