Cameron’s Dilemma: 5 Years – that’s all we got? (with no apologies to David Bowie)

No exit polls for the two Scottish debates this week, allowing anyone to claim victory (although the two online polls I quoted earlier this week said differently), even Michael Gove emphatically arguing that Ruth Davidson won the first. The next debate will be on April 16th, which will be like the Big Seven Leaders’ Debate last week, except minus the actual government representatives of the PM (the Conservative leader Cameron) and Clegg (the LibDem leader and deputy PM).

In terms of general polling, one that did come out recently seemed to show the SNP down to 43% and Labour up to 33% – 10% is the smallest gap between those two parties for a very long time, and as it was partly conducted over the ’FrenchGate weekend’, one wonders if that is showing the start of an impact from that particular smear campaign. YouGov’s April 9th ‘NowCast’ has Labour ahead UK-wide on 277, Conservatives on 264, SNP 55 – but with several constituencies ‘softening’ towards the SNP, and one (Dunfermline) now going to Labour instead. Again…is this the start of a longer-term softening?

But – soft – for here comes YouGov in The Times today – Friday 10th April – with a poll taken over the 8th/9th April, addressing political support across Scotland, and asking about the first (2 hour STV) Scottish Leaders Debate: it puts the SNP on a record high of 49% (+3), Labour 25% (-4), Conservatives 18%, LibDems doing slightly better on 4%. For those who watched the STV debate and were taking part in that YouGov poll, the winner was supposedly: 56% Nicola Sturgeon (including 88% of SNP voters), Ruth Davidson 14%, Jim Murphy 13% (including 44% of Labour voters), Willie Rennie 1% (bless).

A record high in YouGov, suggests that maybe the softening might not have legs – indeed, perhaps the subsequent revelation from ‘FrenchGate’ of what Martin Hannan described as a piece of “grubby espionage” caused a rebound. Nothing unites people in Scotland to feel well-disposed towards the SNP more than feeling that they are being attacked as Scots, for being Scots, or for daring to have different political choices. This seemed to be something that the Conservative-led ‘No’ campaign never seemed to understand, with its often ham-fisted attempts to ‘woo’ and patronize the Referendum electorate.

So Cameron needs to ramp up the attack, if he truly does not want the SNP to win. You see, as much as Cameron might want the SNP to do well enough to mortally wound Labour in Scotland, and so reduce their number of MPs and thus the chances of Labour being part of the next government, he does NOT want the SNP to hold the balance of power, and significantly influence policy away from the austerity that protects his party’s wealthier sponsors, or the UK’s disproportionate nuclear weapons programme. So he has to try to get a balance that gets him what he wants…inevitably leading to accusations from both sides that Labour or the SNP are ‘in cahoots’ with the Conservatives for this election campaign…depending on who Cameron judges he has to be the most mean to, on a particular day.

Speaking of which, David Cameron is sometimes hard to read, isn’t he? I mean, there are times when he is fairly clunkingly obvious – remarking in one interview that he knows the ‘FrenchGate’ memo that came from the Scotland Office was not leaked by the Deputy Minister there (coincidentally, the only Conservative MP in Scotland – David Mundell – although he, like Jim Murphy, seems to have decided to leave the name of his own political party off his electoral publicity, presumably because he sees it as a liability?). Which, of course, means that, by dint of omission, he fingers Mundell’s boss, the LibDem buffoon Carmichael, as having done it, applying that little bit of pressure to his ‘coalition colleagues’.

Then there was Cameron’s bizarre declaration about 3 weeks ago, that he would not stand for a third term as Prime Minister. If there was a question that no one was asking – that was really it. That is a question that gets raised AFTER a second term has been won – not before. We were treated to a 5 minute ‘at home in Dave’s kitchen’ piece on BBC News (not quite as much of a party political broadcast as Gordon Brown’s 50 minute live show from Loanhead Miners Club, but there was a similar lack of balance), with James Landale cosily hanging with the Camerons, while Dave ‘incidentally’ mentioned he wouldn’t go for a third term. Was Cameron’s unprompted statement that he was leaving, simply an attempt to wrest column inches back from his opponents, so that the focus is back on the Conservatives, rather than who might replace them – and in what sort of a deal? (Naturally, Boris Johnson shot ahead of Osborne and Teresa May in the odds to replace Cameron as leader.) And then, this policy of trying to reframe the narrative in terms of ‘what happens after I win my second term of office’, seemed to be underscored by Samantha Cameron doing an interview with the Mail on Sunday at the weekend, arguing that her husband should have another 5 years as Prime Minister, because of the wonderfully moral and protective society he was building (although it is not clear where this proto-utopia is located…perhaps in the kitchen, with Landale?).

