David Cameron moves centre stage in devolution debate

The tectonic plates could be moving on Scottish Home Rule, far further than David Trimble seems to realise. Rather than taking his advice ( which suggests he might not be as close to David Cameron as some people think), the main tartan Sunday heavies report that the Conservative leader is moving towards a deal with Alex Salmond and trump Labour, said to be divided over more powers for Holyrood, while reducing what could be a growing threat to the Union. Cameron tells Scotland on Sunday : I’ll fix devolution” and forge a far closer relationship between the UK and Scottish governments.
Cameron said it was “amazing” that Salmond and Brown had not met in almost a year. “If the First Minister had something close to a workable relationship with the Prime Minister throughout this economic crisis, we would have had fewer arguments and more action.” He adds that the Tories will “back the constitutional settlement” and says that there is “room for improvement” in the current set-up. Last week, the Scottish Tories gave cautious backing to calls for Holyrood to be given powers to borrow.

More specifically, the Sunday Herald story says following the passage of the Scottish budget the Tories would “negotiate” with the £400 million council tax benefit Scotland stands to lose if the SNP try to scrap council tax and replace it with a local income tax. These are opening gambits in a new political game with many moves to come. But for now it’s your move, Gordon Brown.

Meanwhile if not yet seen as a paradigm shift, the latest polls are looking dicey for the pro-Union side under recession pressure. “ Scotland on a knife-edge POLL EXCLUSIVE: 38% support independence 40% oppose it.” They’re starting to call this the Quebec scenario”, whereby Scotland would go to the brink of separation but never quite tip over, like Quebec which last voted to stay within Canada by the whisker of 0.25% of the referendum poll.
Quotes from “Scotland on Sunday’s Cameron story
If we win the next election at Westminster, we would govern with a maturity and a respect for the Scottish people. He adds: “If we are going to make devolution work effectively we need more co-operation at all levels, not just the very highest. That means the Secretary of State for Scotland having monthly meetings with the First Minister. That means Cabinet ministers in Westminster talking to their counterparts in Holyrood. That also means officials in Whitehall talking to officials in St Andrews House (the Scottish Government’s HQ]. And instead of completely refusing to appear before Scottish Parliament committees as Labour’s ministers do, our ministers would be open to reasonable requests.”

Not to be outdone, the Sunday Herald reports that Conservatives ‘would negotiate’ with SNP over £400m council tax benefit

AN INCOMING Tory government at Westminster would negotiate with first minister Alex Salmond on the £400 million of council tax benefit the SNP administration needs to implement its local income tax policy. David Mundell, the shadow Scotland secretary, said the Conservatives would have an “open dialogue” with Salmond on the disputed millions, unlike the Labour government which is threatening to withhold the cash if the SNP abolishes the council tax.He said Tory leader David Cameron would not seek to “veto” the local income tax plan by getting bogged down on such “confrontational” issues.

The SNP government wants to replace the successor to the poll tax with an income-based alternative, set at three pence in the pound. But despite local government finance being devolved to Holyrood, the policy hinges on £400m of council tax benefit remaining in Scotland if the SNP policy is implemented.

James Purnell, Labour’s work and pensions secretary, has said Scotland will lose the cash if Salmond goes ahead with the scheme.”If there is no council tax, there is no council tax benefit,” he said. Losing the benefit money would mean the SNP having to levy the local income tax at six pence, effectively killing the policy.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London

  • My dad always said, never trust a Tory.

    If true, facinating, but then Mr Cameron promissed us all a major speech when he came here a couple of months back. What we got was good old fahioned one nation conservatism dressed up in Cameron spin. In fact last Friday his party hosted business breakfast in Belfasy which, according to my sources, was as thin on ideas for the local economy as the pancakes on the menu.

  • cynic

    And pray tell me why the Tories would oppose Scottish independence. Aside from some posturing, its an irrelevance to them. It would at, a stroke, eliminate a core part of the Labour leadership at Westminster, dramatically reduce Labour’s chances of a majority in the longer term and save the new UK-lite Government about £3bn / year.

  • If you actually read the articles, as opposed to Walker’s trite and misleading synopsis, you will see that Mr Cameron is very explicitly opposed to Scottish independence.

