Disunited Kingdom


David Cameron visited Scotland only once during the battle for its parliament's elections. Hadrian's Wall is becoming a forbidding obstacle for the Conservatives: a boundary with an unfamiliar, inhospitable land redeemed only by opportunities for deer stalking and trout fishing.

Ed Miliband ventured north a fortnight ago, in an attempt to save Labour's Scottish campaign - but as The Spectator went to press it seemed that this, too, had proved fruitless.

The Scottish Nationalist leader, Alex Salmond, has found to his delight that his opposition has crumbled.

It is understandable that Cameron and Miliband have little interest in what passes for politics in the Scottish Parliament. It is a tortuous topic for Scots. But devolution has created an atmosphere in which Scot - land is spoken of as a foreign country - one that increasingly baffles Conservatives, who have not managed to win more than one seat there for 19 years. Failure in Scotland cost Cameron the right to govern alone: he won a clear majority in England. Even in 2005, Michael Howard won more English votes than Tony Blair.

But what is now clear is the extent to which Labour, too, is losing its grip of what was once its heartland. The party ought to have taken the Scottish Parliament by storm, having started the race with a clear lead in the opinion polls. But the more Labour campaigned, the more voters realised that the party now has nothing to say apart from 'stop the cuts'. Salmond says this far better, with the added advantage of being able to string a sentence together. The leader of the Scottish Labour party is Ed Miliband - and he has failed in his first test. He seems to struggle with elections when unions cannot swing the vote for him.

Labour appears to have relied lazily on the old rule that a constituency which is poor or reliant on state spending will vote for Labour. In office, Brown took every opportunity to send money back home to Scot - land. State spending there is now beyond even Scandinavian levels. But Salmond has mounted an effective left-wing challenge and in so doing, he has exposed a vulnerability in Labour that should fascinate Tories.

The north of England is today Labour's heartland. The Brown strategy of cultivating a client state in electorally sensitive areas has deformed the economy of the north. According to the Centre for Economics and Business Research, state spending equates to a staggering 57 per cent of economic output in the north-east, and 63 per cent in the north-west. These are Soviet levels of central spending. …

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