In an under-noticed speech this weekend, the Scottish Labour leader, Iain Gray, has described the SNP's Alex Salmond as "David Cameron's doorman". Unlikely as it may sound to those less familiar with Scottish politics, he may well be right.
I have long feared that the break-up of the UK -- made more likely by devolution -- will be completed by Cameron's Tories if they win the general election in May. Why? Because their strategists know that this party, which "won" England in 2005, is increasingly an English party that has given up on Scotland, where it is pretty exclusively loathed. (A Scottish Tory source tells me that Cameron and George Osborne are not even much liked by Tories north of the border.)
I wrote about the unholy alliance between Scottish nationalists and the Tories a while back, here.
Cameron still claims publicly to be a Unionist, and his party is still officially called the Conservative and Unionist Party. But he knows there is selfish partisan interest in the break-up of the UK. Were he to put party before country, that truly would be a disgrace. During the forthcoming campaign, Cameron should be forced to confirm on the record that he will never allow it or do anything to encourage it.
The 300-year-old political, social and economic alliance is greater than the sum of its parts. Its preservation is crucial, and may be the subject of one of the great political battles to come.
Talking of Salmond, I saw him give a rousing speech to his party's conference the other night while I was watching the BBC's parliament channel, as you do. And it was interesting to note his attacks on those Scots and Anglo-Scots who "settle down" in London. No one has enjoyed "settling down" in London as much as Salmond over the decades.
He also based his latest case for independence on the redundancy of the City and the markets. Would he have said that when he was working at the Royal Bank of Scotland, as he did through most of the 1980s?
I am not the first to say that Salmond is a charming and skilful politician, but a slippery and threatening one, too. Once upon a time, the Tories would have been among the first to recognise this. But, apparently, not any more.