The Spin Room

So what just happened? Watching the body language, maneuvering and positioning is fascinating. Salmond welcomes Cameron, and hand on back ushers him into a room before sitting in front of a huge yellow map. The table was tiny, the whole set-up to be as uncomfortable as possible. Moore seems inconsequential, a mere bag-carrier.

Previously through the day Cameron had gone through a choreographed “I’m visiting Scotland” routine. Dave eats porridge, poses with his MP and his new Scottish leader (allegedly) in front of the Forth Rail Bridge (Scottish icon), then declares that ‘the Union’s not about the past’ before citing John Knox, Adam Smith, James Maxton, RLS, James Watt and so on (and on). Having established that a) he was in Scotland b) he liked porridge and c) he had a great grasp of Scottish history and knew where Aberdeen was, he then made some very odd statements, including: ‘There are now more Scots living in England and English people living in Scotland than ever before. And almost half of Scots now have English relatives.’

What does that actually mean? It seems predicated on some weird notion of ethnicity. The London press pack remain confused by how today went and what the hell’s going on.

Gary Gibbon for C4 News suggests: “David Cameron’s on his way home and his aides are describing his 40 minute meeting with Alex Salmond as “frustrating” and producing “no progress.” I think there’s a bit of play-acting going on. There will be no real challenge to the 2014 timetable. There may be controversy over votes for 16 and 17 year-olds but the real haggling question is over Devo Max. This is a good back-stop for both sides, and for that reason it may end up being on the ticket. But Salmond can only risk so much without looking desperate, and Moore and Cameron have to stick to the party line that they just want one simple question.

Responses and analysis of today’s Jack in the Box constitutional politics are mixed. Alex Massie wrote in gushing approval: “This was One Nation Dave in excelsis.” But over at the New Statesman Jamie Maxwell fairly guts Cameron’s performance: first pointing out that Cameron didn’t even seem to know that Scotland already has tax-raising powers, and second that his emphasis on ‘fairer’ in Britain was downright bizarre:

“Cameron gave the distinct impression of someone who hadn’t seriously examined his opponent’s arguments. At times, in fact, he gave the impression of someone who hadn’t really examined his own. “Scotland”, he said, “is richer and fairer as part of the UK”. But the facts simply don’t back this up.”

Over the last 35 – 40 years, North Sea oil production has generated as much as £300bn in tax revenues for the UK Exchequer, yet Scottish rates of income inequality have skyrocketed while social mobility has stagnated. Only a Home Counties Conservative could describe that as “fair”.

Over at Channel 4 News, Gary Gibbon seemed to be getting a bit confused, writing: “It was interesting to hear David Cameron earlier issue a clarion cry to Gordon Brown, John Reid and Alistair Darling to rally to the union jack and do their bit for the campaign. It’s an acknowledgement of his own political weakness in Scotland. But it also tells you something about what a pro-union campaign might look like. There would be a cross-party campaign of some kind but the heavy lifting might well be done by Labour. The template is not so much the European referendum or AV referendum where cross-party campaigns dominated. This time Labour is united and significantly bigger than the rival parties in Scotland, so the Labour “No” campaign would probably dominate the pro-union side in events and messages.”

Well that’s a hugely flawed bit of analysis. It’s not at all clear how Labour will manage to share the stage with the Tories and Liberals and not suffer further erosion and collapse as we saw in Glasgow in the past week.

But the huge surprise of the day was the rabbit out the hat that Cameron tried to pull offering ‘new powers for the Scottish parliament’. It’s an old-school wrecking tactic. Part bribe, part half-baked half-botched constitutional jiggery-pokery. And the unionists have the bare-faced cheek to talk of ‘rigged ballots’ and dodgy questions? This is just making things up day-to-day without any due process at all. And what was poor Ruth Davidson to make of it? Only weeks ago she ran an unremarkable campaign on the basis of ‘no more devolution’, now, she’s being publicly undermined by her boss. Did he even tell her? Salmond’s response was swift:

‘We’ve been here before in Scottish politics when famously Sir Alec Douglas Home in the 1979 referendum told the people of Scotland … to vote “no” for a better deal,’ Mr Salmond said. Then he added: ‘Scotland actually voted “yes” but what happened then was 17 -18 years of no deal at all from a Conservative Government at Westminster. Now, I don’t think there would be any appetite whatever for Scotland to be presented with a false prospectus again.’

It is an extraordinary intervention, and though his speech was well crafted (by Julian Glover) the end result is an impression of a sort of shambolic slightly desperate constitutional flailing about. This is not a strategy.

Comments (19)

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  1. So basically from Cameron: no surprises, no understanding and no idea?

  2. Douglas Strang says:

    A good summing up Mike.

    I’ve been enjoying the posturing from all sides – like blackcock at a lek.

    So is Cameron now a convert to devomax? Given time, he might come round to Independence…

    1. Peter Swain says:

      Don’t hold your breath ! Pigs might fly, but they’re very unlikely birds !

  3. Lesley-Anne McLelland says:

    Moore seems inconsequential, a mere bag-carrier. Is he anything else?

