UK-government referendum on Scottish independence: bring it on, Mr Cameron!

Given the almighty mess he is in over the ‘Hackgate’ scandal, and the all-too cosy relationship he has cultivated with Rupert Murdoch and his News International organisation, I can’t think of anything more bonkers that David Cameron could do than force an early referendum on Scottish independence, as he is reported to be considering.

The risks in so doing would be huge, and the chances are that the Scottish people would give Mr Cameron a bloody nose and vote for independence, especially if the referendum were billed as a ‘consultative’ poll: a vote on the principle of separation, with the fine details to be decided in subsequent negotiations between the UK and Scottish governments, while the eventual deal would be submitted for the Scottish people’s endorsement in a second referendum.

Mr Cameron might be tempted to call Mr Salmond’s bluff in this way in order to make a stand for the legitimacy and authority of UK governance at a time when these are being called into question as never before. This is almost a classic case of scapegoating: projecting the threat to the established order onto an easy external target and scoring a quick victory over it, rather than addressing the root causes of the body politic’s internal malaise. If Cameron lost his referendum, then not only the moral authority but the very existence of the present UK system of governance would be in doubt. This is because Scottish independence effectively brings Great Britain (the product of the 1707 Acts of Union) to an end, and opens up the possibility of fundamentally redesigning the UK or scrapping it altogether. Mr Cameron would then have doubly undermined the British establishment’s claims to legitimacy: firstly, by allowing a corrupt, venal and ruthlessly neo-liberal media organisation undue influence over policy and government appointments (a failing his government shares with those of his predecessors); and secondly, by putting the whole UK state on trial in Scotland and being found wanting.

Even if Cameron won his referendum, this would be only a pyrrhic victory because Alex Salmond would still go ahead and hold his own referendum asking a question or questions of his own choosing, and at a time that suited him. Salmond would quite justifiably be able to claim that the SNP had been elected into government in Scotland on the promise that it, not the UK government, would organise a referendum towards the end of the Scottish government’s present term in office. If, for example, Cameron’s referendum offered a choice between full independence – however defined – and the moderately beefed-up form of devolution that is presently going through Parliament in the guise of the Scotland Bill (i.e. essentially the proposals of the Calman Commission), Salmond could design his referendum around a more subtle, fine-grained set of options, ranging from Calman (i.e. the status quo) via devolution max to independence lite (full sovereignty for Scotland while retaining a social and economic union with the rest of the UK).

Hence, by organising his own referendum, Cameron would also be calling the UK government into disrepute, potentially heaping even further humiliation on itself. The referendum would be a redundant, vacuous exercise that would only have to be re-done further down the line, making the government itself look undignified and desperate – which I suppose it is.

Cameron’s premature referendum would therefore solve none of the present crisis of legitimacy at Westminster while potentially making it a whole lot worse. On top of which, News International’s final act of revenge against the British establishment it despises could be to use the Scottish Sun newspaper to whip up resentment in Scotland towards the arrogance expressed in Cameron’s referendum. After all, the Murdoch paper has already supported the SNP in last May’s elections to the Scottish parliament.

So I would just like to say one last thing with regard to Cameron’s bluff and bluster about an independence referendum. I’d like to throw back in Cameron’s face the words with which he taunted the new prime minister Gordon Brown at the Conservative Party conference in 2007 and dared him to hold a general election: ‘bring it on!’. Or is he going to bottle it, as did Brown?

So yes, bring it on, Mr Cameron!

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3 Responses

  1. Cameron should be compelled to call Scotland’s pretendy-inde party’s bluff.

    That Salmond’s SNP should be permitted to keep such a profound constitutional question hanging over and destabilising England’s fragile economy for years merely to screw even more money out of English taxpayers is outrageous.

  2. Cameron should call a referendum in England on English independence. That would cause a stir because there’s a good chance England would vote YES!

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