Scottish referendum: It's hard for us Labour supporters to admit, but Cameron did good here

For bonus points, the Prime Minister can now wield the West Lothian question to the advantage of the Tory party

Rob Marchant
Friday 19 September 2014 15:54
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David Cameron and Ed Miliband attend the Queen's Speech on 4 June 2014
David Cameron and Ed Miliband attend the Queen's Speech on 4 June 2014

At next week's Conservative party conference, it's unclear just how hard a ride David Cameron will get from his backbenchers. They may see today’s result as too much of a close shave for the union, and as John Rentoul has argued today, end up hating him for his efforts. But I disagree. But in my view, there's no reason for Cameron to be in the firing line, at least until the next general election.

Despite the result being closer than many would have liked, the framing of the whole independence issue has ultimately been down to David Cameron. And he did it right.

In a country where the Tories are largely despised, Cameron was understandably absent on the campaign trail. But we can't forget how this all began. He still cooperated in Salmond's request for a vote.

If this seems too obvious a point, compare it with Mariano Rajoy's decision to deny one to Catalonia, one he may yet live to regret. Two million people were said to have lined the streets of Barcelona on Thursday last week, demanding independence. Meanwhile, their Prime Minister foolishly ignores their calls, in a perilous game of undemocratic brinkmanship.

In the early 20th century, you may recall Britain's decision to use coercion rather than democracy in Ireland. In doing so, they lost the country. Back then, the UK didn't send in the electoral registration officers but the hated Black and Tans, to bully the population into submission. It worked abysmally and, within a few short years, Ireland was no longer part of the union.

Because of Cameron, history didn't have to repeat itself (or even evoke the faintest echo). The PM answered his starter for ten with full marks: the referendum was granted without fuss. It was close – probably more down to Labour than him, to be fair – but he won.

For bonus points, he now has a grand opportunity to put a stick in Labour’s spokes. Through Tory insistence on “English Votes for English Laws” – or the West Lothian Question, as it used to be called – Labour would lose the support of its 40-odd MPs in such votes and be fighting at a disadvantage.

So Cameron can now threaten Labour with a permanent minority on all English votes, assuming he can get the idea past the Lib Dems. And that is over and above the questions Labour will have to answer about how the campaign was so close; or how the previous, virtual one-party state that once was Scotland ever ended up here.

So on a day like today, difficult to stomach it might be for us Labourites, one has to be a little non-partisan and admit that Cameron has done good, and that his little historical footnote for these five years might be a marginally positive one after all.

And it comes down to this: sometimes you have to let something go to keep it. Or as someone once said, if you love somebody, set them free.

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