The Corner

Cameron’s Crisis

Jill Kirby:

This is a crisis largely of [Cameron’s] own making.

The break up of the United Kingdom may yet be averted. But it should never have been run this close. This deeply embarrassing and distressing period of uncertainty and consequent instability has too much in common with all the other near-misses, last minute panics and downright failures (including the disastrous 2010 election campaign) of Mr Cameron’s leadership.

That is why I cannot go along with the Cameron sympathisers, who praise his speech this week and blame Labour for the separation crisis. We need never have arrived at this cliff edge, and we have been brought to the brink by a lethal combination of complacency, laziness, inattention to detail and lack of overarching principle.

I never understood why the Prime Minister conceded to Alex Salmond the basis on which the referendum would be conducted. Why allow the SNP their choice of question? So many of the charges of “negative campaigning” have flowed from this primary mistake. In positing such a fundamental change, surely the question should have been “Do you wish Scotland to remain part of the United Kingdom?” As every PR expert knows, people like to say “Yes!”

The Scottish people should have been invited to affirm their loyalty through a forward-looking campaign conducted in positive terms…Instead, the Better Together campaign started out on the back foot, reliant entirely on negatives and fear-mongering….

Was it complacency or a desire to seem “cool” that led the Prime Minister to agree to the SNP’s further request to let under-18s vote in the referendum? Did he really think that Scottish 16-year-olds would prove to be a bunch of conservatives, who would see through Alex Salmond’s romantic vision of a free Scotland, kicking away the tyranny of British rule?

Perhaps David Cameron didn’t really care? It’s hard to fathom. Maybe his former ease in getting out of a tight situation led him to believe that, somehow, Great Britain would survive, and with it his own career?

Mr Cameron, you might still get lucky and escape with a “No” vote next week. But your essay-crisis, last-minute, don’t-bother-me-with-the-detail style of governing has done your country no favours. This was an avoidable crisis, for which you must carry a large share of the blame.

Indeed it is. I still think the Scots will vote ‘no’, but, like most people, I have been astonished at how close the result may well turn out to be. That this is the case owes much to the approach—so characteristically slapdash, so characteristically unimaginative—that the prime minister has taken to the idea of Scottish independence.  That Cameron has said that he will not resign even if the Scots choose independence is not only dishonorable, but ludicrous. In setting the stage for this referendum, Cameron was consistently outplayed by Salmond. The idea that this incompetent would then be the best man to negotiate what will be a bitter, difficult and intricate divorce settlement with the victorious nationalists is not only ridiculous but an insult to the people of the country that the Scots had chosen to leave behind.

It’s also worth adding that Cameron also claims that he is able to ‘renegotiate’ a better deal for Britain in the EU. That has never been a remotely credible claim, but (whatever the Scottish result) the fiasco that is this referendum is a reminder that Cameron simply does not have the political skills that such a task would require. 

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