Leading article: The starting gun is fired in defence of the union

The Prime Minister's speech in Scotland was a delicate political balancing act

Share
Related Topics

David Cameron's visit to Scotland yesterday was more than just a routine heave in the tug-of-war with Alex Salmond over Scottish independence. As the first time that the British Prime Minister has set out the case in favour of the union, Mr Cameron's speech in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle was a signal moment in the debate. It was also as tough a test of his political dexterity as any yet.

The Prime Minister certainly had plenty of ground to make up. He was largely silent on the question of Scottish independence until last month, leaving Scotland's tenacious First Minister to dominate for the first 18 months of the Coalition Government. In fairness, the Conservatives are not the only ones to have ducked the issue. Neither Labour nor the Liberal Democrats has taken any more of a lead. Both must do so as the debate intensifies ahead of the ballot proposed for 2014.

The topic is far trickier for Mr Cameron. Although it is true, as the joke goes, that there are more giant pandas in Scotland than there are Tory MPs, Mr Cameron is still the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. It was absolutely right, therefore, that he make the case in favour of the union, in Scotland, himself. Being a Tory, however, rendered the move fraught with risks.

Given Scotland's long-standing antipathy to the Conservatives, a badly judged lecture in Edinburgh risked not only confirming Scots' worst fears about English interference but also undermining the defence of the union. Add in the fact that the Prime Minister himself will not ultimately play an active role in pro-union campaigning, and yesterday's speech became an immensely delicate balancing act.

Mr Cameron's record in government is far from perfect, with a disquieting tendency towards ill-considered, even erratic, decision-making. But after 18 months in Coalition, he has, at least, had plenty of practice at striking a nuanced tone. Judging by yesterday's speech, he has learned the lesson well.

There were, of course, some spec-ifics amid the rhetoric. There was a hint of stick (an independent Scotland would have to negotiate for things currently a matter of right), and also of carrot (with the referendum out of the way, more powers might be devolved). But from the opening references to humility, through the assurances that he has no wish to dragoon the Scots against their interests, to the concluding peroration on the nobility of the "common endeavour" for which the UK stands, Mr Cameron framed Scotland's place in the union as less a matter of totting up pros and cons than one of shared values, of the ties that bind, of the heart at least as much as the head.

It was a carefully calibrated performance for which he deserves some credit. Indeed, it is not just in the matter of tone that the Prime Minister has struck the proper note. We would argue he is also right on the substance.

This is not to say there is no cause for a referendum, given voters' desire for one. And any outcome must, of course, be accepted without quibble and put swiftly into practice. That being said, we share Mr Cameron's hope that the Scottish people will conclude in favour of the union. Not out of devotion to a 300-year-old status quo. Nor even in answer to practical questions over the common currency, say, or North Sea oil. Rather, out of a fundamental belief in the advantages of union over division.

Whether the discussion is of the UK or Europe, the same argument holds. In an increasingly globalised, competitive and uncertain world, the tangible benefits of standing together far outweigh the inward-looking temptations of a retreat behind historic borders. The Prime Minister yesterday set the stage for the pro-union campaign to begin. It is up to Scotland to weigh its case.

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

BC2

£50000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

SAP Data Migration Consultant

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a FTSE 100 organisation are u...

Programme Support, Coms, Bristol, £300-350p/d

£300 - £350 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

Linux Systems Administrator

£33000 per annum + pension, 25 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A highly successfu...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A still from the BBC's new rap about the outbreak of WW1  

Why give the young such a bad rap?

David Lister
Israeli army soldiers take their positions  

Errors and Omissions: Some news reports don’t quite hit the right target

Guy Keleny
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice