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Cameron’s Time Bomb For Scotland’s Referendum

Last Updated: Monday, February 24th, 2014

As Brian Monteith pointed out on ConservativeHome last week, Scotland is “now the third most economically successful region of the UK (after London and the South East), and has been third or fourth for the last thirty years”.  Furthermore, complaints about England subsidising Scotland may be inaccurate: the SNP claims that the flow of money to Scotland under the Barnett formula is exceeded by the flow to England though North Sea Oil.  Whatever the merits of this claim, therefore no intrinsic reason why Scotland shouldn’t flourishing as an independent country – for all its dire Glaswegian social problems and vulnerably large public sector.  Indeed, Scotland could be what Euro-sceptics wants the whole of the UK to become – an independent country which lives on its wits, thrives by trade and boasts its own currency.

An emerging problem for Alex Salmond and the Yes campaign, as September’s referendum campaign nears, is that this is not the case it has made.  Just as many English voters are nervous of life outside the European Union, so many Scottish ones are apprehensive about life outside the UK.  And just as Euro-sceptic campaigns seek to reassure all British voters that they can have their cake and eat it outside the EU – leaving the Union but having free trade – so Salmond seeks to reassure Scottish ones that they can have their cake and eat it, too.  They can leave that other, older Union, but keep the Queen, the pound – and, yes, their membership of the European club.

David Cameron sought recently to make a case for this Union that had an emotional as well as an economic resonance – because that is what is expected of him as Prime Minister.  But the aim of the No campaign is to convince Scottish voters that if they gain independence they will lost the cake – that’s to say, their prosperity.  Three recent blows have been struck on its behalf.  First, Mark Carney, the Bank of England Governor, warned in a visit to Scotland that “a currency union is highly unlikely to be agreed.”  Second, George Osborne, Ed Balls and the Liberal Democrats joined together to declare that sterling would not be shared with an independent Scotland.

And finally, José Manuel Barroso, the President of the European Commission, said it would be “difficult if not impossible” for Scotland to join the EU because Spain might block its accession bid.  The Yes campaign is pointing last week’s poll showing that support for its position has hardened rather than softened in the wake of these events, and say that a substantial minority of Scottish voters don’t want to keep sterling in any event.  Besides, over a third of them don’t believe Osborne’s words about the pound.  And it may indeed be the case that in the event of independence the remainder of the UK would decide that the economic advantages of maintaining Scotland’s sterling membership outweighed the disadvantages.

Barroso’s hostility to Scottish independence reflected fears on the continental mainland of the consequences of the break-up of states there – of which claims to Catalonian independence are only one.  But Osborne and company will have taken this into account, and it is significant that he was able to agree a united front not only with the Liberal Democrats but also with Labour.  Downing Street anticipated a rise in support for independence after the Chancellor’s gambit.  But its gamble and that of the No campaign is that Osborne’s warning will sink in slowly among the swing Scottish voters who will decide September’s result – particularly risk-averse women voters.

A way of thinking about the Osborne/Carney push, plus Barroso’s intervention, is that together they are like a kind of time bomb, set to explode now and wreak little visible damage – but gradually to collapse the foundations of the SNP’s argument, as the implications of the Osborne/Carney push sink in.  Cameron is at it again today as he makes the argument that only a united UK can afford to make the investment in the North Sea Oil industry that will give it a future when the present fields are exhausted – a point he has dramatised by taking the Cabinet to Aberdeen.  The city is the industry’s heartland, and set in the SNP’s: support for independence is strong in the prosperous east of Scotland.  Perhaps his ploy is working already. A poll this morning shows that backing for the No campaign has climbed five points to 49 per cent.

