Iain Dale is Presenter of LBC Drive, Managing Director of Biteback Publications, a columnist and broadcaster and a former Conservative Parliamentary candidate.
The devil in me really wanted the Yes Campaign to win. Not because I would necessarily have supported them, but because it would have been fascinating to see the fallout from a Yes result.
We’ll never know now, but would the dire warnings of the Better Together campaign really have come true, or would Scotland have surged ahead without the English yoke around its neck? From a journalistic point of view, it would have been an astonishing rollercoaster to be able to report and comment on. Would RBS really have relocated its operation to London? Would supermarket prices really have rocketed? Would George Osborne have stuck by his pledge not to allow Scotland to keep the pound? Would Alex Salmond have let Trident submarines continue to use Faslane after all? We’ll never know the answer to those questions now.
It’s quite clear to me that David Cameron is now at the most dangerous point in his nine year long leadership of the Conservative Party. His complete mishandling of the Scottish independence issue sits very badly with many MPs and members of the Conservative & Unionist Party. His rather pathetic moist-eyed speeches in the latter part of the campaign didn’t display any leadership whatsoever. They showed a rather pathetic Prime Minister, who thought he’d try to get people to empathise rather than follow.
It was like a bad X Factor audition, in which the contestant knows they have performed badly and tells Simon Cowell how much “I really want this”. At times, I half-expected him to get an onion out of his pocket. I said right at the beginning of this campaign that Cameron needed to take the fight to Alex Salmond. He should have taken part in the debates, and taken the unionist cause to the Scots head on.
It is complete nonsense that the Tories are toxic in Scotland. Margaret Thatcher got more votes in general elections than the SNP ever has. Even now, the Tory vote share is only four points behind the SNP. Yes, they only have one MP, but their vote share is roughly the same as the LibDems who have 11.
Cameron had an opportunity here and he blew it, not just by ruling out a third question on the ballot paper on Devo-Max but by remaining aloof from the fight. By only going up to Scotland three times in the last ten days, it was inevitable that there would be accusations of panic. And those accusations were 100 per cent true. The truly pathetic sight of the three Westminster leaders rushing up to Scotland, and then the publication of promise after promise, or bribe after bribe, showed the Westminster elite at their absolute worst. They played right into the hands of Alex Salmond.
Time will tell as to how much panic there is among Conservative MPs. It’s entirely conceivable that even with a No result more than 46 MPs will sign letters calling for a leadership election. Cameron has been given the benefit of the doubt for a long time. He may now find he has used up all the remaining goodwill he had left. But the question any Tory MP calling for a leadership election must answer is this: If not Cameron, then who? I have to say I have no answer to that question.
You read this after I have just completed a marathon eight hour session presenting LBC’s coverage of the Scottish Independence referendum coverage from the main Edinburgh count. And that comes on top of presenting Drive last night from Glasgow.
Indeed, I’m about to start preparing for tonight’s Drivetime show as well. It’s the sort of timetable that gets the adrenalin flowing. There’s only so much you can do to prepare shows like this. In a sense you rely on the drama to get you through it. I revel in these situations, and love presenting on breaking news stories – and they don’t come much bigger than this. Yes, it can be a bit rough and ready, but listeners quite like that. You can use humour far more than in a normal show, and have a bit of banter with your co-presenter which isn’t possible when you’re on your own.
Contrast our show with what the BBC gave us. I had one producer with me at the count, and there were two more back at LBC in London, together with a tech-op and someone answering the phones. I don’t know how many people were working on 5 Live’s coverage, but it would have been several dozen – if not in the hundreds. And I reckon we gave them a run for their money, both with the speed of our response, the guests we interviewed and the analysis we gave. And we gave our listeners the chance to ring in and comment to, and some of the views they imparted really contributed to the evening. I felt we really were ‘leading Britain’s conversation’ throughout the night. Unlike the BBC, we weren’t just on broadcast mode – we were on ‘receive’ too.
The reverberations from the result of the Independence Referendum will be felt for many years to come in British politics. Perhaps the main consequence will be the revival of a moderate kind of English nationalism. The three political parties threw the kitchen sink, and much else besides, in their attempt to bribe the Scots into voting No.
And this left many people in England thinking: OK, so we subsidise the Scots – and now our elites want to give them sweeping powers to govern themselves which we in England just don’t have? Where’s the fairness in that? The answer is of course that there is no fairness at all. Scottish MPs will continue to vote on laws which only apply to England, and the astonishing thing is that most of them see nothing wrong with that.
Labour’s answer to Scottish devolution is to rehash their proposals for devolution for English regions. I have yet to meet anyone who thinks a regional assembly for East Anglia will improve the governance of Norfolk. Those of us who have long supported the creation of an English Parliament still face an uphill battle to persuade the political elites that its time has come. It doesn’t require more politicians, or even a new building, or more bureaucracy. All it means is that the House of Commons would meet as a whole for two days a week, and in the other two it would meet with only English, or English & Welsh & Northern Irish MPs, to discuss and debate matters pertaining to those three countries.
I cannot for the life of me see why that would be difficult to arrange, or that it would be unfair. Yes, it would create two classes of MPs, but so what? If Scottish MPs continue to vote on the English NHS, or the English roads system, when the decisions they are voting on have no relevance to their constituents, there will be trouble ahead. We’ve seen the divisive consequences that a resurgent nationalism can have in Scotland. Do we really want to see that in England? Because if our lords and masters aren’t careful, we soon will.
Like many people, I have a Google alert on myself. You might think this is yet another example of my giant ego but, frankly, I need to see what people are saying about me. Many has been the time when I have been quoted as believing something which is the opposite of what I really think. It enables me to hit back [Enough self-justification – Ed]. So it was some incredulity that I read an alert on Tuesday from an article in The Economist which said this:
“The loss of Scoland [sic] would be very disadvantageous to the Labour party, which has 40 Scottish MPs to one Conservative; the right wing blogger Iain Dale seems to be campaigning quite strongly on this issue, perhaps for that reason.”
Apart from the fact that The Economist finds it difficult to spell Scotland, I was rather mystified, since I couldn’t recall any public utterances from myself on the issue of Labour MPs in Scotland. The mystery was solved when I clicked on the article to find that my name had mysteriously been replaced with the words ‘Guido’ and ‘Fawkes’. You’d have thought that The Economist might have been able to tell the difference. Let me spell it out for them. One is a gossip-mongering, Thatcherite blogger who writes some poisonous stuff about politics, and the other is Guido Fawkes. Got it? Er…
Next Monday, The Times will be publishing the first instalment of The Top 100 Most Influential People on the Left list. With the help of an expert panel, this is the seventh year I have compiled this list. And I have to say the lobbying to be included on it, or the sister list, The Top 100 People on the Right, has never been stronger.
“You are going to include me, aren’t you?” I am regularly asked. The shamelessness of it never ceases to amaze me. Were I on the other side of it, it’s not something even my well-developed ego (there’s that word again) would ever dream of asking. At least, I hope I wouldn’t.
I have to say, though, that no one has ever lobbied me to be included on the Top 50 Liberal Democrats list. Strange, that. Anyway, do sign up to The Times Red Box email, which will carry the 100-51 placings on Monday, followed by the Top 50 in the paper on Tuesday, the day of Ed Miliband’s conference speech. Will he retain his position at the top of the list? Only one way to find out.