Signs are emerging that the Westminster village, which usually treats north of Hampstead Heath as terra incognita, is at last waking up to the real threat of Scottish independence. The contrast couldn’t be starker between the obsession of the English right wing with a phantom referendum over Europe and the real one in Scotland that is almost upon us. The Times (£) reports pressure on David Cameron to ban Scottish candidates from the 2015 General election if Scotland votes Yes in September – a constitutional no man’s land whose terrain has yet to be properly explored. .
A vote for independence would trigger a constitutional crisis and 16 months of negotiations over how national assets are divided up either side of the Border. The general election would come halfway through the negotiations, in a major headache for the Westminster parties whose attention would be split. The current assumption is that there would still be elections to the Westminster Parliament in 2015 in Scotland alongside the rest of the UK, but Scottish MPs would then vacate their seats in March 2016 when the new nation comes into being.
Ben Brogan, a candid friend of Conservatism, blogs in the Daily Telegraph
England and its political classes have failed to grasp how deadly serious this referendum is, how catastrophic the consequences for the rest of the UK would be to lose Scotland and with it a significant chunk of its landmass, talent, and resources… Mr Cameron worries his voice only serves to provoke Scotland against the Union, and that anything that smacks of English whinging about the outcome gives Scots an additional reason to vote Yes. But his other problem is that on the benches of the Conservative and Unionist Party sit plenty of MPs who are happy to sacrifice the Union to advance the cause of taking the UK – in fact, England – out of Europe.
Westminster hasn’t yet focused its mind on the referendum though. The consensus is that the European elections have to be gotten out of the way first. After that a bigger effort will be made. From June David Cameron will step up his involvement in Scotland, perhaps modelling himself on John Major who made saving the Union a personal theme. I gather too that Gordon Brown, who has made a couple of high profile appearances, has been persuaded to take greater role in Scotland after the euro-elections. He may be a write-off down here, but in Scotland he is still viewed with a degree of respect and even affection that gives him permission to be heard on this issue.
Steve Richards of the centre left, writes in the Independent
The anxieties whirling around the Better Together campaign are wholly understandable and yet irrational. They are understandable because the stakes are so high. If voters were to back independence there would be a volcanic eruption in British politics without precedent since 1945. In the short term it is possible that David Cameron would be forced to resign as the Prime Minister who oversaw the break-up of the UK against his wishes. This places Cameron in the weirdly contorted position of aching for a national opinion poll lead for his party while knowing that such a development could boost the independence campaign in anti-Tory Scotland more than any other factor. That is Darling’s view – that a Tory poll lead would be the best possible gift to Salmond. What an irony that what Cameron most wants could destroy him.
Scotland becomes a political reality then, because of the possible fate of David Cameron. It’s one way of looking at it I suppose.
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