  • Catholic Observer

    If David Cameron becomes PM he will need all the ‘meetings’ with Alex Salmond he can possibly arrange. There is a widespread revulsion for the Tories north of the border, and a Conservative Government would severly alienate a lot of nominal unionists.

    It’s very interesting to hear that support for Scottish Independence is growing. Clearly Scots have not bought Brown’s propaganda that an independent Scotland would be economically unviable. A report in last month’s Tablet also claimed that Hiberno-Scot Catholics in the west of Scotland (traditionally Labour’s most loyal supporters) are leaving the party in droves for the SNP.

    One very positive ramification of the growth in support for the independence is that it will mean that the state will have to take consideration of the sensibilities of those who don’t consider themselves British. It will make it more unlikely that Brown’s ‘Britishness Day’ or any of the other proposals to inculcate impressionable young minds with pro-British propaganda will come to fruition. The growing nationalism will create a wider gulf between NI Unionists and their Scots cousins, who will instead ally themselves with Irish Nationalists. I remember a few months ago being at an Ulster-Scots concert and witnessing a visiting Scottish contingent refused to stand for ‘God Save the Queen’, much to the horror of their Ulster cousins.

    Essentially all this means that the UK House of Cards is collapsing around its own contradictions.

    Oh dear land thou are not yet conquered. Saor Alba!

  • cynic

    He may do so publicly but my point remains. If Scotland votes ‘yes’ watch a Tory government exhibit great public sadness and regret while grabbing the option with alacrity, stiffing the Sots financially and skewering Labour electorally !

    That’s why Labour were so upset last year when Wendy Alexander (Wee Dougie’s sister – remember her – resigned over a small accounting error) appeared to accept the need for a referendum.

  • cynic

    “There is a widespread revulsion for the Tories north of the border, and a Conservative Government would severly alienate a lot of nominal unionists.”

    …. and this would worry them because …….???? In national political terms it’s irrelevant

  • blinding

    Would the Tories take liberties with the minor partners in the Union if it would strenghten their position in their spiritual homeland.

    All together now

    “O Yes They Would”

  • Catholic Observer

    “…. and this would worry them because …….???? In national political terms it’s irrelevant ”

    Support for Scottish Independence would likely grow under a Tory government because a lot of Scots would become alienated from Westminster, which they are quite content with under Labour rule. Had it never been for Margaret Thatcher, the SNP would not enjoy the popularity it does now.

  • frustrated democrat

    ‘David Cameron has promised to do everything in his power to ensure the SNP don’t split up the UK.’ http://www.conservatives.com

    I think that is clear enough.

  • cynic

    Dear frustrated democrat

    I can see how you get your first name.

    Can I let you into a secret? HMGs position on NI is that it is part of the Union for as long as its people want to be. Whatever the party, the subtext is that if NI were to vote to go and they could let it happen without civil war on their doorstep they would dump it tomorrow morning. And for the Tories NI doesn’t even offer them much of an electoral advantage, unlike Scotland.

    What a politician says is one thing. He may even deeply believe it at the time. But when events open up an opportunity circumstances have changed and one has to review. Remember how quickly the Labour party moved from Foot to Blair? Why? Not the pursuit of ideology, the pursuit of power.

  • It was Sammy Mc Nally what done it

    frustrated democrat

    “‘David Cameron has promised to do everything in his power to ensure the SNP don’t split up the UK.’ ”

    I think he does at least partly believe this. But deep down he must know, but can never admit, that the biggest boost to the SNP is a Tory party elected to Westminster.

    The fact is that Posh Boy David Cameron(PBDC) is an Eton public school boy, who sounds like – an Eton public school boy – and he is an absolute god-send for the SNP – every time he opens his polite mouth he will stir the tribal politics of Braveheart. This is the harsh reality for PBDC even if it is jolly unfair.

    So If PBDC really really wants to keep the Union secure he should avoid doing the one thing that he has committed his political life to doing – getting elected Prime Minister.

  • frustrated democrat


    Your name suits you, DC is 100% committed to the UK and will do what he can, including persuading all the people in Scotland and NI that it is in their best interests to say in the UK. Not too difficult here at the moment given the mess the RoI is in, so I wouldn’t look for a referendum any time soon. As I have been consistently saying here for a very very long time I prefer a rich aunt to a poor cousin (now poor may be overstating the position).

    The UUP Conservative link up will give the Conservatives an important base to expand from over the next few years, make no mistake they will want to be the largest grouping here.

  • Seymour Major

    Firstly, I dont agree with Cynic. It is correct that tbe electoral position of the conservatives in England would be stronger without Scotland. Knowing what I do about DC, that is not what he is calculating. When he says he is pro-union, he means it. In that respect, he wears his heart on his sleeve. That leaves the question, why this gambit?

    I think you have to look at it from the point of view of electoral accountability. This has implications for NI and Wales as well. If you are the Government at Westminster, your responsibilty is to raise revenue and distribute it. The Devolved Governments dont have any revenue raising powers. They are just spenders. If they dont get what they want, its easy to blame the central government. In Scottish Politics, Alex Salmond understands this very well and is manipulating the revenue raising position for all its worth. As’s gambit of local income tax was ingenious. GB was stuck between a rock and a hard place. His revenue preserving instincts made him fall for the sucker punch. I believe DC is trying to weaken As’s ability to undermine the union by giving/acceding to more revenue raising powers and thus making his government more accountable so that in the end, the SNP will lose to an opposition in Scotland.

    In relation to NI, watch this space. I think revenue raising powers will arrive in due course

  • Pete

    I think there is being cynical and then there is making up stories in your head to satisfy one’s own prejudices..

  • cynic

    Which prejudices?

    Sorry but I have just watched UK politics for over 30 years so is it cynicism or just a keen appreciation of political realities?

  • frustrated democrat


    30 years, so you are a beginner then?

  • blinding

    Listen to what they say but watch what they do.

    Good advice when dealing with ones fellow humans and even in observing oneself.

    The Tories do seem to be cosying up to the SNP.
    It is going to make interesting watching for all of us.

  • People who see a Quebec parallel should be very scared. The province of Quebec has held Canada to ransom since the seventies, and realistic and fair demands have given way to rampant me-feinism. That coupled with equalisation means that Ontario taxpayers pay huge sums for daycare while sending hundreds of millions to Quebec so they can have subsidised daycare for $7/day (about 4 euros).

    Don’t get me wrong – I think Quebec is a vital part of the Canadian whole, it’s just that like all spoilt children they have figured out they can get their way and are ruthlessly exploiting that, whether the provincial government happens to be separatist or federalist!

  • On a bit of reflection I’m not surprised Cameron has decided to come to some understanding with the SNP. The spectre of being ruled from Westminster by a party with comparatively few representatives in Scotland was always going to fuel for the separatist fire. By doing this Cameron is trying to head off the danger.

  • cynic

    I ask again. What danger? What does the Conservative Party or Cameron have to fear from Scottish independence?

    They may not actively want it institutionally or personally but there are many in England who, after 10 years of Scottish minority rule, believe the relationship should be re-examined.

    England is developing dramatically. With something like one in four children now of mixed race parentage it is rapidly developing in new political directions. Old relationships, old institutions are just not as relevant. To gain and hold power, the Conservatives need to grasp and hold that mood.

    I am not suggesting in that a mood to ditch Scotland r the United Kingdom – but more and more a sense that if they want to go let them, what has it really got to do with us?

  • Catholic Observer

    I agree cynic. But what would happen to NI in event of Scotland or England seceding from the Union? I doubt an independent England would still be prepared to subvent NI to the tune of £7 billion per annum. It’s also very unlikely that an independent NI would stay independent for very long.

  • elvis parker

    Conall tell your friends to get the wool out of their ears. Yeah if you wanted a promise of yet more dosh to prop up the public sector you’d be dissapointed. But I heard the man who is likely to deal with taxation issues at the Treasury next year talk about turning NI into an Enterprise Zone.
    What have Labour done?
    What was it the SDLP was suggesting – joining up with the Republic!
    Mind you the DUP talk nonsense too so never mind

  • frustrated democrat

    I can only repeat it again and again if the Conservative Unionists have elected representatives here then it will solidfy all of the union in a way none of the other parties here can.

    With Conservative Unionists In Europe, Westminster and the Assembly they will fight tooth and nail to keep NI in the UK because without it there is no UK.

