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Coffee House

Cameron’s unionism speech was laudable in substance, but it made him look afraid of Alex Salmond

7 February 2014

2:53 PM

7 February 2014

2:53 PM

I got a text from a mischievous friend in London this morning.

‘David Cameron has asked me to ask you not to leave the UK. We would miss you all awfully if you did and the Olympics were jolly fun with you on board,’ it said.

I don’t think this was quite what the Prime Minister had in mind when he decided to appeal to the English, Welsh and Northern Irish to use their powers of persuasion to get us Scots to stay in the Union. But if that wasn’t what he wanted, then what was it?

The Prime Minister’s big speech on the Union today is both interesting and difficult for a Scottish audience to hear. For a start, the speech is about Scotland, it is focused on the battle for Scottish independence and it is about us, the Scots, and the decision we will have to make in seven months’ time. But it is not aimed at us: it is aimed at the English, the Welsh and Northern Irish, urging them to persuade us not to vote Yes.

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It is almost as if he has decided to go over our heads and talk to others about us, saying: ‘Look, it’s quite obvious they are not going to listen to me, they don’t seem to like me for some reason, but they might listen to you. Could you have a go? Maybe you can succeed where I’ve failed.’ That may be a little harsh because I think Mr Cameron’s intentions are good but the underlying impression here is hard to ignore.

Second, this speech – about Scotland – is being made in London. That’s fair enough and I think it probably is a good move to try to blow some heat into the last embers of Olympic togetherness, if that can be done. But it is hard to escape the feeling that, after being battered and bruised by constant SNP attacks, Mr Cameron is running scared – just a little.

The context is simple: the SNP leadership has been demanding that the Prime Minister either comes up to Scotland and debate with Alex Salmond on the future of the Union or he should stay out of the entire debate.

However, what this morning’s speech suggests is that Mr Cameron wants to play a part in the debate but he is too frightened of the Nats to come up to Scotland and really give it laldy, as they say up here.

As a result, today’s speech seems to bring with it a hint of reticence, or hesitancy, as if the Prime Minister doesn’t really believe it is his place to interfere directly and strongly in the debate over independence and that, if he has to, he is more comfortable speaking about it in London. The odd thing is that everyone knows Mr Salmond’s demand for a head-to-head debate is just a tactic designed to unsettle the Prime Minister. It is nothing more than that. Everyone also knows such a debate is never going to happen, which allows Mr Salmond to keep banging on about it from now until polling day. It is just a tactic so Mr Cameron should have the political savvy to just ignore it.

But today’s speech, however laudable it is in substance and message, nevertheless gives the impression that the Nats have got to the Prime Minister, just a bit or, as Mr Salmond would say, he looks a little bit feart – which is not where he should be, not least when he is leading in the polls with seven months to go.

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