Sunday, 23 October 2011

A Hobson’s choice for “the feartie” PM.

The SNP conference draws to a close amid polls that continue to demonstrate accelerating trends towards their primary goal - Scots autonomy. One significant question waiting in the wings is the final destination of this Scottish march, full sovereignty or just a little less.

With You-Gov’s acknowledgement that it’s loading factors for internal polls were wrong, pollsters are in broad agreement. The trend to a new constitutional settlement within the British Isles is imminent. 

Current polling indicates full fiscal autonomy [FFA] or Devo-Max remains the preferred destination of many Scots, as it has for several years. 

Paddy power’s astute political betting machine has Scotland almost at evens’ for full sovereignty. The status quo is swiftly being ruled out, the odds are consistently trending one way now.

Against this background a plethora of Westminster’s ministers are reported to be going North in an attempt to “force the Poll and end the uncertainty”. Some have already arrived as Alexander’s recent vacuous witterings in Stirling demonstrated. 

These fruitless Union junkets are a wasted taxpayer expense; the referendum Unionism wants “forced” can’t be held until either Unionism, specifically Cameron frames or discounts part of the debate or the Scottish government forces his Hobson’s choice on the UK PM.

This doesn’t stop prominent Unionists strongly beating the Devo-Max drum, most recently Malcolm Chisholm. These Unionists are aware it may be their best hope of avoiding unemployment. 

Chisholm like all before him is simply grabbing empty headlines until Cameron makes a decision.

David Cameron appears “a big feartie” when it comes to doing just that. In fact Cameron gives every appearance of hiding behind Scottish Office skirts.

Cameron must make his statements on Devo-Max soon or be forced to it by Salmond. It is still within the PM’s power to agree to the last significant compromise upon which Scots might vote. The evidence so far is that he’s afraid to voice an opinion. That is not a mark of leadership.

Before Holyrood, through a Scots poll, agrees to one last try inside the Union with Devo-Max it will be up to Westminster to state acceptance of the results of the referendum. The Scots can’t vote on the option until they know what it means, what Westminster will accept. Cameron is steadfastly refusing the responsibilities of leadership by saying nothing on the subject. 

Cameron is not only failing Scotland, he’s failing all nations of the UK, because the Scots settlement will have profound implications for everyone in our polity.

Will Cameron accept and work with Devo-Max in a final attempt to save his cherished Union, or will he force a single choice referendum? By his response, he could confirm that a future Tory England is a good alter upon which to sacrifice his espoused principles of unity.

David Cameron and his Union cohorts must give an unqualified assurance that such a fundamental leap in perspective as Devo-Max is something which can exist within their collective psyche. 

He and they must cease with the belligerent attitude and enter into full and open cooperation with Holyrood to work out an acceptable settlement we can all be comfortable seeing on the ballot. It may even attract some votes, but we can expect the number to dwindle as time passes.  

Indicators are strong that the battlefield will be between Devo-Max and full sovereignty. The status quo is no longer an option for the vast majority. The fight to continually advance the status quo is now more about adjusting the Scots mindset to additional Holyrood autonomy.

It is clear in international law that Scotland can reassert independence at any time a majority of her citizens express the will to do so. Witness the international delegations to the SNP conference that Scotland’s media gave scant coverage to.  

It is just as clear that Westminster will be happy to enforce the present or lesser level of devolution. The gray area appears the presently preferred option. Devo-Max requires Westminster agreement.

Before the interim option of Devo-Max is put to the electorate in a poll there are at least six key areas on which Alex Salmond and our nation must have clarity. David Cameron is the only individual who can credibly give such clarity to both the Scottish government and its electorate. Cameron must both frame that debate and prove his sincerity or deny the discussion entirely.

Cameron must do this in the very near term.

Lacking clarity from Cameron an official communication must be issued by Bute House to Number 10 that requires replies within a set time, and it must be made public. The responses also need full disclosure.

Cameron’s answers may severely test his respect agenda; any commitments should also bind future administrations. These responses will be a referendum litmus test. Scots will conclusively know what to expect of Cameron and his lackeys as the poll approaches, there will be no spinning these retorts.
1. Revenues; will Westminster support a Devo-Max option where it includes Scotland retaining 100% of its own tax base, including that now allocated to “The City”.

2. Civil Service; will Westminster immediately and actively engage with Holyrood to resurrect HMRC Scotland, removed under Margaret Thatcher, and all other branches of government required to administer the revenues collected or services Scotland requires.

3. Intergovernmental relations; will the UK government agree to a cooperative rather than dictatorial relationship with Holyrood, the path of equality being one which the UK government could initiate immediately. As an act of good faith it could begin by following previous pledges at Westminster and eliminate the Scottish office.

4. Reserved Issues; As a result of the ‘90s devolution settlement there are areas which Westminster perceives as “reserved”, will the UK parliament agree to the removal of such? 

5. Fiscal Policy; both nations would remain sharing Sterling under a Devo-Max poll. Will David Cameron agree to both nations having equal say in all fiscal policy?

6. Foreign policy; would remain jointly funded, with embassies and consuls having a proportionate cost sharing allocation between the nations. Will Westminster agree that Holyrood is to have full consultation and veto power on present and future foreign policy including all military placement, expenditure and campaigns? Do they also agree that there should never again be a situation where a UK PM denigrates Scotland as Cameron did in Washington last year over the Megrahi release and has done several times since?

These are the primary issues that stand before “Devo-Max”, but they are not the only issues.

Should he refuse to agree to Devo-Max David Cameron will simply free up the minds of those among us that were seeking compromise. 

Based upon current trends the vast majority of Scots will simply convert over time to independence. Cameron has sworn to oppose that with every fiber of his being, therefore he has a conundrum. That conundrum and his refusal to even acknowledge these questions are what clearly demonstrate the real “big feartie” of politics in these British Isles.

If Cameron’s cowardice forces Salmond to ask the above then the UK PM will gift himself his own Hobson’s choice. Failure to give a clear answer will be another sign of weakness or cowardice. Yet an answer acceptable to Scotland is unlikely to be such for Westminster. Meanwhile refusing the option point blank will place old Britannia in front of the firing squad with the blindfold already applied.

David Cameron, dammed if he does, dammed if he doesn’t and dammed if he dithers.


  1. A well thought out post,a pretty accurate assessment of the situation as far as I can see.

  2. Good summary of the present situation Hazel. It will be interesting to see developments in the next few months once the tories and labour elect their leaders.