Wednesday, 11 April 2007

Scottish Elections 2 - Cameron

This is Post 2 of a series of 4. For other posts see here.

Cameron’s article “Scots and English Flourish in the Union” was published in today’s Telegraph (Wednesday, 11 March 2007).

It is hard to know whom Cameron is targeting. Scotland? With a Scottish circulation of only 23000 copies (approx) perhaps not and within those 23000 it isn’t likely to reach many non-Tory voters. I suspect that Brown and Labour in England are his real targets. He knows Labour will do badly in Scotland and he is setting out a position which allows him to say, after this election, that Brown / Labour cannot even win in its Scottish heartlands; they cannot even address the key constitutional issues. They won’t face up to the constitutional issues but the Conservatives will.

Cameron was attacked by most posters to the Telegraph site, the majority from an English point of view. Whilst important, I will ignore the English dimension today and concentrate on critiquing the article from a Scottish stance.

For me, there is no question: 300 years of shared history has made both countries stronger and richer.”

and goes on

But what began as an act of mutual convenience should now be seen, through the lens of history, as a constitutional masterstroke. There is little doubt that our achievements together have made this one of the most successful unions between two countries in history.

In the 18th century, the Union helped create the sense of possibility that inspired the titans of the Scottish Enlightenment such as Hume and Smith. In the 19th century, industrialisation and empire brought unparalleled progress and prosperity to both sides of the border. And in the 20th century, both countries not only remained stable in the face of, but also confronted, side by side, the totalitarianisms that bedevilled mainland Europe.

This is a proud record which we should all celebrate.

Cameron supposes a causal link between the examples and the Union whereas one could argue that the same outcomes would have occurred without the Union.

But there is little point in blindly commemorating this anniversary: we need to recognise that all is not right with the Union. Those who argued that devolution would snuff out the desire for separation north of the border were wrong. On May 3, the separatist Scottish National Party may well be elected to a position of government.

For too many people in England, the Union elicits at best a widespread ambivalence, and at worst a prevailing animosity. For those of us who care deeply about the Union, this all makes for depressing reading. There is little doubt it is under serious threat.

Yes, his analysis is correct about the SNP and the increasing tensions. One need look no further than the comments in the Telegraph to see how the English view of the Union is changing. There is no doubt that the consequences of devolution have had a major effect here.

The question we have to answer is: what should we do? The wrong response, often reflected in the rhetoric of Gordon Brown, is to try to cow or bully Scotland into remaining part of the UK through fear of the economic consequences of going it alone.

This will not work. First, supporters of independence will always be able to cite examples of small, independent and thriving economies across Europe such as Finland, Switzerland and Norway. It would be wrong to suggest that Scotland could not be another such successful, independent country.

I suspect at this stage instilling fear will not work but later, should there be a referendum, fear could be a strong card to play. The success of small independent countries is a strong counter to the issue of fear.

Instead, we need to continue to make the positive case for a united Britain by ensuring that the Union remains relevant to all English and Scottish people.

The article starts to unravel here.

In Scotland, this means politicians addressing those issues that really matter to people. One reason so many people feel disenchanted in Scotland is because of the nature of the political forces that stir within it: on the one side is the establishment Labour Party, which offers big state solutions and endless interference into people's lives; and on the other side is the disestablishment SNP, making up for rhetoric on the dismemberment of the Union what they lack in intellectual coherence on any other subject.

I believe Cameron is wrong when he asserts that the SNP have a part to play in the disenchantment in Scotland. There is massive disenchantment with Blair and Labour in a UK dimension and disappointment in a lacklustre coalition in Edinburgh. Here, where Cameron is playing politics his analysis falls apart.

What Scottish people want is delivery, not divorce: delivery on drug crime, which has increased by 46 per cent since 1999; delivery on good quality housing, which is unaffordable to far too many; and delivery on a first-class health service, which is facing cuts across the country.

Remove the phrase “not divorce” and no-one would disagree with the sentiments but there would be significant disagreement about how to meet the goals. Will many want the Conservative approach? I doubt it.

That is why, over the next month, the Scottish Conservatives will be campaigning on these issues, offering the sensible, moderate centre-right policies that have been missing for too long north of the border. I shall be in Scotland today, for example, to highlight welfare issues for Service families.

Will many view the Conservative policies as “moderate centre-right”? Again, I doubt it.

But the case for the Union must also appeal to the heart.

And

…. we should explain what we would all lose - politically, culturally and historically. Because the links between Scotland and England have never been stronger: more Scots live in England, and more English people live in Scotland, than ever before; almost half of Scots have English relatives; and travel across the border is at an all-time high.

Our ties are not built on government and constitutional arrangements alone. It is about something much deeper than that: the bonds of kinship and the strength of our individual, and community, relationships which span the border.

This could tug at many but much of what Cameron says that we all get from the Union could continue after independence.

All-in-all a thoughtful piece which shows a willingness to think intelligently about the issues but also a piece which looks better than it really is. That may be a summary of Cameron. Looks and sounds good but lacks substance.

Cameron does not make a clear case for the Union.

Note: I have used extracts only from Cameron’s article. For the full article go here.

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