Alex Massie

Cameron in the Fair City

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David Cameron's speech to the Scottish Tory conferene was, I thought, workmanlike rather than inspired.The troops enjoyed it even if they were not necessarily enraptured by it. Interestingly he spent more time attacking the SNP than Labour, portraying the Conservatives as the only party that can truly efend the Union. Of course Labour will argue that a vote for the Tories will encourage the SNP given the nationalists' palpable desire for a Tory government in Westminster. It is not impossible that both parties are right. Still, Cameron's speech also betraed the fact that, ten years on from devoution, the Tories remain, perhaps unavoidably, in a defensive crouch in Scotland. "I stand here, the leader of the Conservative party, and say loudly and proudly, we support devolution, we back it heart and soul, and we will make it work for everyone." Again, the words and sentiments are less important than the fact that they still need to be said at all. And in an odd sense, saying this casts some doubt on the validity of your assertion. there is such a thing as protesting too much and it might be sensible to just avoid this kind of talk, rather than remind voters that the Tories opposition to devolution was one important part of their downfall north of the border. On the other hand, his announcement that as Prime Minister he would come to Edinburgh once a year to answer questions from MSPs was sensible and a reminder that Cameron's Unionism - genuine, incidentally - is also of the grown-up variety. Most of the familiar Cameron ideas received an airing, including the claim that "we're the party of radical decentralisation - of a control shift in power from the centre down to local people". If only this were as true as Cameron likes to make it seem! Unless there's a "control shift" in the way that local government is financed then, to some extent, all the welcome reforms the Tories propose are little more than gussied-up window dressing. The sentiments are fine, but there's still some beef missing. Anyway, with regard to the current government, his most effective line, I thought, was "We will soon be spending more on paying off the interest on that [Gordon Brown's] debt than we will on schooling our children". That's an argument that the public can understand easily and one that might be used more frequently.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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