Get out there, David Cameron, and save the United Kingdom
Or go down in history as the man who lost Scotland and left England’s backdoor open to danger
DAVID CAMERON is in danger of going down in history as the prime minister who “lost” Scotland, and paved the way for a rump UK to leave the European Union; remembered in the same way as Lord North, the prime minister who “lost” the American colonies.
There are many similarities between the two men: Eton and Oxford; adjacent Oxfordshire constituencies (North sat for Banbury, Cameron sits for Witney); both respected as devoted family men – one of the reasons George III appointed North was that he admired his regular family life, unusual in an age of whoring, gambling and hard-drinking.
There is an additional melancholy connection: the last prime minister to lose a vote on a matter of war and peace before David Cameron lost the vote on military intervention in Syria was… Lord North.
However, there is one really important difference: North never had his heart in the conflict with the American colonies. Whereas David Cameron has said repeatedly that he is a passionate supporter of the Union between England and Scotland and wants us to remain in the EU, albeit under new rules.
Yet the prime minister and his advisers, caught in the headlights of the cargo-cult of “representative diversity”, have decided that on the question of independence only a Scotsman can appeal to other Scotsmen - and therefore he cannot perform his job and his duty and campaign actively to preserve the Union.
I tend rather to agree with PG Wodehouse about Scotsmen (except of course my brother guardsmen in the Scots Guards): "It's not difficult to distinguish between a Scotsman with a grievance and a ray of sunshine."
Part of me couldn’t care less about Scottish independence. But the primary argument against separation - looking at it from the English interest - is that for the first time since 1603 England will have a land border with a foreign power. It’s what kept Elizabeth I and many of her predecessors awake at night – the country is a giant and dangerous backdoor into England.
An independent Scotland will almost certainly be viscerally hostile and quickly bankrupt. Spain will veto its membership of the EU and it will quickly debauch its currency – whatever that may be.
If you want an idea of what the relationship between the two countries is going to be like, look at the Irish Republic from its foundation in 1921 until recently.
A narrow-minded elite dominated the political system, enforcing a rigid and exclusionist sense of Irishness. Irish seamen were observed rejoicing in the bars of Singapore as the city fell into the hands of the Japanese and a brutal occupation for all who did not enjoy “neutral” status. Not that neutral if you remember. The ghastly Eamon de Valera, then prime minister and later president, infamously signed the book of condolence at the German embassy in Dublin when Hitler died. Protocol apparently demanded it.
It has taken the Irish more than 90 years to emerge from their puerile anti-Britishness – the journey from a bigot like de Valera to the current president Michael Higgins whose erudition, wit and warmth were so uplifting on his recent state visit.
Salmond’s Scotland is going to be like de Valera’s Ireland – hostile and chippy and not much different if he narrowly loses the referendum. The only way to ‘scotch’ his nationalist fantasies is to ensure that the Scots vote against independence, convincingly. And that means the prime minister of the United Kingdom campaigning hard to preserve that United Kingdom.
Coolness by a leader under fire can be impressive – think of the Duke of Wellington at Waterloo, impassive as his young aides de camp, whom he loved as sons, were killed and wounded around him – one of them shot dead as he was trying to persuade the duke to put more distance between himself and the French. But it’s a military not a political virtue – useful on the battlefield not in the bear pit of politics.
Get out there, Mr Cameron – you are cleverer than Alex Salmond, better on your feet. Don’t be frightened. Your opponent was once an economist for the Royal Bank of Scotland – like being a lookout on Titanic; and unusually for a Scotsman he looks absurd in a kilt. Lock horns, go for the jugular – make the case for the Union.
The same goes for Ukip, essentially a party of protest - not just about the EU, but about an arrogant political elite and uncontrolled immigration. Both these matters could easily be put right. Next time, sack Mrs Miller on day one. But the real way to scupper Ukip would be to get a grip of our borders. Dramatically reduce immigration and put in place a system whereby criminals like Mafia dons wanted by the Italian authorities can’t get off the deportation hook thanks to an activist left-wing judiciary.
If a mainstream political party would actually do these things many Ukip supporters, including Nigel Farage I suspect, would happily return to their golf clubs.