Is Scotland Cameron’s next constitutional headache?

Even before David Cameron was swanning around Downing Street, the SNP were already lining up to give the Conservative/Lib Dem coalition a headache.

Even before David Cameron was able to get his feet under the Cabinet table at Downing Street, Scotland’s governing party, the SNP, were already lining up to give the Conservative/Lib Dem coalition a headache. As it became clear the so-called rainbow coalition was not going to work, the SNP’s leader at Westminster, Angus Robertson, was making his position very clear:

He said:

“The SNP take our marching orders from the people of Scotland – and some 85 per cent of Scots voted against a Conservative Government last Thursday. The Tories languish in fourth place in Scotland, while the Lib Dems came third in share of the vote.

Clearly, from a Scottish perspective, a Tory/Lib Dem government lacks legitimacy. Indeed, the parties which could have come together to form a progressive alliance won over 50 per cent of the vote in England, two-thirds in Wales, and carried broad support in Northern Ireland

“Thanks to Labour’s animosity towards the SNP and their refusal even to talk to the SNP about an alternative, Scotland now has a Tory Government with a savage cuts agenda. SNP MPs in London will work with our colleagues at Holyrood to protect Scotland from this threat. Now, more than ever, Scotland needs champions at Westminster.”

Robertson’s comments were a clear indication that the SNP will use the Conservative Party’s weakened position in Scotland to secure as good a deal for the country as possible, a far cry from the FT’s suggestion that the Tories had been eyeing some sort of deal with the SNP in a hung Parliament.

However, Cameron’s problems in Scotland are plain for all to see:

• Last week’s election results across Scotland saw the Conservative retain just one seat out of 59 constituencies, with the Lib Dems securing 11. Together, however, the Lib Dems and Conservatives, now partners in Government, enjoy the support of just 35.6% of those who voted, as opposed to the overwhelming majority of 61.9% of Scots who have pledge support for Labour and the SNP combined.

Our new Foreign Secretary, William Hague’s prediction of a Tory breakthrough in Scotland was quite simply misguided.

• Last month Left Foot Forward reported on the Sky News poll that made clear that support for an independent Scotland would increase if David Cameron found himself in Downing Street.

• Confusion remains over when Holyrood could expect to see extra powers granted to it. In its manifesto, the Lib Dem’s made clear (page 92) that it wanted to see the recommendations of the Calman Commission implemented in full now. However, as The Times reported last year, the Conservative Party’s manifesto is noticeably less committed to a speedy implementation of Calman’s suggestions.

Rather, on page 83, it pledges a White Paper to address the issues raised in the report by the time of the Holyrood elections in May next year. This is despite there having been a White Paper published on that exact issue in November.

Given the delicate and diplomatic act Cameron will have to perform in his relations with Scotland, the pressure for a much quicker implementation of Calman’s recommendations will undoubtedly mount.

Speaking to the Scottish Conservative conference in February however, David Cameron made clear what his priority would be:

“That would not happen on my watch. If elected, one of the first things I will do is come to Scotland and meet with the First Minister. That will signal the beginning of a new relationship, a fresh start, based on mutual respect. It will be good for Scotland, good for Britain and good for the Union.”

If keeping the new governing coalition together is likely at times prove testing for Prime Minister Cameron, ensuring smooth relations with the Scottish Government and its people could require all of Cameron’s diplomatic skills.

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