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David Cameron and the Union

6 April 2013

3:16 PM

6 April 2013

3:16 PM

Alex Massie asks why I didn’t mention the Union in my piece in this week’s magazine on what David Cameron’s legacy will be. It is a good question. Indeed, one former Cameron aide told me that he thought that the likely preservation of the Union would be Cameron’s greatest achievement.

But the reason I didn’t mention it was because Cameron’s strategy on Scotland has been to keep a relatively low profile. He has, deliberately, not made it his fight. He realised that Alex Salmond wanted to present himself as the opposition to an English Tory Prime Minister who was, in Nationalist-speak, imposing his will on Scotland—and has simply refused to play that role.

Imagine how different things might look now if Cameron had declared that the Scots could only have a referendum at a time of his choosing. Or, if he had chosen to make the argument not that Scotland was better off in the Union but that it couldn’t survive on his own. Either would have given Salmond an opening. To this extent, Cameron is all too aware that he is the Admiral Jellicoe of this referendum campaign, the only man on either side who could lose it in an afternoon.

If the Unionist side triumphs in 2014, I expect that the plaudits will go not to Cameron but to Alistair Darling and the other Scottish Unionist politicians who Cameron has made way for. But, as Alex points out, the danger for the Prime Minister in this modest approach is that he won’t get the credit if things go right and will certainly get the blame if they go wrong.

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