In Thursday’s papers we were told that Davie Cameron will not resign if there’s a Yes vote in September’s referendum. Which doesn’t really come as much of a surprise, seeing as how shamelessness is part of the job description of a UK Prime Minister. Friday saw reports in which Cameron challenged those who said he should never have permitted the referendum to take place – as though it were somehow within his power to prevent it. He may arguably have had the legal authority to do so, but politically it would have been impossible to refuse. There is no written constitution in the UK, and no constitutional prohibition a la catalana on an independence referendum to give Cameron a fig-leaf of democratic respectability. A refusal would have guaranteed Scottish independence in short order.
But really the announcement was made because Davie doesn’t want to give us any ideas about getting rid of him as a favour to our friends in England, which would be a demonstration of practical solidarity of the sort Labour can only dream about. It’s a wee side effect on the side of the independence medicine bottle – warning, may cause the permanent loss of a Prime Ministerial career. Like male pattern baldness only you can laugh at it without feeling you’re a bad and shallow person.
Unless your hair is already a fading memory, like mine, in which case baldies are fair game too. Once you’ve learned to embrace your inner Kojak as well as the one on your heid, you have licence to mock those who are still hoping they can comb their hair a bit differently in the hope no one will notice that Iain Duncan Smith is sneaking up on them. Which to be fair is a genuine reason for having nightmares.
So Davie’s keen to rule it out, although short of a hair transplant he’s stuck with the unrelenting march of his male pattern balding. But he won’t be resigning. And I believe him. He’ll be sacked by the rest of the Tory party instead.
Scotland’s Prime Minister is in a bind of his own creation. Which is what makes it genuinely funny and a whole lot more wounding than cheap cracks about hair loss. He’s damned if he says he would resign, and damned if he says he won’t. Politically, the second is merely the lesser of two evils as far as Cameron is concerned. But not by much. They’re both pretty evil.
Scottish independence is not the same as Her Majesty’s Goverment graciously granting independence to a colony. It means losing 32.2% of the UK’s area and 8.3% of its population to a peaceful and democratic movement which has just told the Westminster Parliament that its system of government so irredeemably crappy that we want no part of it and are swapping it for a new system that offers a better prospect of doing what the electorate tells it. That’s not just a slap in the teeth, it’s a broken jaw.
Then there will be the embarrassingly urgent problem of Trident. The French are going to be smug. The Russians will gloat. The Americans are going to be reminded that British state incompetence isn’t confined to Johnny English movies. The pure affrontment.
And even more urgently still for a Conservative PM, UKIP will be enjoying the bounce from electoral success in the Euro elections in England, and there will be the little matter of EU related negotiations to enter into. Whether Scotland is inside or outside the EU by the date of independence, Cameron’s still going to have to sell a reduction in UK voting powers and influence to an increasingly fearful and dubious back bench. And then there’s the thorny topic of negotiations with Scotland over divvying up the UK rebate. The rebate agreement lasts until the EU Financial Agreement expires in 2020, until then it’s likely that other EU member states will prefer not to reopen the can of worms, and hope Holyrood and Westminster can sort it out between themselves. Afterwards it’s open season on the UK’s special EU concessions. And Davie’s got a promised in out referendum on the cards. Not looking good is it.
In terms of blows to national prestige, this is all a very big deal. As Chairman of the Board of UK PLC, Cameron has ultimate responsibility for the fact that a significant chunk of his shareholders really dislike their country being referred to by a metaphorical reference to a business. Because Cameron is not our boss, he’s our servant. We’re campaigning for a country where politicians cannot lose sight of that fact. For Westminster public accountability was never more than a rapidly receding speck on the far horizon, which has now vanished off into the Magic Kingdom where the federalism fairy sups tea with the redistributive elves of the Union and the Scottish goose still happily lays golden eggs in a Treasury battery farm.
According to Cameron all of the above is less important than his commitment to hold an in out referendum on Europe. Placating UKIP voters is more important than Scotland, which is why Davie is willing to go head to head with Nigel but not with Alicsammin. We’re just not worth bothering about. Not a good message to persuade Scotland to vote no, but it’s a sign of just how weak Cameron’s hand is that it’s the best he’s got.
This has all come to pass because staving off the issue of Scottish independence, at least until Davie was safely esconced in the House of Lords, would have required opening up hundreds of other issues which are really best avoided if you’re a Westminster Parliament. A firm offer of something approaching devo-max from all three main parties as a second option on the ballot would mean opening up issues of Treasury accountancy to public view. It would mean dealing with the West Lothian Question, the Barnett Formula. And it would also require coming clean about the true state of central versus regional spending within the UK. People in the rest of the UK would also discover the extent to which they subsidise London and the South East, and would be unlikely to be as happy about it as Boris Johnson is.
Instead of facing up to these long standing and deep rooted problems in the structure of the British state, Westminster did what it always does, it went for the short term fix that promised an easy result. Let’s batter Alicsammin into submission once and for all. Only a minority of Scots supported independence according to all the polls, and the same polling consistently showed that Scots ranked issues like wages and employment, education, health and housing far above constitutional matters in order of importance. How could they not lose?
But they misjudged it badly, and now the Yes campaign is gaining momentum and the polls are narrowing. The campaign strategy hasn’t worked, its credibility is in shreds, and they’ve only just realised they’ve been fighting it the wrong way round all this time. They should have gone for positive before negative, then people might have paid more heed to the scare stories. Now few believe a word they say.
But it’s too late now. Even if they do manage to rescue a No result, it will be a pyrrhic victory. Independence is on the horizon and getting closer. It’s going to be the death sentence on Cameron’s career, whether he resigns or not. No wonder he’s losing his hair. There’s no rogaine for the Westminster Parliament.
I only posted this so that Bugger the Panda could feel smug… and because the weather is crap so the dug didn’t get a long walk around the park.