Saturday 18 February 2012

Mohammed and the mountain

Another thing that struck me about the Salmond-Cameron summit was the symbolism in the fact that Cameron travelled to Edinburgh to meet Alex Salmond.  One can imagine the discussions in advance, weighing up the options, and reaching the conclusion that playing Salmond's game was the lesser of two evils compared to being seen to summon him to London.  Tough call, and one he was never going to win.  1-0 to Salmond before Cameron even sat down.

His announcement that unspecified further devolution is on the table, but only if the Scots first reject the independence option was probably intended to try and regain the initiative.  But for those of a different viewpoint, it looks more like bowing to the inevitable.

Underlying it is a fundamental failure to understand the nature of Scottish nationalism.  I'm convinced that Cameron really does believe that a quick vote on Independence, with a clear 'no' vote, will kill the issue.  In his dreams.  Nationalists have always been playing the long game, and will continue to do so whatever the result of the referendum.

Cameron's problem – and he's far from being alone amongst UK politicians in this regard – is that he's reacting to events rather than driving them.  The agenda is being set elsewhere – and very skilfully too.  Reacting to events by offering more on a conditional basis merely underlines the extent to which he is being driven by events.

If he, and others who see the 'preservation of the union' as a worthwhile aim, really wanted to seize the initiative, they'd start to talk about reinventing the union itself.  That means looking at what changes are needed for the benefit of all, rather than just attempting to buy off the Scots.

Here in Wales, some members of his own party are showing that they understand that, David Melding being the most obvious.  Some form of federal state, with a written constitution, would be the best way of putting a positive case for the UK, and would be a difficult scenario for nationalists to deal with.  It's not likely to happen though; such voices continue to be very effectively marginalised within their party.

Failure to escape from the mindset of pragmatic response to events seems to be second nature for UK politicians.  And it will be their undoing.


maen_tramgwydd said...

I don't think the Tories (Cameron and Co.) are stupid. They know the score all too well.

A federal UK means the destruction of the Westminster system, and all it implies - the end of the sovereignty of the Crown in Parliament.

It would require a written constitution defining and entrenching the powers and responsibilities of the various legislatures, including the federal parliament. Everything would come under scrutiny.

There would be no place for an unelected or a partly unelected second chamber, and no opportunity for patronage.

The role of the head of state - the monarch - would need defining, as well as the relationship with the Church of England. The latter would be unlikely to survive. It would almost certainly mean a new proportional electoral system and much more besides.

All-in-all, a constitutional earthquake.

Worse still, the chances of a federation surviving for very long are low, as there are deep divisions between the nationalists and the unionists on defence and foreign policy. The asymmetry of the federal parliament given England's dominance would cause problems from the outset.

Do the Tories want to lose all they hold precious to save a Union that can't be saved by that approach?

I don't think so. Cameron would prefer the Scots left, and Wales too, which is largely irrelevant to the Tories in any case.

Boncath said...

maen-tramgwydd has it sussed
The interpretation of defence is as long as any bit of string as you can find and as we know Tony Blair took the UK to war entirely off his own bat

Spirit of BME said...

Poor Little “Spliff” Cameron, one trip North and he sank the Union argument.
The SNP should now state that they know what Spliff had in mind if they voted No ,it would be Devo Max, London would be forced to say no to that and the Scottish people will see that Westminster has nothing that they want.
However, things will now take a darker turn, as nobody is prepared to put the Union case (Labour was totally absent) I fear the “Millbank Boys” will be deployed North, to spoil and spread confusion and misinformation.

Gweriniaethwr said...

Maen tramgwydd - spot-on!

With regard to John's:

"Failure to escape from the mindset of pragmatic response to events seems to be second nature for UK politicians. And it will be their undoing."

I can't speak for others but I for one am hoping that this will be the case. I say this as I think that this issue (more than any other) will ultimately drive the independence debate in Wales.

Anonymous said...

Salmond must be laughing all the way to the ballot box to see Camaron flying up to Edinburgh to take leadership of the 'unionist' campaign. He should be reminded there are more Pandas in Scotland than Tory MPs. Salmond has Camaron exactly where he wants him.

John Dixon said...


There would be something quite comforting about the idea that Cameron either wanted us to go, or really didn't care one way or the other. I think he does care though, although maybe not for the obvious reasons. There are two main reasons why I think it matters to him.

The first is that, as his speech in Scotland showed, he really is hooked on the idea that being bigger makes a country more powerful and gives it more of this magic stuff called influence. And whilst, in strictly numerical terms, the departure of Scotland and Wales would make little dofference to the size of what's left, it would nevertheless cause others, faced with dealing with three governments where there had been only one, to treat England as a smaller player.

It would also cause a (long-overdue) re-assessment of the UK and its successors' place in the world. I think that would be a wholly good thing, but I don't doubt that for Cameron's political base - think Daily Mail, or Telegraph readers for instance - who have never understood that the word 'Great' preceding Britain was only ever a geographical term to describe the largest island, it would be little short of disaster.

To that audience, Cameron would never want to go down in history as the man who 'lost' half of that biggest island. It matters to him.

maen_tramgwydd said...

Perhaps I should have added my conclusion that whatever Cameron might be prepared to offer the Scots, it will not involve any radical restructuring of the Westminster system.

The Tories want their cake and eat it, they want to retain the Union as well as the corrupt undemocratic system which empowers them, and the ruling elite, from one generation to the next.

Anonymous said...

Why think of the Daily Mail and Telegraph, John? From my experience Labour members are British nationalists as much as the Tories, if not more so.

John Dixon said...


Only because in this case, I was specifically talking about Cameron.

Unknown said...

Cameron didn't mean to do this, I am sure, but in his speech he completely undermined the position - core beliefs even - of every Scottish unionist. They all thought they were fighting to retain the status quo, but by promising more devolution,(even though nobody really believes him) Cameron shot the status quo down in flames, never to be resurrected.

I almost felt sorry for Ruth Davidson, who obviously hadn't been informed let alone consulted, but then I remembered she is a Tory, and the moment passed.