Okay. I was wrong.
When David Cameron declared that he could decide the date of the referendum on independence, claiming that a long delay is “very damaging for Scotland” and having Downing Street announce that a referendum carried out without Westminster backing would “only have advisory status” apparently he genuinely thought that an English Tory Prime Minister would be welcomed as a sort of hero riding to the rescue of the Scots.
Apparently the Conservative Press office genuinely believed that a message like this is conciliatory:
David Cameron will today seek to ban Alex Salmond from holding his referendum on breaking up Britain unless he agrees to a list of Coalition demands.
The Scottish First Minister would be forced to name the date for the vote and be restricted to a clear-cut question on whether Scotland should remain in the United Kingdom. The two men were on a constitutional collision-course last night as Mr Salmond signalled his outright rejection of the Prime Minister’s terms.
It is entirely possible to just not like Alex Salmond very much, and to be unsure of how you’ll vote in a referendum, and never in your life to have voted SNP, and still not care for the English Prime Minister bullshitting about how he’ll “force” the Scottish First Minister to come to heel, and that it will be Westminister, not Holyrood, that decides the date and content of the referendum.
Honestly, I really thought this must be some kind of cunning anti-Union scheme, probably set up by George Osborne, who may be ignorant of basic economics but who reputedly is quite smart and is no fan of the union, being able to do the electoral arithmetic that tells an English Tory that Scottish Labour voters could yet turf them out in 2015. Because it is so obvious to anyone who knows more of Scotland that roughly where to find it on a map, that if you want to get the Scots to vote for independence (currently only 29% of Scots are definitely for, though 53% against says there’s a big “undecided” vote to play for) the way to do it would be just this.
“I’m not for independence at all. I worry that an intervention from Westminster may result in an anti-English kneejerk vote.”
But apparently Cameron genuinely thought that the Scottish people would like him for helping the referendum happen – with a few little conditions of course.
Nicola Sturgeon (BBC Radio 4’s Today) made the point clear: “It’s the attachment of conditions that gives the game away – this is Westminster trying to interfere. Perhaps I should be relaxed about that because the more a Tory government tries to interfere in Scottish democracy then I suspect the greater the support for independence will be, but there is a key issue of democratic principle here.”
I have to say that listening to Professor Tim Luckhurst of Kent University (on Call Kaye) explain that it’s ridiculous to suppose that the Scottish electorate should have the the deciding vote on a separation, and blandly ignore that if the whole of the UK is polled, effectively this gives the English the controlling vote to decide if Scotland ought to be allowed to separate from the UK, was enough to make a nationalist of me if only he’d gone on talking – so I switched off. Aidan O’Neil made this argument in the Guardian last November.
To Professor Luckhurst, apparently, it makes sense that you can’t have a divorce without mutual consent. He’s a professor of journalism, not of family law: apparently he genuinely doesn’t realise that it is entirely possible for a divorce to take place simply because one partner in the relationship has decided to end it.
No grand scheme on the part of the Tories. They just really didn’t see that neither David Cameron nor his party nor his policies are appealling to the Scottish people – and that no matter what a Scot’s support for independence or liking for Alex Salmond, in Scotland we accept that the SNP made clear when they intended to hold a referendum if they won, and they won the elections, and now they’ve got a right to do what they said they’d do. That’s democracy.