Could it be Bodie and Doyle? Perhaps Starsky and Hutch? Morse and Lewis? Whoever provided the inspiration, someone in Downing Street has clearly been watching too many old TV cop shows because what George Osborne’s performance today was the final part of an old-fashioned good cop, bad cop routine.
Last week David Cameron stayed in London to ‘love-bomb’ the Scots (as the Nats described it).’Please, please don’t leave,’ was his message, ‘We really love you lots.’
That was part one, the good cop routine. Today we had part two, the bad cop bit. The Chancellor didn’t stay in London. He came to Edinburgh and was hard, nasty and belligerent.’Go independent if you want to,’ was his message, ‘But you can’t have the pound, so forget it.’ It was the hardest kick in the crotch the Chancellor has ever delivered to Scotland and it will alter the independence campaign drastically.
All day, the Nationalists have been touring television and radio stations to claim that Osborne is playing political games, that today’s message was orchestrated by Better Together as a deliberate ploy to get the ‘don’t knows’ back to the unionist side.
They are right – but only in part. Yes, this was a political move. Better Together strategists have identified the ‘don’t knows’ as the key to the campaign. They also know that uncertainty over the pound is what concerns them most. So they decided to end that uncertainty once and for all by making it clear today that an independent Scotland would not be in a Sterling zone.
There was also a secondary aim: trying to force Alex Salmond to come out with a ‘Plan B’ on the currency, something that would appear so unreliable and shaky it would destroy the Nats’ hopes of winning the referendum in one move.
But there was also a wider and deeper motive behind the Chancellor’s speech today which the Nationalists don’t seem to appreciate. Osborne has worried for months about sharing a currency with an independent Scotland. He doesn’t want to do it. Senior sources in Downing Street have made it clear that Osborne’s thinking goes like this:
‘I have saved the UK economy. Things are going well because we have put the brakes on excessive public spending. The economy is growing, the international markets and things are going to get better and better.
‘The last thing I am going to do is allow a small, independent country with a profligate, left-leaning government blow all that by spending too much, getting into trouble and then having to be bailed out by us – a country, incidentally, who’s financial decisions we can’t control. We have done too much hard work and been through too much pain to allow that to happen.’
This is apparently what Osborne believes and it is not difficult to see why. So there really is meat behind this piece of political posturing. Osborne has been hinting for months that he did not want the UK to share a currency with an independent Scotland but he never came out and said it – before today.
This announcement will polarise the debate like never before. It will lead to a reaction from some Scots who believe, as Salmond wants them to, that the Chancellor is bullying the Scots. It will also push some ‘don’t knows’ back to the cause of the Union. But the real message – and it is one the Nats don’t seem to want to believe – is that the Chancellor is very serious about this. If Osborne has anything to do with it, Scotland will not be allowed to share the pound after independence. This really is not a bluff, not matter what Salmond nor his allies may believe.