The editor of the Sunday Mail (no, not the Mail on Scumday, for which I would never write, but the Glasgow-based paper) was taken by my blog the other day suggesting David Cameron was Alex Salmond’s Trojan Horse in his drive for independence. He asked me to elaborate for today’s paper. Here’s what I said. And if you think this is just a way of avoiding doing a blog on the morning of the Great North Run, you could have a point. Feel free to sponsor me by the way at www.justgiving.com/alastaircampbell
Here goes with the smoked Salmond
There are two party leaders hoping David Cameron becomes Prime Minister at the next general election. One is David Cameron. The other is Alex Salmond.
And for Scots, there are at least two ways of helping bring it about, and deliver as leader of the UK the most untried, untested, under-scrutinised Prime Minister in history. The most obvious is by voting Tory. Another is by voting SNP.
Because for all that devolution may have made politics more complex, in the choice of Prime Minister there are only two possibilities – Gordon Brown or David Cameron.
So why would Salmond prefer Cameron? Because when it comes to the argument for independence, it will be easier made against a very English, very right-wing, very elitist leader of a very English, very right-wing, very elitist government which has shown precious little interest in Scotland. Indeed, so far as Scotland’s relations with the Tories are concerned they are still defined as much by Thatcher as by Cameron.
It should not be forgotten that Cameron is leader of the Conservative and Unionist Party. Yet he fails to make the strategic case for the Union. He prefers to make short-term tactical points about Gordon Brown being a Scottish Prime Minister who along with fellow Scottish MPs at Westminster should not have a say in issues which only affect England. It is an anti-Union point which plays into Salmond’s hands. It helps explains why the SNP refuse to say whether they want a Labour or Tory government. The truth – a Tory one – does not sit well with much else they say and do.
Former Cabiner minister Michael Portillo, these days more pundit than politician, said a while back that for Tories the Union was no longer ‘sacrosanct’. Quite a statement. He explained: ‘The Convervatives have a better chance of being in government if Scotland is no longer part of the affair.’
If your leadership has been defined by little more than a desire to get back into power, why would anyone think Cameron might not be tempted to follow the logic of what Portillo is saying?
As for Salmond, Labour already knows not to underestimate him as a campaigner. He is a good communicator, and he likes a good fight. He clearly loves the job, and the status and attention it brings. But one year on from the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the global economic crisis it provoked, as recovery begins you would have to say it had more to do with Brown’s leadership and understanding of the issues than Salmond’s. As with Cameron, Salmond does the style stuff better than the substance stuff.
On substance, Scotland cannot easily walk away from the fact that two of the five banks most affected last year had the country’s name in their titles. Salmond’s pre-crisis vision of Scotland as an Ireland or an Iceland looks pretty lame now. The SNP record on economic assistance for Scots is not as good as Labour’s for the UK. Could that be because his efforts are more focussed on the politics of separation than the economic fallout of a global disaster?
Independence remains the SNP’s USP. The signs are that Salmond is trimming a little on what independence means, and what form it might take. But it remains the driving purpose of his party. And he knows a Tory government in Westminster will provide an easier target for his style of campaigning. He knows too that the games Cameron plays today can help the SNP tomorrow.