By Paul Goodman

 

HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE WEEK ON CONSERVATIVEHOME

Paul Goodman: Cameron v Miliband – the three TV debates we need  “Tim Montgomerie warned presciently in 2010 both about Clegg’s presence and debate timing.  If the TV confrontations take place during the campaign itself, they are bound to overshadow it, just as they did four years ago, and as he warned they would). This might be a relief to many voters, but the parties should have the chance both to put their leaders up in front of the public and set out their policy stalls.  This would point to the debates taking place earlier next year – in January or February, before the formal campaigns begin.  So: let the two prospective Prime Ministers go head-to-head.  Let them do so early.  And let no-one in the election’s aftermath complain that they had no chance to see Cameron and Miliband put their case.” Read more: http://is.gd/h6D1Kf

Brian Monteith: The divergences and differences within Scotland – and how they’ll impact on the poll   “Scotland…is now the third most economically successful region of the UK (after London and the South East), and has been 3rd or 4th for the last thirty years. Within Scotland there are wide disparities, as in most regions, with economic hardship often being felt especially in greater Glasgow, Lanarkshire and Ayrshire. For instance, take Edinburgh and Aberdeen out of the economy and Scotland would be in desperate need of aid. The reverse of this effect is also true: take Greater Glasgow out of Scotland and its sick man of Europe ranking in practically every health or social deprivation statistic would disappear. While financial services and retail operations have grown manufacturing has declined – although thanks to food and drinks, engineering and technologies, manufacturing has become specialised rather than extinguished.” Read more: http://is.gd/UW8kqu

Harry Phibbs: Cut in spare room subsidy boosts home swapping websites  “The real limitation to swapping is that many tenants don’t wish to downsize. If you were faced with finding an extra £15 or moving home wouldn’t you try to find an extra £15 a week?  Many have chosen the alternative of getting a job or increasing their hours. Another option is taking in a lodger. Again, there are websites available – such as spareroom.co.uk.   That website is campaigning for the tax threshold for renting a room to be increased from £4,250 to £7,500. That would be a very sensible tax cut as in easing the housing supply it would help cut the Housing Benefit bill. In other cases, a son or daughter who has moved out and was getting Housing benefit for their own flat has been persuaded to return home to fill the spare room. This means that for the family home the full Housing Benefit is paid but, of course, the total bill is reduced as there ceases to be Housing Benefit paid on two properties. It also means the returning offspring has more inventive to get a job.  As the evidence mounts about the benefits of this welfare reform, Labour opposition to it is looking increasingly untenable.” Read more: http://is.gd/Q3jRcp

Mark Wallace: What are we doing to win the 2030 General Election?  “Structural electoral problems take a long time, and a lot of hard work, to overcome – and we have more than a few to grapple with. The Tory decline in urban, working class areas outside the South East (as David Skelton studied in yesterday’s Telegraph). The growing gender gap, in which women are far less likely to vote Conservative than men. The troublingly low vote share we win among ethnic minorities. The fall in party membership, and thus in the power to project our message on the ground…As Conservatives, we ought to believe in responsibility to future generations, in doing what’s right for the long-term as well as what is convenient or comfortable today. Not all of our predecessors lived up to that – and as the generation paying the price for those mistakes, we have a responsibility not to repeat them.” Read more: http://is.gd/VOwC70

Martin Callanan MEP: Greece’s Prime Minister calls for more of the medicine that’s making his country ill   “We’ve debated Greece in the European Parliament more times than I care to imagine. But this time it was with the Greek Prime Minister himself. He wasn’t there to talk about Greece’s economic woes, but about his country’s turn at chairing the EU’s Ministerial meetings – known as the ‘Council Presidency’ (not to be confused with the President of the European Council, who is Herman Van Rompuy). Antonis Samaras was full of grand vision about the future of the EU and, listening to him, it would be hard to think that his country was the greatest victim of the euro. I told him that these grand abstract visions not rooted in reality are exactly why Greece and the EU are in so much trouble today. I said: ‘In Greece, the federalists’ dream has became the nightmare of the Greek people.’ ” Read more: http://is.gd/TJLy9T

By Paul Goodman

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