Alex Massie

Can Cameron Deliver on His Promise to Scotland?

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Well, Pete, I'm not so sure that David Cameron done brilliant in Edinburgh yesterday. To put it mildly, he has complicated an already complex situation. How does the Prime Minister think Scotland should be governed? How much Home Rule does he think is enough Home Rule? What "further powers" does he mean? Neither his speech nor his answers to questions give us any real idea at all. As I said yesterday, at least we have a reasonable - if still imperfect - idea of what Alex Salmond means by independence. Cameron's preferences? An utter mystery.

Moreover, if, as he plainly concedes there is a reasonable case for "further powers" then why must we wait until 2015 to discover what they may be or have a proper debate about the next phase of Home Rule's evolution? The Prime Minister argues there's no need to wait until 2014 to have an independence referendum but, on yesterday's evidence, thinks there's no rush to spell out what he means by "further powers". Viewed from here, you could be forgiven for suspecting that the "offer" is so conditional and so flimsy that it can't be taken seriously. At least not until the Prime Minister offers more detail.

It seems the view from London is a little different. My old friend Iain Martin, for instance, thinks Cameron has put Salmond on the back foot. Perhaps he has but he has also moved, or begun to move, towards a new kind of Unionism that accepts a large part of the nationalist argument about Scotland's constitutional future. As readers know, I think that sensible but it was still a surprise to see Mr Cameron move in this direction. According to Iain, however:

The First Minister twisted Cameron’s remarks so that the Prime Minister was supposedly offering more powers but refusing to be specific. You’ve offered more powers, said Salmond to Cameron, what are they? He hadn’t, so the question is bluster, but judging by some of the coverage it looks like moderately successful bluster.

"this doesn't have to be the end f the road... And yes, that means considering what further powers could be devolved"


Iain suggests that Salmond has been "forced to accept a single question referendum" and that this is a strategic setback for the First Minister. Perhaps. But maybe the single question is actually now Independence or Real Home Rule? If that's a strategic setback for the nationalists then they can live with plenty more defeats of this sort! If Cameron fails to offer some detailed proposals of his own then the referendum may be a choice between a firm SNP promise and a candyfloss offer from the Prime Minister. And though I agree with Joyce McMillan that the nationalists should neither underestimate Cameron nor the emotional resonance of his emotion-larded case for Unionism, those voters (perhaps, admittedly, a small minority) minded to vote on the merits of the proposals offered to them may prove more impressed by the certain uncertainty of Salmond's vision than the uncertain uncertainty of Cameron's.

But I agree with Iain on this: if Cameron's offer means anything then it means a fully federal United Kingdom is much more likely - with all the complications it brings - today than it was the day before yesterday. Which, again, is why I say that Cameron's Grassmarket speech has complicated, not clarified the situation. Cameron has raised expectations: is he ready, willing or able to meet them?