Interesting sub-plot to Cameron's speech
Wasn’t that a simply fascinating little al fresco speech by David Cameron in Edinburgh today? I was particularly intrigued by the sub-plot.
This was a speech defending the Union. However, it was plainly also designed to bolster the Conservative and Unionist Party.
Annabel Goldie has had to endure a few murmurs of discontent since Thursday when she committed the Scots Tories to working with Labour and the Lib Dems to set up a Commission to review devolution.
There have been one or two grumbles to the effect that this was scarcely the moment for the Tories to be on the same side as Scottish Labour and their leader Wendy Alexander.
Should not the Tories, say the grumblers, be adding to the perturbations afflicting Ms Alexander, rather than backing her in a Parliamentary motion?
No, says Ms Goldie. The prize is bigger than that. And no, says Mr Cameron. Ms Goldie, apparently, is to be applauded for her “courage and determination”.
However, there was another sub-plot to the Cameron speech. The Tories, he said, would continue to pursue such tricky matters as the West Lothian question and the Barnett formula.
But not, it would appear, with particular vigour. Or, more accurately, not if such vigorous investigation should threaten the Union itself.
Mr Cameron spelled it out: “Better an imperfect union than a broken one. Better an imperfect union than a perfect divorce.”
Why this compromise? Because, apparently, there are “those in England who want the SNP to succeed.”
These individuals, we were told, “seek to use grievances to foster a narrow English nationalism.”
Would this band of absolute rotters include the (Tory) backbenchers who complain, frequently and volubly, about “subsidies” to Scotland?
Does it include the (Tory) frontbencher Alan Duncan who suggested that Gordon Brown couldn’t become PM because he represented a Scottish seat?
Perhaps wisely, Mr Cameron did not say. He confined himself to arguing that he would choose the Union over an objective of “constitutional perfection”.
Which means what, in practice? The Tories will question Barnett – but only as part of a UK wide review of funding.
The Tories will look at English votes for English issues in the Commons – but won’t shout about it too much in case it frightens the horses in the Union stable.
Every Conservative leader since John Major lost power has been tempted to play to an English gallery over grievances, real and exaggerated.
Every Conservative leader since John Major has concluded that such a strategy, while superficially attractive in terms of votes, runs counter to supporting the Union.
I believe David Cameron has now arrived at the same position.