Cameron got it wrong on Scotland, and he probably knows it

Ed Jacobs covers the continuing fallout from Cameron's mistaken sabre-rattling over the Scottish independence referendum.


The hapless Lib Dem Scottish Secretary Michael Moore will today address MPs to outline the government’s views on a referendum on Scottish independence.

It is believed that Moore, who had been expected to make the statement at a later date, will outline plans to provide Holyrood with the powers needed to hold a legally binding referendum in order to ensure clarity.

However, on the question of timing which so dominated the headlines yesterday, following the spin from Number 10 which indicated that such powers would only be available to the SNP government for 18 months: Moore is not expected to place a time-limit on when the new powers to hold a binding referendum would need to be used.

Moore’s statement comes after David Cameron opened the latest can of worms on the Andrew Marr programme on Sunday when he quite clearly called for an early vote. It was followed yesterday by 24 hours of absurd politicking, the result of which is that Alex Salmond and the SNP will have been both emboldened and strengthened.

On top of the u-turn that the UK government today looks set to make on the 18 month time frame, onlookers were treated to the sight of the Scottish Secretary being side-lined at yesterday’s Cabinet meeting at the Olympic Park, with the London born George Osborne having led the debate and strategy outlined to fellow Ministers.

One wonders how Michael Moore must have felt, the Secretary of State for Scotland relegated to a bit part in the spat between Westminster and Edinburgh.

Then came the sight, and sound, of Lord Forsyth, Scottish Secretary under John Major, and someone dubbed by one Labour source in the Guardian as “a hate figure in Scotland”.

You really have to wonder what was going through Conservative Party heads when they considered it right to give him such free reign to stand up for the union.

If, as the SNP argue, Cameron’s clumsy and misjudged efforts to provide for an early vote serve only to increase support for greater autonomy for Scotland at the very least, it has to be wondered how many extra votes Salmond and co. can rely on every time The Lord Forsyth of Drumlean makes his case for Scotland to stick with the UK.

And to top things off, writing in the Guardian, Nick Watt has reported that Labour were not consulted by David Cameron over any of what was briefed and leaked yesterday. This despite Labour being by far the largest pro-union party north of the border, and being the party that will ultimately need to be in the driving seat of the campaign to take on the SNP’s plans.

If it wasn’t so serious you’d have to laugh at what was yesterday unravelling as something akin to a Monty Python sketch.

As Cameron’s arch political strategist, George Osborne was meant to regain the initiative in the increasingly bitter dispute with Edinburgh. What this failed to recognise is that in Scotland, Salmond remains the strategist par-excellence; far more than a match for Cameron and Osborne.

Cameron handled things badly yesterday and Alex Salmond will have slept much more comfortably last night as a result.

However, as the anger and heat over process and timing reached fever pitch yesterday, the people of Scotland, as alluded to by Scottish Labour Leader Johann Lamont on Left Foot Forward yesterday, remain like the proverbial piggy, caught in the middle of the Salm-Cam spat.

As an editorial in the Daily Record has said of Cameron’s strategy:

This is risky game-playing with Scotland. Going for the nuclear option of staging a Westminster referendum invites an inevitable backlash against Tory interference. But Salmond faces risks, too.

The longer he toys with a date and a question, the more he looks like he’s taking the nation for granted and turns people off with his “wheneverendum”.

Meanwhile, the big decisions in Scotland – like education, the economy, the nation’s health – are parked in a political railway siding.

The SNP will do nothing to upset any one group in order to maximise support for the day we decide on separation. That means instead of shaping the future, Salmond is in danger of putting Scotland’s future on hold for even longer than it already is.

Stop the games, the two of you, and give us a vote.

See also:

Scottish Labour leader: “I want the referendum to be held as quickly as possible” Johann Lamont MSP, January 9th 2012

It’s time to get real over threat to the unionEd Jacobs, January 9th 2012

Now the hard work for Lamont begins – Scottish Labour needs a full redesignEd Jacobs, December 19th 2011

Scots support “devo-max” as new Tory leader distances herself from CameronEd Jacobs, November 7th 2011

Scottish Labour needs to wake up to the threat of independenceEd Jacobs, October 17th 2011

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