Scottish independence: Cameron cares about the Union as any blue-blooded Etonian would

Referendum shows that Tory leader is more than a PR man

James Hanning
Wednesday 10 September 2014 22:50 BST
British Prime Minister David Cameron gestures as he speaks during a visit to Scottish Widows offices in Edinburgh
British Prime Minister David Cameron gestures as he speaks during a visit to Scottish Widows offices in Edinburgh (Getty Images)

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


Are we seeing David Cameron as we have never seen him before? Those who dismiss the Prime Minister as just a PR man will have been alarmed to see him yesterday on the verge of tears when talking about the break-up of the Union. If this was faking sincerity, it was a tour de force.

While there are parts of the national furniture that to most of us are a merely a given, for him they are character-forming. They have helped provide him with his supernatural assuredness and comfort in his own skin. He was marinated in the most mindset-moulding education a person can have, and it has served him well. As PG Wodehouse suggested, when the sun has shone on you throughout your life, you’re inclined to feel that it was put there for that specific purpose.

So when the certainties that come with such a mindset – that the British drive on the left hand side of the road, that he is a Conservative, that Scotland is where a certain sort of English person goes for a certain sort of holiday in beautiful surroundings – are shaken, you bet he cares.

For a start, he owes the good fortune of his upbringing in England’s comfortable home counties to his great-great-grandfather Ewen, who left Scotland early in Queen Victoria’s reign to work in the Far East. He eventually returned to London to manage Hong Kong Shanghai Bank, and was knighted for his services. Cameron’s great-grandfather became a partner at stockbrokers Panmure Gordon, living partly at Blairmore Castle, near Huntly in Aberdeenshire.

More recently, Cameron has enjoyed stalking deer on the edge of the Cairngorms and fishing for sea trout off the island of Jura, an idyll where chillaxing might have been invented. Jura has long been home from home for the Astors, his wife’s mother’s family, which owns a 19,500-acre estate there.

In truly wild countryside (seals, dolphin, red deer, eagles and otters), Cameron indulges an enthusiasm for early-morning swimming when he stays there. He is a hearty eater of haggis, and has close friends north of the border. When you’re used to that agreeable side of Scotland, at the very least, what’s not to love about it?

Cameron, remember, stood among the crowds when Prince Charles married Diana Spencer. Imagine how he would feel having to explain to the Queen that, actually, the Union was being dismembered on his watch. The press has speculated that Cameron would feel obliged to resign if it ever came to that. It is a possibility Downing Street is playing down, but that won’t stop the speculation, any more that it would stop the anger that would result should his then understandable decision to narrow the Scottish electorate’s choice to a simple Yes/No vote backfire. A third, in-between option of increased devolution could have been offered, but presumably Cameron couldn’t resist the prospect of giving Alex Salmond an unambiguous and final electoral slap.

This is not the magnanimous Cameron he was brought up to be. The campaign looks complacent, bringing to mind another facet of the Cameron character, his tendency to lose focus until humiliation looms. The Economist put it recently, “the Prime Minister is so wilfully slapdash as to suggest a lack of regard for his own high office”.

Cameron is at his best in a corner, and in going to Scotland he is playing the patrician against the streetfighter, but I reckon he may still surprise people. Sir Peter Tapsell’s line has never seemed more apt. He says he has never known a Prime Minister so good at getting out of scrapes – or so good at getting into them.

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