    There is no realistic chance that Scotland will leave GB either in the current recession, when it comes down to it full independence will not happen, voters aren’t fools.

  • Dave

    It does show now precarious the position of NI is, doesn’t it? You are dependent on the vagaries and plans of others. The pampered but unloved child forced into the big world when the family home is repossessed and the parents go their separate ways.

    In Scotland exits the union, will the English reorganise what remains? The UK, with just Northern Ireland remaining after the Republic exited, would seem too fragmented an empire to maintain. Would they revert to just Great Britain with just Wales (and the assorted cling-ons)? It hardly seems worthwhile. More like is a resurgence of English nationalism (a nation once again) that no longer self-censors its identity in order to placate the other nations.

    Is there any reason why NI could not prosper as an independent country? None, other than it is inoculated with propaganda by various agencies promoting self-serving agendas to the effect that it could not. If it abandoned the kindergarten for the troublesome it calls consociationalism that hamstrings it, and elected a strongly pro-business government, then there is no reason why its people should not prosper as an independent country.

  • frustrated democrat


    Maybe in the 1960’s we could have contemplated independence, however 30 years of republican attempts to destroy the country have created a stuation where almost half the money required comes from GB.

    To get back to a situation where we could contemplate it again means we need 70,000 new private jobs, where are they coming from?

    Scotland aren’t going anywhere and what about Wales do they not exist? However we are only dependent on the votes of people in NI, no one else, which is why the Conservatives will clearly demonstrate why membership of the UK is important to everyone here.

  • cynic

    NI could prosper as an independent country but there would be a fierce short term hit on living standards. The great unwashed on both sides would also face the culture shock of no benefits and having to find real jobs.

  • cynic

    …and for the sake of clarity by ‘great unwashed’ I mean many of our political class

  • Smug O’ Toole

    Now is probably the best time to break up the union. No country in the world is doing well at the moment, so a newly independent Scotland would not be playing catch-up for very long. Every country now has to rebuild itself. Every country has to make sacrifices of some sort.
    We are at the dawn of 21st Century economics, as the depression helped to forge 20th Century economics, this current ‘irritation’ will help forge it. Scotland needs to be in a position to jump on board any new economic global structures which will grow out of this mess to ensure that it rides the crest of the wave of the next bubble.

  • frustrated democrat


    You want riots, talk some sense, we benefit from the union so why should we crash to third world levels because of a failed republican attempt to destroy Northern Ireland which only resulted in the destruction of industry. Not even the stupidist of republicans would vote for that.

    We are in the UK and there we will remain for a very very long time, as Sir Reg said the RoI lost more jobs in one month than our total unemployment, not hard to see why the UK will survive.

  • Dave

    “To get back to a situation where we could contemplate it again means we need 70,000 new private jobs, where are they coming from?” – frustrated democrat on Feb 09, 2009 @ 07:17 AM

    I think this is part of the modern citizen syndrome: people don’t want to work towards a common patriotic goal because they want everything here and now and feck the future generations. This is why they would rather meet a budget deficit by increasing the national debt (for a future generation to repay) rather than balance the books in the here and now.

    You can be independent, but that means that one generation has to make a sacrifice on behalf of another. Of course, if on-one is prepared to do that anymore then what is the point of a nation or its state? None, really – better then to give your sovereignty away.

    The odds are that the Scots will be just as afflicted by modern citizen syndrome as other EU nations, so the odds are that the UK will stay intact.

  • Billy

    Frustrated Democrat

    “they will fight tooth and nail to keep NI in the UK because without it there is no UK”

    What Planet do you live on? The North of Ireland is a NON-ISSUE in GB. The vast majority of British people don’t understand about the North and don’t care. It’s viewed as a pain in the ass that costs the GB taxpayer billions every year.

    Of the very small numberr of UK people who are interested, the majority would be glad to see the North leave the UK and save their tax money.

    For decades, successive British govts have been trying to gradually withdraw from the North and it’s massive financial drain – does the term “spongers” ring a bell? If any UK govt, could have got out of the North without causing a bloody uprising, they would have done so.

    What about a Tory minister saying clearly that the British govt had no “selfish, strategic or economic interest in the North”?

    Apart from a very few (and diminishing) old Tories who think that Britain still has an empire, there is extremely little support for the “Union” with the North in Britain.

