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On Scottish independence, Cameron’s short-termism, and Jimmy Carter being right

Posted on 17 September 2009 | 9:09am


I was in Edinburgh yesterday, speaking at a
communications conference, followed by a lunch and q and a, during which I was
asked if people in England were aware of how the independence debate was
unfolding, and whether they cared.

As I replied, it struck me that one of the
downsides of devolution – other than Alex Salmond being in power – is that
England hears so little about what is happening in Scotland.

Someone said whenever they saw the London-based
national (ie UK) papers it was as though Scotland was a foreign country.
Indeed, not just America but France, Germany and most of the major powers
attract far more attention than Scotland. The recent furore over the release of
the Lockerbie bomber was the exception that somewhat proves the point.

As to my answer to the question, I
think they would care if they were aware. When a referendum on independence
comes – and it is coming – then England will doubtless hear about it. But the
awareness as of now is low indeed.

At both events I was needless to say asked about
the current political scene. Could Labour win? Yes, I said. How? By showing the
link between improved economic conditions and GB’s actions, by defending the
record since 1997 properly, by attacking our opponents better, and by showing
we are the only party with a credible and coherent forward policy agenda.

I was asked if I thought David Cameron would be
a good Prime Minister. No. Why not? Because even though he has been leader of
the Opposition for several years now, we know little about him, what we do know
does not add up to much, and he is showing himself serially incapable of making
important policy decisions. He is a good communicator, and without setting out
a forward policy agenda has persuaded the media to cover him as PM-elect not
Opposition leader (of which more in this week’s New Statesman by the way) but that is about all I will give him.

The arguments about devolution are a good
example of his weak leadership, and his confusion of strategy and tactics. For
short-term, tactical reasons, he plays up the question – why should Scottish
MPs at Westminster have a say in issues which only affect England? It plays
into the hands of the nationalist agenda when he – as the leader of the
Conservative and Unionist Party – should be making the point
that all members of the Westminster Parliament should carry equal weight. Alex
Salmond is desperate for the Tories to win at Westminster, because it will
strengthen his arguments about Westminster not being able properly to represent
Scotland’s interests.

It really would be something if the UK broke up
on the watch of a Tory government. But Cameron’s failure strategically to speak
up for the Union, preferring short term tactical trouble making, would be one
of the reasons. Another reason to make sure he never gets there.

Because if the UK did break up I think most
people in England would care.

The view of my audience seemed to be that
Scotland will not vote for independence. I agree with that. But I also said
Salmond would not become first minister, a few months before he did just that,
so you never can tell.

*** A brief PS on former President Jimmy
Carter’s view that much of the opposition to Barack Obama’s health
reforms is because he is black. It is obvious from the White House’s
reaction that they would rather Carter had not said it. But he is surely

It has been noticeable how few black faces there
have been at the meetings and rallies and marches organised against him. That
does not mean all the white faces in the crowds belong to racists. But in
the tone of many of the attacks, including on the ghastly right-wing radio
shows, then lurking beneath the surface you can sense the feeling that the
U S of A really ought to have a white man at the helm.

I see The Times today, following a botched attempt at
capital punishment of a convicted rapist, is saying America should now get
rid of the death penalty. Great idea – but my God, can you imagine the reaction
if Obama suddenly threw that one into the mix?

  • @jlocke13

    once again i applaud you optimism..”improved economic conditions….defending the record….” I laughed out loud. Your comments about Cameron are exactly what could have been said abut TB when he was in opposition..!
    Your fears about Scottish independence are grounded in the fact that without Scottish labour MPs then Labour has little chance of ever coming to power in England ..perhaps Cameron has sussed this!
    Re your ps. I find myself in total agreement (this must stop ed)

  • Bob Jones

    So Obama’s declining popularity is because he’s black? Does that mean Americans only just realized he is black or only just remember they’re racist?

  • Carole Heath

    I can see why Obama would not want the debate but like you I noticed the overwhelming whiteness of the faces protesting, and the contrast with the mix of races who supported him for the job. There is a nastiness to the protests which goes beyond most issues of domestic politics, here or in America, and I think Carter was right to say it.

  • Colin Moore

    Salmond wants Cameron in power because a toffee-nosed Old Etonian who knows or cares nothing about Scotland will be an even easier opponent for him than the Labour Party has been. Labour needs to do a far better job of fighting him though. He ran rings round them last time

  • Simon Gittins

    Sometimes Mr Campbell you ought to remove your blinkers.
    If you asked most people which political leader you are describing when you write ‘weak leadership, and his confusion of strategy and tactics’ I suspect the overwhelming majority would say Gordon Brown.
    Labour cannot posibly win an election if the main debate involves the economy, which it is likely to.

