Magazine article The Spectator

In Jura, Cameron Has Time to Contemplate the Emerging SNP-Tory Alliance

Magazine article The Spectator

In Jura, Cameron Has Time to Contemplate the Emerging SNP-Tory Alliance

Article excerpt


For the first time since being elected party leader, David Cameron returned to his old holiday retreat of Jura last weekend. His father-in-law, Viscount Astor, owns an estate on the island which has some of the best deer-stalking terrain in Scotland.

Although Mr Cameron is an accomplished shot, he did not join in this time - perhaps mindful of how photographs of him in tweeds and with a shotgun would go down on the urban election trail. He restricted himself instead to swimming, fishing and contemplating the battle ahead.

This time next year, Mr Cameron will probably be the Prime Minister of Scotland - a title which is bolted on to the English job.

Tony Blair tended to skirt around this, and behaved as if devolution had relieved him of having to think about life north of Newcastle.

The network of feuds, grudges and grandstanding which comprises Scottish politics is something most in Westminster could happily live without. But Mr Cameron has no Gordon Brown figure to hand all this over to.

He will have to deal with the Scots himself.

The last week has shown what he is up against. Alex Salmond's nationalist administration in Edinburgh has yet again succeeded in achieving one of its main goals: getting people's attention. It has done so thanks to the spectacularly inept handling of the case of Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, who, just eight years ago, was found guilty of 270 counts of murder in the Lockerbie bombings and has been diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer. It is a political football that the SNP could not resist giving a kick.

It is hard to argue a medical case for Megrahi's release, given that cancer treatment in Tripoli is immeasurably worse than in Scotland. Given the weight of the evidence against him, it is difficult to see why he should be freed when so many terminally ill prisoners are not. Given that most of his victims were American, it is also hard to disregard Washington's robust view (personally conveyed by Hillary Clinton) that he should serve his 27-year sentence. But as Mr Cameron is likely to find out, the SNP plays politics in a very different way.

Mr Salmond's goal is fairly simple: to win a referendum on independence, should one ever be held. To soften public opinion ahead of this, the SNP's strategy is to behave as if Scotland is already independent. This means persuading the national press to refer to the administration as the 'Scottish government' and accruing various trappings of a nation state. The SNP's agenda is all about posturing - whether it is sending aid to Malawi or opening Scottish embassies in Beijing.

Mr Salmond's mission is being made progressively easier by Whitehall's lack of resistance. In the early days of devolution, any reference to a Scottish 'government' was met with fury from Westminster. Now, Whitehall seems not to care any more. Jim Murphy, the Scotland Secretary, repeatedly warns his civil servants that they are unwittingly colluding in Mr Salmond's agenda whenever they co-operate with wheezes like a Scottish International Development strategy. He is normally met with looks of disinterest or bafflement.

At the top level, Mr Salmond is regularly thwarted. In his private meetings with Mr Brown the First Minister is regularly amazed (and dismayed) by the Prime Minister's grasp of detail over gas regulation, or the finer points of regional funding formulae. …

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