Well, of course, one should never take social media terribly seriously, but I just read something on FaceBook that enraged me.
I know, it’s the day of the second (and likely to be the last) Referendum debate, and I should be focusing on slightly higher things – but it was – loosely – related. You see, there was some coverage of Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon doing the ‘ice bucket challenge’ for charity over the weekend, and (as with anything referring to Alex) there was a raft of comments…including one in particular. You see, you are apparently supposed to ‘nominate’ three individuals to carry your challenge forward, so after declaring that he was fund-raising for motor neurone disease, Alex had understandably (and predictably) put David Cameron’s name forward. Someone had commented on the amount of stick that Cameron was receiving for not participating, saying that he was quite right not to, and people wanting to criticise him “should perhaps remember his son Ivan”.
Ivan Cameron died at the age of 6, having been born with cerebral palsy and an extreme form of epilepsy known as Ohtahara Syndrome – famously on the occasion of his son’s death, David Cameron thanked everyone in the health service who had helped, and that he would cut the deficit and not the health service. It seems to have been a human moment that won him a lot of compassion and support, a moment where in tragedy he stated his commitment to protect the most sacred part of British society.
Except, of course, things haven’t really turned out that way, have they? With the increasing cuts and privatisation of the NHS (England and Wales) which have a direct knock-on effect to the budget of the Scottish Government’s block grant (and hence to the standards of provision in NHS Scotland), that promise of protection is starting to look hollow. And with the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) deal between the European Union and the US leaving state services wide open to competition from US based multinationals, it begins to look like a shockingly cynical, and tasteless exercise. As Derek Bateman has noted, David Cameron made the decision to being his son into the political arena once dead, then linked him directly to the future of the NHS. This inevitably meant that if Cameron failed to stand by his pledge to protect the health service, then this would be viewed as something of a rather opportunistic stunt.
Perhaps – unlikely though it seems – Cameron genuinely believes that in some curious way he IS ‘protecting’ the NHS. But I find it rather hard to empathise with the FaceBook poster, who sought to protect David Cameron using the name of his dead son in much the same way that Cameron used his dead son to say that he would protect the health service. The story of David Cameron’s son is of course a tragedy – but Cameron is the one that now looks to have been trying to make political capital out of it. As such, people cannot use his son as a shield to protect his father from ever being criticised for not facing up to his responsibilities, and the fact that someone would use Cameron’s tragedy in such a way did, I confess, make me rather angry.
Unfortunately, this also makes me reflect rather negatively on David Cameron’s absence with regard to the debate tonight. His protectors have sought to argue that it is ‘not his place’ to be involved in the Referendum debate. Which would be fair enough – except that by arranging regular visits from Conservative Cabinet Ministers to argue against independence, directing the Westminister civil service to pour its resources (though refusing to divulge how much they have actually spent) into producing reports arguing against independence, using the Foreign Office to lobby internationally against Scottish independence and request external interventions form the external community, as well as utilising the London political press officers to do so, the Prime Minister and his government are hardly ‘leaving it to the Scots’. Of course, as David Cameron realises, Westminister’s policies are the absolute heart of why independence is an issue today, and therefore it is most appropriate for the current leader there to defend the record of that system. And that is why Cameron will not debate with the First Minister, because he does not want this to be Westminster’s record of governance being put on public trial – especially if this starts to show others in the UK that the independence debate is not about ‘anti-Englishness’ at all, but about a problem of government that many of them will all too readily recognise.
Contrary to what he has publicly stated, David Cameron is very obviously very directly involved in the Referendum debate. What he doesn’t want, is to be accountable for that involvement.
“When a political system has alienated you and the people around you so thoroughly and for so long, wanting to rip it up and start again is a perfectly reasonable response.” (Kieran Hurley, Playwright)