  • wandering by

    I was not aware that coverage of Scotland was more extensive in the Uk( English press) before devolution. I cetainly did not have that impression

  • Jane A

    Your points about Scotland are proven each and every morning when Sky look at other newspapers’ frontpages and manage to check out most editions from capital cities close by (Frankfurter Allgemeine, Swedish Tagblatt etc etc) but I’ve never seen them pick up The Scotsman or anything else from north of the border.

  • Em


    “Thomas Jefferson once said that slavery was “the snake under the table” and to this day, very few people are going to acknowledge that race is at the centre of the right-wing’s hatred for Obama…”

    That’s me calling it on this very blog in the comments section back on 5 September. From election night to the inauguration, we saw those who were happy and inspired by this historical event but as time goes on, the snakes are creeping out.


    I find the use of the weak word “could” as in “Labour could win” very troubling. David Cameron lacks substance (ok, that felt redundant) and he has a flair for gaffes. The latter may seem trivial but it’s not. The “twat” incident and the German accent (shall we have an agent follow DC around to whisper “don’t mention the war” to his ear just before he gives a speech?) show that DC has a bit of the Bojo in him.

    It may be the Fates who put a patch of ice in DC’s path but he strikes me as the kind of guy who, as he’s about to take a fall, would make sure he is carrying a Gargantuesque bowl of Baccarat crystal borrowed from Buckingham Palace —without the Palace’s knowledge and with the intent of returning it surreptitiously.

    News in Canada (it seems significant it made it all the way out here) reported that Bojo became mayor because his campaign kept such a tight lid on the guy, he wasn’t able to take one wrong step. There doesn’t seem to be that kind of lid on DC.

    It’s not something we can control but no policy plus several gaffes WILL spell disaster.

    Oh, and we have ideas and ideals on our side.

  • tommy3lions

    I have no interest in scotch politics, all I want is independence from them, this scotch lead government has exploited and discriminated against the englisc for long enough now, allowing scotland a parliament and lots of freebies whilst england pays for it all. The call for an Englisc parliament and then independence gets louder as people are waking to new labours treason, we need englisc politicians not dhimi englisc like straw and harman etc, we govern our own borders and tax all goods passing to scotland and wales through our waters and over land. There is a strong chance shetland will seperate from scotland at the break up of the union also which would be interesting bearing in mind most of the oil comes from their waters.

  • wonkotsane

    We hear plenty about Scotland. We hear about the wonder drugs they have for cancer and alzheimers that we don’t have in England We hear about the referendum on the future governance of their country promised to them by the leader they elected that we aren’t allowed (the referendum or the elected leader). We hear about free prescriptions for all in Scotland while we in England get annual price increases. We hear about free hospital car parking in Scotland while we in England get taxed to go to hostpial. We hear about free school meals for Scottish children while many in England can’t afford the high cost of school meals. We hear about free central heating for pensioners in Scotland while English pensioners sit in the cold. We hear about massive road and rail schemes in Scotland while similar English schemes are cancelled.

    But most of all we hear about useless Scottish politicians poking their noses into English affairs and telling us that we can’t make our own decisions.

    Labour won’t win the next election, they will never again be in charge of England and I regret the day in 1997 when I cast a vote for Labour in the mistaken belief that they couldn’t be as bad as the Tories. A bigger bunch of illiberal, racist incompetents I have never known.

  • Salmondnet

    The question “why should Scottish MPs at Westminster have a say in issues which only affect England?” has to be asked. The answer is that they should not and it really doen’t matter whether or not Cameron is asking it for “short-term tactical reasons”. Not asking it plays into the hands of nationalists, the English variety, who barely existed before the West Lothian Question became a real, rather than theoretical, issue. If the Scots can not live with being excluded from English matters in the same way that the English are now excluded from Scottish issues (which is why, incidentally, that the southern media and population has limited interest in Scotland) then an end to the Union would be best for all.

  • olli issakainen

    Can Labour win? YES! Although the gap between Tories and Labour seems to be too big, opposition parties usually lose support in the final months before the election. If the economy improves as it looks like doing at the moment, it will surely help Labour. Anyway, Labour has handled the economic crisis much better than the Tories would have done. This fact must be powerfully communicated
    to voters. And where is the forward policy agenda of Tories? Their ideology changes all the time so it is impossible to know what they stand for.

  • gary Enefer

    So,we end up with a UK of only England,Wales and Northern Ireland?Scotland and it’s people,just where it is,would become so isolated that they probsabley could not survive economically.