If it was a tactic to get the Conservatives back on to the front pages, then it did not work for too long – but he probably was not expecting Nicola to explode on to the UK political psyche so fast at the start of the formal General Election campaign, as she did during the Leaders’ Debate. So, this week, Cameron has fought back, saying on Wednesday that he would not sanction another Scottish Referendum – except he has a problem with saying that, as the precedent has now been established that if Scots vote for a party at Holyrood with that in its manifesto, then they have that right – and any such denial would not go down well with a Scottish electorate.

But Cameron has good reason to wish to avoid another Referendum, with the arguments still raging over whether ANY substantive ‘Vow’ looks like being delivered without an SNP bloc vote in Westminster. A study of 7,000 voters by University of Edinburgh showed that 69% of those questioned in Scotland believe that Scotland will become independent, echoed by 59% in England and Northern Ireland, and a slightly more pessimistic 54% in Wales. Data from IPSOS-MORI for the BBC this week showed 32% of Scots rated another independence referendum within 5 years as extremely important – 10/10 on IPSO-MORI’s point scale – roughly matching the 31% who gave it 1/10 – it should never happen again – with only 27% saying that an EU in/out referendum was ‘very important’. When one breaks it down into the undecided (the mid-point of the scale, for most people, 5), opposed/less important (1-4) and very important (6-10), the figures come out at 51%, 7%, 42% – a majority in favour of another referendum (and I am guessing most of them do not want another referendum just for the opportunity to say ‘no’ for a second time) within the next 5 years.

As support for independence has risen, post-Referendum, it is hardly democratic for other parties to insist on it being eliminated as an option for the foreseeable future – that is an arrogance of politicians above the electorate that they serve. But they know that now, rather than crushing aspirations towards independence, the Referendum campaign has boosted that interest to a 50 year high. AND – for the first time – that is also reflected in a high number of votes for the SNP (prospectively) in both Holyrood and Westminster, as that party’s credibility has soared as never before. So Westminster will not be looking at a rematch any time soon, when their record of very poor delivery on Smith is so fresh in the Scottish public memory.

And that rising tide for political change is – rather like the SNP – not solely focused on independence without any of the other possible interim steps: in the same survey, of the top seven Scottish political priorities described as 10/10 ‘very important’, three were more powers for Holyrood from Westminster (full control of welfare – 35%, full control of income tax – 34%, ability to increase benefits and pensions – 38%). [For completeness I should note that the favourite was an SNP policy, of adopting the living wage as the minimum wage, on 43%, with an energy price freeze for 20 months on 41%, and a guarantee that pensions will rise over the next 5 years – 37%.]

[Only 8% regarded the renewal and upgrade of Trident as ‘very important’.]

With 57% of respondents placing a high priority (even just at points 7-10) on full DevoMax (everything except foreign affairs and defence to Holyrood) one recalls a quote from the aforementioned University of Edinburgh study: when they spoke to some of the participants in the Smith Commission, a comment came back that “they may have underestimated the public appetite for continued constitutional discussion.” Gee, no shit, Sherlock…although, when one examines the submissions to said Smith Commission, it is hard to see how those participants could really have missed that ‘appetite’: analysis of the 18,000 responses to the call for consultation for the Smith Commission shows 97% of petitions and campaign letters called for all taxation and welfare to be devolved to the Scottish Parliament, 72% requesting Home Rule/DevoMax, most of the rest calling for ‘The Vow’ to be honoured or full independence.

And yet what was produced as ‘The Vow Delivered’ was the diluted devo package – eruditely likened by Paul Kavanagh to devolution Jenga, trying to hollow it out as much as possible without the whole thing collapsing in a really obvious way.

But back to Cameron’s dilemma, and trying to take back the oxygen of publicity from the SNP in the campaign. It was probably this tactic that got him to get Michael Fallon to make his ‘all foreigners make the world a scary place that should probably be nuked’ speech yesterday, with his inflation of 520 jobs into ‘the largest employer in Scotland’ (see yesterday’s post: Trident: Three Reasons for ‘Red Ed’ to agree to the Red Line Issue). It looks like a pretty clear attempt to wrest control of the debate, and the initiative, back from the SNP – having resoundingly lost it. I wonder how well it will work? The oress will no doubt play their part for him…

When a Conservative Minister takes the time to describe the leader of the SNP as arrogant, firstly you think how black the pot is looking these days, and then you realise they must really be getting worried, to be doing this only one week into a 5 week General Election campaign.

 

“In that Westminster difficulty, there lies an opportunity for Scotland” (Alex Salmond)

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