The tempo is picking up at last with maybe just a hint of panic? The BBC, the Times£, the FT, even the Sun are splashing David Cameron’s defence of the Union in the patriotic venue of the Olympic Park.
The future of the United Kingdom is up in the air, David Cameron will warn today as he urges every Briton with a friend or family member in Scotland to persuade them to vote against independence..
My argument is that though only four million people can vote in this referendum, all 63 million of us are profoundly affected [by the vote on 18 September]”.And those 63 million could “wake up on 19 September in a different country with a different future ahead of it”, he will say… There can be no complacency about the result of this referendum,” he will say.
“So to everyone in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, everyone, like me, who cares about the United Kingdom, I want to say this: you don’t have a vote but you do have a voice.
The SNP predictably jeer that Cameron is frit to debate head to head with Salmond in Scotland. But Cameron is right to duck that one. His low reason is that a direct confrontation between the English toff whose party has but one seat in Scotland would be a gift to the wily First Minister. The lofty reason is that it would diminish the status of the UK Prime Minister to debate on equal terms with a leader of lesser status . Anyway shouldn’t the debate be between those who have a vote, as between Salmond and Alastair Darling the leader of Better Together?
All the same, there’s a big uneasy feeling that there’s a lot missing from the No campaign. For one thing, the SNP is a compact single force facing a row of other parties divided among themselves and in some cases inside themselves, over the rival attraction of how much extra devolution to offer the Scots if they vote to remain. And something even more fundamental, a clear vision of the modern Union is lacking. Both gaps were showing in a Lords debate last week when the ranks of retired Scottish politicians cried doom at the prospect of separation and wrung their hands but little else.
Former Scottish secretary Ian Lang raised the issue :
“We need to refresh our understanding of what the United Kingdom is, its strengths and its core values. We need renewal. In short, what we need is a new unionism—a unionism that unites us, binds us and brings us together again and brings constitutional stability to the whole United Kingdom.”
He and others spoke of more devolution after the referendum (which begs the question) rather like the old Home Rule all round. But more devolution hardly makes the heart sing compared to crying freedom. And anyway, should “more devo” not be on the agenda now?
Peter Hennessy trilled:
“I have always had “a certain idea” of Scotland… If we are still together, it will be necessary to sing a song of the benefits of union. The union quite simply is a 300 year-old international success story. It has done great things for our people and for the world in peace and war. It can still do more, much more.
Why wait until we know if we are” still together?“ Doesn’t that leave it too late?
Here surely is the intellectual deficiency. What is the contemporary British “certain idea? “ What is the song of a “new Union” that will impress the massed ranks of floaters and waverers among Scottish voters? What is the “much, much more?” The post-imperial absence of a British patriotic idea aside from conflict has yet to addressed. It has to be about more than the battered NHS and the BBC.
The final missing link is in the question, does the rest of the UK, meaning mainly the English really care? Cameron is trying to stir up a positive response. My colleague Alan Trench has spotted a whole new idea. What about love bombing the Scots to stick with us?
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