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Burns an' a' that

Brian Taylor | 16:55 UK time, Friday, 23 May 2008

I doubt they'll be served with "hamely fare" at the Tory conference dinner in Ayr this evening.

But David Cameron evinced a considerable sympathy for "honest poverty".

Late this afternoon, he was blethering about Burns with youngsters in auld Ayr who are keen to learn more about their local bard. Haggis was much mentioned.

But earlier Mr Cameron offered a more prosaic, yet passionate, take on Scotland's current condition.

Choosing from the Burnsian canon, the Tory leader is more in tune with the Unionist sentiments of "Does haughty Gaul invasion threat?" than the Nationalist onslaught on the parcel o' rogues.

His speech was an emphatic defence of the Union - together with an assertion that he'd rumbled Alex Salmond.

Mr Salmond, he suggested, would rather like a Tory Government in the UK - provided it neglected and undermined Scotland, prompting an enhanced desire for independence.

By contrast, Mr Cameron said that, whatever happens in the years ahead he'd govern the UK, including Scotland, with "respect." Intriguing word.

But, you know, they're really chipper here in Ayr. I guess that's what a massive by-election swing does for you.

They believe, they really believe, that Cameron, D. is heading for Downing Street.

How would he handle Scotland if and when he gets there? Change there would be.

Perhaps more powers for Holyrood through the Calman Commission.
(I say again: the Tories are in that Commission because they expect to have to deal with devolution post-2010. They expect to be in power.)

Probably English votes on English issues in the Commons - if that can be sorted.

And a review of the Barnett Formula. Or, more accurately, of the entire basis for allocation of public spending across the UK. In short, a needs review.

To be clear, Mr Cameron has said that before. To be clear, Barnett is not currently helping Scotland: it is Barnett which means that the percentage increase devoted to Scotland is less than in England.

Further, Mr Cameron - and Annabel Goldie - insist that they will do nothing which harms Scotland and, thus, jeopardises the Union.

But this is becoming intriguing. The Calman Commission introduces a new spending system for Scotland? Outcome? Almost certainly a UK needs-review, perhaps driven by the Treasury under the present Labour Government.

Alternatively, David Cameron comes to power. Result? A UK needs-review, perhaps driven by the Treasury under a Conservative Government.

Time to get out the "hodden grey"? Cash cuts in Scotland? Perhaps - but there is a considerable argument to be had. Both Labour and the Tories want to placate growing English disquiet over Scotland's proclaimed spending "advantage".

But neither wants to give Alex Salmond any more gift-wrapped opportunities to attract support. That would be ganging rather more agley than they intend.

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