Political sketch: "Will ye no come back again"

As Cameron left Edinburgh, the SNP choir could be forgiven singing the famous Scottish ballad.

The Prime Minister went to Scotland yesterday and confirmed his dad's name was Cameron, thereby putting the lie to those who have spent the last 19 months claiming the illegitimate alternative.

But it was doubtful that this honest admission would be enough to dissuade the five million other inhabitants with similar claims from voting to knock the U off the UK during his time in office. Clearly SNP leader Alex Salmond had rung up Central Casting during some moment of doubt in his campaign to lead Scotland and its oil in a different direction.

How about an Eton-educated millionaire, many of whose mates sound like him but own large swathes of your country, and who leads a political party whose Westminster representation can be counted on the finger of one finger? they said. Obviously Alex thought they were joking but yesterday David Cameron did indeed turn up in Edinburgh as the spokesperson for the "Keep Scotland English" campaign.

It says something for the paucity of those who would persuade the Scots that the UK is a better brand than independence that the Prime Minister -- for whom admission to a Scottish surname may well be held against him by some of the more recidivist wing of his party that had not made the connection -- was the best on offer.

Having spent many unhappy years in Westminster having his nose rubbed in his Scottishness, the SNP leader looked overjoyed at having such a prime example of why his country should go its own way standing next to him. Not that Dave didn't make the best of the appalling hand that fate had dealt him. Apart from claiming shared ancestry he did make a passionate appeal for continued connection between the increasingly disparate parts of the UK on grounds from cultural to economic.

But a sign of the hard case to make came after he gave as an example continued membership as a veto holder of the UN Security Council. No jobs for the Scottish unemployed in that, said a gleeful Alex, who was more than happy to repeat his mantra that the days of London lording over Scotland, not to mention it's First Minister, had well and truly passed. The Prime Minister wandered around the Scottish capital for a few hours like any other day visitor, first at the Firth of Forth for the 39 Steps experience and then to the shadow of Edinburgh Castle for the ignore-the-speech experience. Earlier he had been present when Pepsi-Co announced 30 new jobs.

He finally got in to see the First Secretary after lunch having first had to slip in through a side door to avoid protests over the effects of the Coalitions cuts on public services in Scotland. Then with all the pleasure Alex could muster he met the PM sitting in front of a wall map charting the extent of the SNP's domination of Scottish politics following the last Assembly elections.

There could be more goodies for the Scots if they voted to stick with the union, said Dave, and added to Alex's glee by refusing to say what they could be. With the alleged talks going just long enough for no one to say they had been a total waste of time, they ended with the admission that no progress had been made.

As Dave left, the SNP choir could be forgiven for delivering a chorus of that famous Scottish ballad : "Will ye no come back again."

Peter McHugh is the former Director of Programmes at GMTV and Chief Executive Officer of Quiddity Productions

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What type of Brexit did we vote for? 150,000 Conservative members will decide

As Michael Gove launches his leadership bid, what Leave looks like will be decided by Conservative activists.

Why did 17 million people vote to the leave the European Union, and what did they want? That’s the question that will shape the direction of British politics and economics for the next half-century, perhaps longer.

Vote Leave triumphed in part because they fought a campaign that combined ruthless precision about what the European Union would do – the illusory £350m a week that could be clawed back with a Brexit vote, the imagined 75 million Turks who would rock up to Britain in the days after a Remain vote – with calculated ambiguity about what exit would look like.

Now that ambiguity will be clarified – by just 150,000 people.

 That’s part of why the initial Brexit losses on the stock market have been clawed back – there is still some expectation that we may end up with a more diluted version of a Leave vote than the version offered by Vote Leave. Within the Treasury, the expectation is that the initial “Brexit shock” has been pushed back until the last quarter of the year, when the election of a new Conservative leader will give markets an idea of what to expect.  

Michael Gove, who kicked off his surprise bid today, is running as the “full-fat” version offered by Vote Leave: exit from not just the European Union but from the single market, a cash bounty for Britain’s public services, more investment in science and education. Make Britain great again!

Although my reading of the Conservative parliamentary party is that Gove’s chances of getting to the top two are receding, with Andrea Leadsom the likely beneficiary. She, too, will offer something close to the unadulterated version of exit that Gove is running on. That is the version that is making officials in Whitehall and the Bank of England most nervous, as they expect it means exit on World Trade Organisation terms, followed by lengthy and severe recession.

Elsewhere, both Stephen Crabb and Theresa May, who supported a Remain vote, have kicked off their campaigns with a promise that “Brexit means Brexit” in the words of May, while Crabb has conceded that, in his view, the Leave vote means that Britain will have to take more control of its borders as part of any exit deal. May has made retaining Britain’s single market access a priority, Crabb has not.

On the Labour side, John McDonnell has set out his red lines in a Brexit negotiation, and again remaining in the single market is a red line, alongside access to the European Investment Bank, and the maintenance of “social Europe”. But he, too, has stated that Brexit means the “end of free movement”.

My reading – and indeed the reading within McDonnell’s circle – is that it is the loyalists who are likely to emerge victorious in Labour’s power struggle, although it could yet be under a different leader. (Serious figures in that camp are thinking about whether Clive Lewis might be the solution to the party’s woes.) Even if they don’t, the rebels’ alternate is likely either to be drawn from the party’s Brownite tendency or to have that faction acting as its guarantors, making an end to free movement a near-certainty on the Labour side.

Why does that matter? Well, the emerging consensus on Whitehall is that, provided you were willing to sacrifice the bulk of Britain’s financial services to Frankfurt and Paris, there is a deal to be struck in which Britain remains subject to only three of the four freedoms – free movement of goods, services, capital and people – but retains access to the single market. 

That means that what Brexit actually looks like remains a matter of conjecture, a subject of considerable consternation for British officials. For staff at the Bank of England,  who have to make a judgement call in their August inflation report as to what the impact of an out vote will be. The Office of Budget Responsibility expects that it will be heavily led by the Bank. Britain's short-term economic future will be driven not by elected politicians but by polls of the Conservative membership. A tense few months await. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.