    ‘There are now more Scots living in England and English people living in Scotland than ever before. And almost half of Scots now have English relatives.’ This is a totally pointless statement for anyone to make. He could equally have said that there are more Poles living in the UK than Brits living in Poland. What exactly is the point of this absolutely useless statement? Beats me.

    This time Labour is united and significantly bigger than the rival parties in Scotland, so the Labour “No” campaign would probably dominate the pro-union side in events and messages.” Well that’s it then Scotland wins Independence. A Tory led campaign and we win. A Labour led campaign and we win. After the performances of past and present Labour leaders both in Westminster and Holyrood should leave everyone in no doubt that an Independent Scotland IS the only way forward.

  4. Dorothy Bruce says:

    This is the case for the union, straight from the horse’s mouth, as it were. No case at all. A candyfloss version of reality, all air and spin, sickly sweet, and full of nothing. It didn’t live up to Maggie’s sermon on the mound, though the two events had one thing in common – a total lack of understanding of the Scots.

    Eck’s remarks on the 1979 skulduggery should be repeated daily. I hope no-one ever thinks acceptance of such a jam tomorrow offer as Cameron is dangling would be to
    Scotland’s benefit.

  5. johnconning says:

    As my young Brother said in 2007 just before he died, ” we are surrounded by imbeciles”. Jock.

  6. douglas clark says:

    It seems to me that Cameron has a problem.

    Cameron will, presumeably, be forced into spelling out his ideas on devo max, probably in a very short time. The idea that we would buy a pig in a poke again is risible.

    What then?

    Are the unionists going to circle the waggons and get behind whatever he says? Perhaps the Lib Dems will, but it seems unlikely that Labour, who appear to have a ‘no platform’ stance with the Tories, aren’t up for it. I assume I am not alone in having no idea where the Labour party stands on Devo-Max? The campaign for the Union is in disarray. They should really drop their opposition to a 2014 date. ’cause it seems unlikely that they will ever get their case together. Perhaps they need longer.

    As Dorothy Bruce says above, we are still awaiting a case for the Union. This wasn’t it. i suspect there isn’t one.

    Seems to me there ought to be a single question on the ballot. Independence or Devo Max, which is it? The three people who want the status quo can spoil their ballot papers and make a protest out of that.

  7. Doug Daniel says:

    Great analysis Mike, and of course the really important thing about Cameron’s “offer” is that not only is he refusing to spell out what flavour tomorrow’s jam will be or what size of jar it’ll be, but he’s not even committing himself to it. It’s that age old non-committal committal that slimy politicians of Cameron’s ilk so love. All he has said is he’ll CONSIDER more powers, not that he’ll actually grant them. So we vote no, thinking we’ll get FFA, and he says “well, I’ve considered it, and we’ve decided Scotland’s best interests are served by leaivng things as they are.” Or even worse, “I’ve actually decided that devolution is the problem, not the solution, so we’re going to bring all powers back to Westminster.”

    The attitude of Labour, going by Anas Sarwar’s negative, tawdry performance on Scotland Tonight, is no different. He said something along the lines of “we won’t commit to any specific powers, but Scotland should have the powers it needs”, which is just another way of saying “vote no first, then we’ll think about it. Maybe. At some point.”

    Hopefully the press will do its job and not let them get away with this obvious ploy. Going by Bernard Ponsonby’s fantastic destruction of Cameron on the same programme, I’m sort of hopeful, for once.

    1. Teri Forsyth says:

      ‘So we vote no, thinking we’ll get FFA’
      Exactly, and what we will get is sweet FA instead.

  8. Castle Rock says:

    Still laughing away at David Cameron sitting opposite that big yellow map.

    On a more serious note, Cameron has totally undermined Ruth Davidson’s position by washing away her line in the sand, will be interesting to hear how she justifies this.

    Can’t wait to hear what the Labour Party will bribe us with if we promise to vote no…its like 1979 all over again.

  9. DougtheDug says:

    What David Cameron said about devolution was,
    And let me say something else about devolution. That doesn’t have to be the end of the road. When the referendum on independence is over, I am open to looking at how the devolved settlement can be improved further. And yes, that means considering what further powers could be devolved.

    What Cameron has done is to put devo-max on the ballot paper with his vague promise of jam tomorrow. It’s now vote yes for independence, vote no for more devolved powers.

    Alex Salmond immediately requested a definition of what, “further powers”, David Cameron was talking about and that’s where the wheel comes a full circle. Alex Salmond hasn’t defined devo-max because he hasn’t got the power to implement it and David Cameron who has always said he doesn’t want the SNP to put a devo-max option on the ballot paper now has to define what he means by, “further powers”, because he’s made the no campaign into a vote for more devolved power and devo-max is now on the ballot paper via the Conservatives.

    It’s a big political blunder. Unless the no campaign is to be run on the basis of buying goods in a black plastic bag sight-unseen from some street trader then the no campaign will have to define what further devolved powers will be delivered if there is a no vote. Since as I’ve said before not one of the three UK parties wants any significant change to the powers of the Scottish Parliament it is going to be very difficult for them to come up with anything attractive for a no campaign. David Cameron has given his foot and the no campaign both barrels with this statement.

