By Tim Montgomerie
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David Cameron is in Scotland today. His spinners are keen to say that he's not so much making the case against independence but, instead, the case for the continuation of the United Kingdom.
He previews his speech in an article for today's Scotsman. The PM emphasises four big benefits for Scotland if it stays part of the UK:
- Strength: "We’re stronger because together we count for more in the world, with a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, real clout in Nato and Europe, and unique influence with allies all over the world."
- Security: "We’re safer, because in an increasingly dangerous world we have the fourth-largest defence budget on the planet, superb armed forces and anti-terrorist and security capabilities that stretch across the globe."
- Prosperity: "We’re richer, because inside the United Kingdom Scotland’s five million people are part of an economy of 60 million, the seventh-richest economy on the planet and one of the world’s biggest trading powers. Today, Scotland has a currency which takes into account the needs of the Scottish economy as well as the rest of the United Kingdom when setting interest rates and it can borrow at rates that are among the lowest in Europe."
- Solidarity: "The United Kingdom helps ensure fairness, too. Not just because we all benefit from being part of a properly-funded welfare system, with the resources to fund our pensions and healthcare needs, but because there is real solidarity in our United Kingdom. When any part of the United Kingdom suffers a setback, the rest of the country stands behind it. Whether it is floods in the West Country, severe weather in the north or the economic dislocation that has hit different parts at different times and in different ways we are there for each other."
Alex Massie has written a thoughtful analysis of Mr Cameron's arguments at The Spectator, which I recommend.
It is obviously right and important that David Cameron makes the case for the UK sticking together but he will know that he must take a back seat in the overall campaign. His Coalition's most important role is to ensure…
- The question in the referendum is fair (Lord Ashcroft has shown that Alex Salmond's proposed question is not);
- The referendum is held sooner rather than later (Alex Salmond wants maximum time to build up grievances against the Tory-led government in Westminster).
I forget who wrote it but Cameron's role is essentially the one of bad cop. He and Coalition ministers need to play hardball so that the terms and timing of the independence referendum are not dictated by the SNP. The campaign itself must then be fought by politicians who are popular in Scotland – Alistair Darling, Annabel Goldie and Charles Kennedy have been proposed by David Torrance.
Finally, however, let me mention an additional role for Cameron. If Scots feel the English are unhappy with the Union and unhappy with the constitutional settlement this could be a factor that could tip the referendum result towards independence. Who wants to be part of a Union with someone who doesn't like you much? English and Welsh resentment at unfairnesses such as the Barnett formula and the way that Scottish MPs can vote on issues that only affect the English (but not the other way round) is currently far from boiling point. That might change, however, as the whole question of the future of the UK draws closer. One can easily imagine newspapers and politicians talking about ungrateful Scots and fleeced English regions. Cameron should nip this in the bud now by reviewing the Barnett formula and moving towards English votes for English laws. I fear he won't.