Published on September 16th, 2014 |
by Chris Cooper-Davies
Will Cameron survive Scotland’s secession?
As the Scottish referendum draws near, rumours of its immediate implications for the present government are rife. Cameron will be forced out, the line goes, or feel compelled to resign, unable to take the shame of being the PM who lost the Union. He may even, as Patrick Wintour from the Guardian speculated on Tuesday, have pledged to do so when he met with the Queen last week.
The prospect is certainly interesting- almost romantic, in a tragic sense. I can see it now, Cameron, Samantha in hand, dishevelled yet smart- a tear in his right eye- will slowly leave number ten early afternoon September 19th. No one will have seen him since the night before. There he will make a short croaky speech and depart in a black car while a gaggle of his enemies from the Tory 1922 committee begin moving in their stuff and planning ways to get Boris Johnson elected MP and party leader before May 2015. Don’t laugh, the Times reported last week that this might be the Tory ‘plotters’’ plan!
Meanwhile, Alex Salmond, perhaps dressed in the new military attire of an independent Scottish republic will be declaring the start of a continuous revolution from atop the tallest building in Edinburgh while his new state breathes its first momentous breathe.
For Tory haters it will be a grisly end to a dud premier. For the Tory right it will be the perfect end to four years of frustrating coalition government. Although they will of course be shocked that Scotland- not Europe- delivered the knock-out blow.
It’s a tantalising prospect and it will certainly make good news. But in reality, it’s not that believable.
Even the most disgruntled Tories- Cameron’s biggest euro-sceptic enemies- will be able to appreciate that triggering a leadership contest less than a year before the next general election is far too dangerous. The chaos and unpredictability of the contest, which- as Christopher Hope from the Telegraph reported last week- might even bring John Major back into the high echelons of government, would do nothing but scare off voters and play into the hand of Nigel Farage, who has already called for Cameron to resign if Scotland leave- well aware of the positive consequences such an action will have on his party
Moreover, it is not unreasonable to argue, from the perspective of a general election, that Scotland’s exit from the union will actually improve Tory chances in 2015. There is some disagreement about this. Scotland’s 59 seats have rarely played a decisive role in elections since 1945. Michael White of the Guardian notes that only on two occasions has Labour’s lead been so slim that removing the Scottish vote would have resulted in a different outcome. As well as this White and others are keen to point out that, with Scotland gone, British politics will never be the same again. To say, therefore, that in the wake of independence the Tory’s will rule ‘forever’ is short-sighted because in the wake of independence everything will change.
Nevertheless, these arguments do not dispel the fact that, were it not for Scotland during the last general election, the Tory’s would have had a clear majority; with 59 seats out of the picture, their 306 seats would have been more than enough. For Conservatives then- even the plotters- the thought of Scotland’s secession must be appealing. Why would they risk the potential benefits for the sake of a messy leadership contest?
But as well as this, Cameron’s life line is strengthened by the fact that neither he nor his government can be held solely- or even primarily- responsible if the Yes vote wins. Yes, certain policies and decisions have played into the nationalists’ hands. It was Cameron who set the date and terms of the vote, and many in his party think allowing the vote at all was a bad idea. And then of course there is the argument that he should have got more involved. Debated with Salmond on the TV and acted as unofficial figurehead for the Better Together campaign.
But besides these-relatively- minor slip-ups, Cameron is innocent. The origins of Scottish nationalism are far more deep rooted. Indeed, the SNP has been a credible political force since the 1960s and has grown ever since, from strength to strength.
In the 80’s, Thatcherism and Labour’s inability to effectively respond to it were perhaps the most significant stimulus. Professor Murray Pittock, points out that the impact of Thatcherism on the rise of Scottish nationalism has been overstated. This may be the case- obviously Scottish Nationalism has a complex and ancient-ish history. But, undeniably, the reality of the 1980’s did nothing but increase the support base of the SNP. It sent the Tartan Tories- bemused by the intensity of Margret’s regime- running in their direction. And it sent the Tartan labourites that way too because Labour MPs and local authorities in Scotland, elected to protect the Scottish people from the excesses of the Thatcher government, were unable to do so while SNP run local authorities and MPs were. Take the poll tax, introduced in 1989. While Labour made it clear they would enforce the tax and chase avoiders, the SNP operated a ‘can’t pay, won’t pay’ policy. Such a policy earned them new supporters aplenty and made it clear to Scots who would previously have been Labour, that it was the SNP, and not Neil Kinnock, who looked out for their best interests.
Responsibility for the secession of Scotland, therefore, if it happens, cannot be taken by one person. It must be taken by the British political system as a whole which has, in the words of Professor Murray Pittock again, failed to accommodate for Scotland as a partner in a multi country state. All parties and vast swathes of politicians- including several Scottish ones- are guilty.
Cameron will be able to sleep easy these coming days. His innocence and the fact that there are no practical benefits to be accrued for the Tories if he bows- or is pushed- out will save him. Indeed, although none of them would ever admit it, many a Tory might breathe a silent sigh of relief if the nationalists win. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Labour.
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