    I often visit the Irish Republic,better placed geographically,and things are really desperate with public employees having 400 euros a month taken from their paycheques to prop up the system.

    What about Healthcare,Benefits and Education? Our Military bases provide money too

    We love the scots and our joint history and peoples are rich in spirit.

    best wishes


  • olli issakainen

    It seems that you will be on BBC Radio 4 chat show Chain Reaction on Wed 23 Sep (18:30). I am currently listening to Chain Reaction interview with Eddie Izzard on BBC iPlayer.

  • Ian Campbell

    There are plenty of polls, Alastair,which show that the English don’t care very much if the Scots leave the Union. They asssume the Scots will leave anyway. The benefits of the Union are difficult to state – perhaps because they are few. The original reasons for the 1707 Union have long gone.The Claim of Right for Scotland, signed by Mr Brown, recognises the sovereign right of the Scottish people to determine the form of government that best suits their needs. That choice must include independence (which the Unionists are very reluctant to put to a referendum). But what about England? There are already two classes of MPs at Westminister – those who don’t have to answer to their constituents for health, education and transport policies and those who do. Moreover the people of England have never been asked what ‘form of government’ they consider best suits their needs. You criticise Cameron for offering a partial solution. He like you is motivated only by poltical advantage not by good governance or constitutional justice but at least he is attempting, if feebly, to remedy an injustice. If you believe in the Union, and if you believe in democaracy, rather than in eternal rule by the Labour party, you have to find a way of allowing England to exist as a political nation, either within the Union or in a four nation federation, a new’union’ for the 21st century. And while we are about it, as your man Mr Blair was criticised for becoming increasingly ‘presidential’, why not have a directly elected British Prime Minister whose team of ministers would be picked from outside the British Parliament?
    All these matters deserve consideration and it is regrettable to read such a carping, self-serving interpretation as you offer in your blog.

  • Stephen Gash

    Let’s have a vote across the UK for independence for each constituent nation.

    Labour has systematically endeavoured to eradicate England for the sake of this so-called Union and prejudicially disadvantaged the English, post-devolution, in a manner the Scots never were, pre-devolution.

    The British establishment is insitutionally Anglophobic, and the English would be better out of the UK.

  • Helen Wright

    Looks like Labour set in motion, a whole new Independence Seeking English Electorat, if the blogs and pub talk in England are anything to go by – and they are.

    Nice one, McLabour. England’s future is looking Scot-Free and we’re positively delighted in it.

  • David Kingston

    In some respects the Tories have a vested interest in Scottish independence. They have very little support in Scotland. As oil production diminishes Scotland will contribute less and less to the UK economy. And guess what? Scotland already rarely elects Tory MPs. The result might be a guaranteed majority for Dave. But would this leave Mr Clueless nowhere to hide?

  • britologywatch

    Your post on ‘Scottish independence’ is the most ridiculous load of vacuous spin I’ve heard for a long time. You write: “Someone said whenever they saw the London-based national (ie UK) papers it was as though Scotland was a foreign country”. In saying that, you are displaying your own ignorance: they’re national English papers, not UK ones; Scotland has its own set of national (Scottish) newspapers. The fact that the Westminster political establishment, of which you are a part, regards them as UK papers is part of their misleading representation of everything that is really English as ‘British’. Hoist by your own petard.

    Then you write of Cameron: “He is a good communicator, and without setting out a forward policy agenda has persuaded the media to cover him as PM-elect not Opposition leader . . . but that is about all I will give him.” Case of the pot calling the kettle black, I think; Blair Mark II, then.

    Then on the English Question, you say: “For short-term, tactical reasons, [Cameron] plays up the question – why should Scottish MPs at Westminster have a say in issues which only affect England?”. Is he playing up the question? I haven’t come across any pronouncements of Cameron on the issue recently. If anything, he’s downplaying the issue and avoiding making ‘English votes on English matters’ (which in any case is not the Tory policy) an election issue, which I’m sure you rather he did, so you can paint Labour as the party of the Union – hence, the provocation.

    And the most ridiculous statement of all is: “he – as the leader of the Conservative and Unionist Party – should be making the point that all members of the Westminster Parliament should carry equal weight”. If that is so, will you now be allowing Scottish and Welsh MPs to vote on devolved matters affecting their constituents such as health, education and justice; and what is more, will you allow English MPs to vote on Scottish and Welsh matters, thereby making all MPs equal? I don’t think so!

    What a load of rubbish.

  • tommy3lions

    Independence for England now before Brown sells more of Englands assets off ( not scotlands you notice) to help pay off his massive debt.