Alistair Thompson was Conservative candidate for West Bromwich East at the general election. He also runs Media Intelligence Partners with business partner Nick Wood, the former press secretary to Conservative leaders William Hague and Iain Duncan Smith.
It has been the issue that has dominated the political news since last weekend, after David Cameron rattled the cage of SNP Leader Alex Salmond, by challenging him to hold an early Scottish Referendum. To many commentators, pressing the chirpy SNP Leader to put his money where his mouth is is a high risk strategy, with even some in his own Party saying that this could drive disgruntled Scots to Mr Salmond’s arms, boosting the chance of losing the referendum.
But those who think that Mr Cameron has not done the complicated political maths on this are simply wrong. If we have learnt anything about David Cameron, in recent months it is that he is a masterful tactician, able to run rings round his two main Westminster opponents, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband. Indeed, I would go even further, saying that rattling the cage of the SNP is Cameron’s master stroke, because he simply can’t lose, whichever way the Scots vote.
Win, and he cements his position as the man with the electoral midas touch – a visionary leader able to win against the odds, and proving that the stunning victory against the Yes to AV campaign was not a fluke. Then, and with some justification, he will also be able to claim that he alone is the hero of the Union. A man who took on the might of the SNP and put them back in their place. Lose, and he can still claim to have stood up for the historic Union, fighting for our country, but was simply unable to turn the tide of nationalistic fervour.
The PM, and indeed those around him, will undoubtedly be consoled by the loss of all those troublesome Labour MPs from north of the border. At a stroke, some of Labour’s biggest stars are axed from Westminster. People like Jim Murphy, who I believe is a strong contender for the next leader of the Labour Party, will be banished from London. What is more important from Mr Cameron’s perspective is that without the Scottish MPs it is virtually impossible for Labour ever to form a majority Government. In fact take away the Scottish MPs and Labour would only have had six Governments in the last hundred years. Three of these were Tony Blair’s and another was the National Government of 1931.
Then there is the economic gain that Cameron would receive as many companies based in Scotland move south, fearful of the SNP’s high tax, high spending tendencies. Already Scotland spends over £10,000 per person, much higher than the UK average of £8,884 and higher still than the English average. To fund this largesse it relies on a multi-billion pound subsidy from the English. Of course, the SNP argue that this ignores the revenue derived from the dwindling stocks of North Sea oil. But Mr Salmond’s Party makes two important assumptions here, firstly: 100% of all of the revenue would go to Hollyrood and secondly: this more than covers the shortfall in spending. Both of which are wrong.
But my contention is that the North East and North West would likely see a massive influx of companies keen to avoid the imposition of any tartan tax as the SNP struggle to balance their books. This would boost employment and Treasury tax receipts. Finally, transferring Scotland’s debt off the national balance sheet will speed up the process of cutting the deficit, and improve the banking sector as Royal Bank of Scotland's £182bn toxic assets, the biggest of any state owned bank, which is currently parked at the Treasury's Asset Protection Agency, would be sent to Holyrood.
So for all of these reasons, pressing the SNP is a smart move by the PM. It also puts the embattled Ed Miliband under pressure. Back the Union and David Cameron’s brave intervention, and he looks feeble – a follower not a leader. Fail to back the PM, and he looks unpatriotic – the man who wants to break up the UK. I have, at times, been critical of David Cameron. I still think that the cuts to the Defence budget are too deep, when International aid is growing, but he has stuck rigidly to his commitment to sort out the economy, whilst dealing with other political issues, belligerent trade unions spoiling for a fight, the Liberals pushing for electoral reform, and the EU trying to kill off the City of London. In all of these, he has proved that he is not only up to the task of the leading the country, but capable of getting exactly what the UK needs. No one should think that the PM has stumbled into this fight with the SNP, because he has not. Mr Cameron has picked his fight carefully, knowing full well that whatever the outcome, he wins.