Tory David Cameron in Union battle cry
- 23 March 2012
- From the section Scotland politics
A trio of messages from the Prime Minister, here at the Scottish Conservative Party conference in Troon - two of them closely inter-related.
Firstly, he urged the First Minister to "stop dithering" and to hold his referendum asap - and certainly well before the scheduled timescale of Autumn 2014.
I imagine that, even now, in Bute House, Alex Salmond has grabbed a towel and sought official advice as to where he might throw it in. "It's all over", I see him wailing. Might as well hold the ballot right away.
Of course neither I - nor the Prime Minister - anticipate anything of the sort. David Cameron could call a referendum himself under reserved powers, if he so chose and if he thought that timing was the key issue.
He does not do so because he fears that there might be a backlash with claims of overweening intervention. He fears, in short, that he might lose. In similar fashion, Mr Salmond prefers to hold his ballot when the economic circumstances might - just might - be more propitious and when he calculates his rivals will be fighting each other with a UK General Election just round the corner.
In short, he does not go to the polls now because he fears he might lose - or that there might be a greater chance of a victory later. (Yes and because he promised such a delay - but ask yourself why he made that promise in the first place.)
So timing is not the core argument. Mr Cameron makes his demand because he thinks it may have salience with the electorate, might help him to paint Alex Salmond as a "feartie", to borrow a phrase deployed by Annabel Goldie on my Big Debate at lunchtime.
In response, Mr Salmond says that he has the courage to set out his own prospectus in his own time. When, he wonders, will the Conservatives put forward some detail re the possible new powers for Holyrood to which Mr Cameron referred again today? The reply appears to be that that is primarily a post-referendum matter.
And so to the two further linked issues in the Prime Minister's speech. That he and his party will "fight for the United Kingdom with everything we've got". And that the Tories in Scotland should declare "enough of the hand-wringing", opting instead to stand up vigorously for Conservative values.
How are these two related? Because the Tory decline in Scotland is not purely a factor of their policies or their ideological stance.
It is related to the constitutional question. Fairly or otherwise, they came to be seen as "other than Scots", as a primarily English party. In common with centre right parties across Europe and the globe, they played the patriotic card - they just picked the wrong patriotism, for electoral success.
They were eagerly brandishing the Union flag - while Scots were, more and more, clutching the Saltire. It was not simply that they previously stood out against self-government in Scotland. It was that they appeared not to resonate with the fundamental Scots identity which generated the demand for self-governance in the first place.
Mr Cameron addressed this issue directly when he accused the SNP of suggesting that the Saltire was Nationalist property. That is a familiar complaint of Unionist parties. But he went further, translating that complaint into an analysis of the strategy to be pursued by Tories in Scotland.
It would be, he suggested, defiantly Scottish, with policies made in Scotland for a Scottish manifesto supervised by the Scottish leader, Ruth Davidson. Not him. Not London.
Consider this line from the PM's speech. "You can be even prouder of your Scottish heritage than your British heritage - as many in Scotland are - and still believe that Scotland is better off in Britain."
This is the PM's syllogism. Support the team and wear the colours. The Scottish team, that is. Not just in tandem with Britishness - but ahead of it. That is your identity, your nationality. But, in addition, do the sums, make the calculation - and opt for the global clout and the sizeable economy that is the UK.
And, having done that, he told the party, no more shrinking, no more apologies. Stand up energetically for Conservative values which, he argued, would in normal circumstances resonate as well in Perthshire as in Yorkshire.
This is, of course, a modified version of strategies which have been tried in the past - without notable success. Tory leaders have appealed, sometimes stridently, to the nation of Adam Smith. Said nation has, equally stridently, rejected the message.
But there is one difference. Mr Cameron believes that the independence referendum will hand an opportunity to his party, implicitly arguing that the Tories are the most Unionist of all Mr Salmond's rivals. That campaign, he implies, will give the Tories a confidence which, he argued, could be transferred to other issues such as the economy and social policy.
It is a strategy which has been enthusiastically advanced internally by Ruth Davidson. Get over Thatcher, as she told me in a webcast interview. If you're Tory and you know it, clap your hands….
Will it work? Get back to you on that one.