  10. Peter Mackie says:

    David Cameron in his speech was the foundations of his no campaign, Sounding a bit like McMillan you have never had it so good and it you are good I might be nice to you. At the moment the campaign on both sides is heading for voters being scared to vote yes for all the Scaremongering and scared to vote no remembering the aftermath of the 79 rigged referendum exactly what I don’t want. This Referendum needs to be what is best for Scotland’s future. But most of all we Must! Have open and honest debate this is too important for anything less.

  11. gavin says:

    Very good analysis Mike. Many of Scotlands pundits think Cameron did well, I dont. I think he was patronising and shallow and his promised look at future powers was NOT a move toward Devo Max but a red herring for the gullible. The whole Unionist campaign is now moving to an undefined future after the referendum unless we vote yes. If Devo Max is not on the ballot, then we will have zero leverage on future powers and nothing but the vaguest of commitments to look at future powers from all Unionist parties. We have two and a half years to get the truth out of them but Scotlands Media does not fill me with confidence.

  12. Donald Adamson says:

    Doug,

    I think your last sentence captures this well. It’s in the interests of the No campaign to turn the referendum into the electoral equivalent of a car boot sale. What Cameron is saying is, if you’re gullible enough to vote for a pig in a poke then a pig in a poke is what you’ll get. But let’s be clear about what’s happening here. This isn’t about democracy or better governance or meeting the aspirations of the Scottish people or any other noble objective. This is about trying to do as much damage as possible to the Yes campaign.

    This was always going to be the danger of the fantasy politics of devo max or, rather, the prospect of a watered-down version of some modest Calman plus proposals. The No campaign, (the mibbes aye mibbes naw campaign), doesn’t have to ‘win’ anything in the referendum debate. It only has to create enough doubt in the minds of enough people to do just enough damage to the Yes campaign. Cameron, the silver-tongued snake-oil salesman, understands this only too well.

    There is something tawdry about this ‘offer’, something sordid about it, something quintessentially British about it. This is, after all, the ‘British’ way. It’s not for nothing that the British are known as the ‘awkward partner’ in Europe. The history of British relations with Europe bears a remarkable resemblance to the history of British relations with Scottish devolution. The EU makes a proposal for reform. The British resist it and dig their heels in. The EU comes back with a watered-down version of the original proposal and the British agree to negotiate. The British then negotiate their opt-outs (their ‘reserved’ red lines) from the watered-down version. The other EU member states implement the watered-down version but, even then, the British have to be dragged, kicking and screaming, before they’ll agree to gradually phase in the watered-down version. This is what the British mean when they say that they want to be ‘at the heart of Europe’.

    With devolution, the British are simply carrying on where they left off with the EU. It’s a short step, in the constitutional journey of the British, from the rhetoric of being ‘at the heart of Europe’ to the rhetoric of being ‘stronger together weaker apart’. And it’s no accident that this latter mantra stops abruptly at the English channel. So it’s a choice then, between independence – which would give Scotland all the powers of devo max and much more – or a pig in a poke. Only the British would have the audacity to present this as a ‘choice’ in the first place.

    1. DougtheDug says:

      Donald, I don’t think that Cameron all but promising jam-tomorrow devolution in the event of a no vote is any great surprise. Judging by what all three UK parties have been saying over the last month or so the campaign was always going to be about vote no for more devolution. With the details, party resolve and timescale of that devolution as hazy as the location of Shangri-La.

      However this is the first time that the, “vote no for more devolution”, idea has been high profile enough for Alex Salmond to get the chance to ask for details to flesh out the rhetoric.

  13. John Souter says:

    Why did he bother coming to Scotland?

  14. Peter Swain says:

    David Cameron says that if Scots vote to stay in the Union he will consider devolving more powers to Scotland. Aye, right – just like Alec Douglas-Home did in 1979 and nothing happened ?
    If he thinks we’ll fall for this old trick twice in a row, then he really must believe that we all came up the river Clyde on our bikes !

  15. A. Shanks says:

    Michael Moore, or Herman Munster as the locals refer to him in his own constituency, looked like he was on a leash, dragged along unwittingly in Cameron’s wake, with his widows peak, Cameron is a sure contender for Uncle Fester, complete with fiendish plans and experiments in his basement.

    The Unionist machine propaganda is in overdrive at present. How much less influence could the UK possibly have? As a poodle of the US war machine, the UK is already like some strutting pro-Nazi central European state during ww2. The weight of Cameron’s influence internationally could only be increased by facing that distressing reality, to which his and his predecessors policies have led us.

  16. Tocasaid says:

    Dave C was great. I liked how he namechecked some of our great punkbands. The Scroteez fi Livi were there, the Newtown Grunts, the Skids, Wattie of course, Oi Polloi – though Dave preferred their skinhead days and his Scots pin-up girrul Fae Fife. What a guy!

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