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David Cameron’s Speech in Defence of the Union – Including Scotland – Was a Delicate Political Act

Posted on the 17 February 2012 by Periscope @periscopepost

David Cameron’s speech in defence of the Union – including Scotland – was a delicate political act

David Cameron and Alex Salmond meet. Photocredit: The Prime Minister's Office

David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, made a speech in Edinburgh this week in which he defended the continuing union of England and Scotland as part of the United Kingdom. Scottish nationalists, lead by Alex Salmond, want full independence; Cameron offered them more powers, but only if they vote no in a referendum. The speech is widely seen as a political masterstroke in which the benefits of the Union, which has been in place for over 300 years (since the Act of Union in 1707), were extolled, without Cameron pointing out the faults of independence. So almost everyone says it’s a goodie – except  Melanie Phillips in The Daily Mail. But then that’s hardly unexpected.

Go Cameron! Alex Salmond, said Iain Martin in The Daily Telegraph, is “finally” “on the back foot.” Cameron’s speech “emphasised the emotional case for the Union”, with “humility and good humor.” Whilst his administration has its faults, his progress with Scotland “merits praise.” Scottish voters, who lapped up Nationalist politics whilst Cameron did nothing when he took power, are still not convinced about devolution – no more now than they were twenty years ago. But they do enjoy “the vague idea” of more powers being transferred. And whilst it was thought that Cameron’s involvement might look like a “Tory toff” bossing Scotland about, on the contrary, Salmond’s ratings have now dipped. And other Unionists will now take their cue from Cameron. There’s a long way to go till the referendum in 2014 – but now, thanks to Cameron, Salmond “faces a proper fight.”

“Of course Scotland could govern itself. So could England. My point is that we do it so much better together,” said Cameron, quoted on the Los Angeles Times.

He has a good case. Cameron was indeed very sensible, said The Times editorial, leaving “warnings about the dangers of independence to others.” He made clear that union was best, not only economically, but practically. For instance, when Glasgow airport was bombed, it was the United Kingdom that could pursue the instigators. He also hinted at other questions. Can Scotland “support its banks?” What about the policing of borders, the share of the defence budget, and its nuclear deterrent? Scotland is “intertwined”, argued Cameron, with the United Kingdom. Cameron must counter the growing feeling in England that the Union is “tiresome to defend and expensive to maintain.” But he won’t have trouble finding arguments to support his case.

Union rocks! Cameron has been “erratic” in much of his decision making, said The Independent’s leader. But this speech was a “delicate” political balancing act, full of nuance. The editorial hoped that, whilst it was clear that there might a case for a referendum, that the power of the union would hold – simply because of the “advantages of union over division.” The “benefits of standing together far outweigh the inward looking temptations of a retreat behind historic borders.”

But the Scots won’t like it. Lesley Riddoch in The Guardian said that Cameron’s “words and imagery” were very “carefully chosen.” He was clever to point out that if Scotland wanted independence, then it would have it. His “enthusiasm seemed genuine, if also somewhat selective.” His claims about British policing, for instance, hardly stand up when you look at corruption in the Metropolitan Police. Talk about the NHS sounds “hollow”, too, when you think that the Lords have rejected the Tory’s plans. His “masterstroke”, though, was suggesting that better tax-raising powers for the Scots would be considered if the Scots – “and only if” – vote no in the referendum. Scots, though, will not be happy – they’ll view his offer of change as wobbly and unclear.

And here’s Melanie… Melanie Phillips on The Daily Mail was not convinced. Cameron’s got himself into an “invidious” position. He’s been completely “politically maladroit.” He offered Scotland more powers if they decided not to separate. This is “absurdly vague.” But also – what on earth was Cameron doing “going like a supplicant to plead with Alex Salmond?” It makes him “look weak”, and his “vague proposal” makes him look “even weaker.”

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