Alex Massie

Cameron’s Caledonian Gamble: Unwise and Unnecessary

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So. it looks as though David Cameron is following the Spectator's advice not mine. What a nincompoop! But if the reports are correct then Cameron is playing us for fools. That is, there's nothing wrong with suggesting a referendum on Scottish independence be held sooner rather than later; adding conditions to it is a different matter.

It matters little, really, whether a referendum is binding or advisory; a Yes to Independence vote would be impossible to ignore, politically and practically speaking, even if the referendum were only advisory. So, to this extent, Cameron's suggestion that a vote can be binding if held within 18 months but only advisory if held after that point is a futile distinction without a meaningful difference. It is barmy too, to suggest a referendum can be an orange if held in 2013 but becomes an apple if organised in 2014.

Moreover, Cameron's gambit is plainly a move designed to put Alex Salmond on the back foot. That would be fine too if there were any other advantages or reasons for this ploy. That is, inconveniencing Salmond should be a susidiary benefit, not the point of the exercise itself. Nakedly political moves of this sort are not always that useful.

Cameron says he does not wish to "dictate" anything to Scotland. Nothing, that is, except the timing and questioning of the referendum to determine the country's future. So that's fine. No-one will be at all put out by this ploy will they? Hmmm. Again, no matter how Unionist parties try and spin the issue, the fact is that Salmond has won the right to have his vote at a time of his own choosing. Perhaps you'll think this amounts to "rigging" the poll to his advantage but, if so, he's earned that right. It's his ball to play with as he sees fit.

If I find myself somewhat miffed by the idea that the UK PM will dictate terms in this fashion, I suspect this miffdom must probably be pretty widely shared.

Of course, David Cameron, being the Prime Minister and all that, can do all this. That's not the issue. The questions are whether it is wise or necessary. I suspect it is not necessary and certainly unwise. That is: Cameron's ploy is too clever by half and thus, actually, not very clever at all. 

Again: the time for a Yes/No referendum was 2007 but the Tories, like Labour, missed that opportunity. That ship sailed, however, and, typically, the Tories are answering yesterday's question unaware that today's teaser is actually rather different.

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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