Thanks to Nick Clegg’s revelation of ‘The Coalition Defence’ we now know that the latest move by the UK Prime Minister is no more than a voice from the sidelines in the chess game that is the Scottish independence referendum to come.
Was it only two days ago that the Deputy Prime Minster announced grandly that there would be no Westminster-led campaign for the Union, that, in his words, the independence issue ‘must be played out in Scotland?
He did say, of course, that Westminster Ministers and MPs would not be taking ‘a Trappist vow of silence’ ( no problems in believing that one) but would be ‘individual voices’.
So, today, as ‘an individual voice’, the Prime Minister switched to shadow boxing – with himself.
First he let it be known, hinting at legal advice, that it was in Scotland’s interests to get on with the referendum, that – singing Citigroup’s earlier prompted ditty – businesses were already asking what way Scotland was going and sucking their teeth about investing here.
The truth is that there is not a profitable area in the world, be its ruling regime ever so bloodthirsty and undemocratic, that entrepreneurial multinational corporations are not investing in without a qualm. Even political instability is acceptable if there’s the chance of a quick buck. Scotland will attract investment on merit, or not, regardless of whether it is independent or not, or of when it chooses to take that decision.
Anyway, the PM’s growing anxiety about the cost to Scotland of continuing uncertainty on the political direction it will take – he cares – moved him also to let it be known that he would ‘let’ Scotland hold an independence referendum on condition that it was held before a deadline of 18 months from now.
Then, following the sort of response we have regularly predicted, should Westmisnter make such a move, the PM retreated a tad, saying of course he wasn’t dictating to Scotland – perish the thought. All he was after was a clean ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ question so that dumb Scots wouldn’t get confused.
Predictably, Cameron and the coalition are making an unholy mess of their own interests.
First Cleggover leaves unionists and federalists in Scotland hanging in the wind with his announcement that the UK will mount no organised defence of the union.
Then Cameron tells a nation of Celts and Vikings that he will ‘let’ them have a referendum if they do it his way and in his timescale. Oh dear. Whoever imagined that Scots are worried about ‘permission’? And what woodentop didn’t realise that the very idea of being told that such ‘permission’ could be given or withheld was, simultaneously, a can of petrol and a match?
What they don’t get – and what Alex Salmond also often forgets – is that, for Scotland, this is not a game. This is about a grown up and confident nation exploring the issues, taking stock and making its mind up.
The more the game takes precedence and the more the source of the game playing is coming from south of the border, the more the Scots yearning for substance will drive towards a will to do it Scotland’s way.
Alex Salmond will sleep tonight a happy man. He could not have asked for a more helpful intervention than Cameron’s for the independence cause.
Oh and, in interview, the ‘legal advice’ does not seem yet to exist. Cameron appeared to indicate that he thought it important to establish the legal position. Earlier spin leaked that he already had the advice up his sleeve and would release it tonight or tomorrow morning to nail his 18 month deadline. All games, All, already, a very tedious charade.