    I can see why the GB parties do worry about Scottish independence – it is truly an integral part of the Union and it’s withdrawal would have major consequences.

    The North, on the other hand, is not and never has been an integral part of the Union. Nor is it or has it ever been “as British as Finchley”.

    If the “Union” with the North ended tomorrow, the overwhelming majority of GB folk wouldn’t care and/or would be glad.

    Very very few would be upset about it (certainly not fighting “tooth and nail”).

    Cameron says the right things to project himself as a potential PM of the UK – as he has to do.

    The truth is that he is much more concerned about Scotland (as are Brown and Clegg).

    Like I said, there is extremely little interest in GB in the “Union” with the North and pitiful little support for it.

    If you want to be sucked in by Cameron and delude yourself that there is lots of interest and support for the North in GB, good for you. Any evidence you can provide to support such a supposition would be very interesting.

    Oddly enough, I seem to remember Thatcher loudly proclaiming herself “a Unionist and a Loyalist” – how did that work out for you?

    I think that Cynic is much more in tune with most Unionists that I know than you are.

    They know that the vast majority of British folk don’t give a toss about the North and don’t delude themselves otherwise.

  • frustrated democrat


    It isn’t a supposition it is a fact, David Cameron is committed to the union, you only have to read the speeches and press releases and listen to him and his ministers. You may wish to disregard all of those but you will see for yourself in the next year to eighteen months by looking at the investment and actions what that commitiment means. Actions will always speak louder than any words I can write.

    BTW without Northern Ireland there is no UK only GB. That just isn’t going to happen when the RoI is facing meltdown

    The further we get away from violence and confrontation you will just have to accept that NI is changing and that the old issues of division that the DUP and SF need to flourish are becoming irrelevant. The voters are becoming more interested in the economy, education and health and politicians who have no interest in sectarian division.

    The Conservatives and their partners are here to stay and flourish with an invesment in people, funds and commitment, so get used to it.

  • Billy

    Frustrated Democrat

    Cameron makes speeches proclaiming the Union – so what?

    As I pointed out, and you didn’t answer, Thatcher was banging the drum for Unionism much more than Cameron and what did she do for you?

    I think you’ll find that what Cameron says now and what he does if elected Pm will be two very different things.

    Do you really think that, given the state of the GB he will inherit, he is really going to make the North (with their 1 UUP MP who doesn’t even support the Tories) any sort of priority?

    Why? – It’s a bunch of spongers with a begging bowl economy.

    It’s true that, in the current financial climate, the move towards Irish Unity will stall for a period of time. However, this will not last forever.

    I project that the UUP/Cons will be lucky to have 1 MP from the North (assuming Sylvia Hermon doesn’t run as a independent). If Cameron gets elected PM with a sufficient majority in Britain, I think you’ll find that the North will be extremely low in his list of priorites.

    His genuine concern is Scottish independence. No-one really gives a shit about the North – nothing new there then.

    Like I said, Irish Unity will certainly be stalled for a period of time.

    However, if you really think that Cameron is truly concerned about keeping the North as an “integral” part of the Union (which it has never been), then Posh Boy has really sucked you in.

    After an election (assuming Cameron is PM), the DUP + SF will still be the two largest parties in Stormont, the UUP will be absolutely nowhere and conveniently forgotten by Cameron, and the overwhelming majority of people in Britian still won’t give a shit about the North.

  • frustrated democrat


    Thatcher is from history and even she said she was mislead by the NIO and regretted what happened. There are of course many examples of people here who said one thing and did another Gerry Adams and Ian Paisley for two and I haven’t seen them admitting they were wrong or expressing regret.

    There are already hundreds of paid up Conservatives members in NI and membership is growing rapidly. So the Conservatives in Northern Ireland are now a local party with local people not as you seem to infer some ‘import from abroad’.

    The local leaders and membership are all committed to the union and work very closely with London and the Shadow Cabinet to formulate policies for Northern Ireland. The policies are not imposed from HQ and are often led by the local party and agreed with HQ.

    That means that your suggesting that NI will be ‘dumped’ by David Cameron isn’t possible, even if there was a remote chance he wanted to, as the local party is fully involved with central policies in relation to NI.

    As I said before, wait for the actions and judge the Conservatives committment then.