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

Photo: Getty Images
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There are risks as well as opportunities ahead for George Osborne

The Chancellor is in a tight spot, but expect his political wiles to be on full display, says Spencer Thompson.

The most significant fiscal event of this parliament will take place in late November, when the Chancellor presents the spending review setting out his plans for funding government departments over the next four years. This week, across Whitehall and up and down the country, ministers, lobbyists, advocacy groups and town halls are busily finalising their pitches ahead of Friday’s deadline for submissions to the review

It is difficult to overstate the challenge faced by the Chancellor. Under his current spending forecast and planned protections for the NHS, schools, defence and international aid spending, other areas of government will need to be cut by 16.4 per cent in real terms between 2015/16 and 2019/20. Focusing on services spending outside of protected areas, the cumulative cut will reach 26.5 per cent. Despite this, the Chancellor nonetheless has significant room for manoeuvre.

Firstly, under plans unveiled at the budget, the government intends to expand capital investment significantly in both 2018-19 and 2019-20. Over the last parliament capital spending was cut by around a quarter, but between now and 2019-20 it will grow by almost 20 per cent. How this growth in spending should be distributed across departments and between investment projects should be at the heart of the spending review.

In a paper published on Monday, we highlighted three urgent priorities for any additional capital spending: re-balancing transport investment away from London and the greater South East towards the North of England, a £2bn per year boost in public spending on housebuilding, and £1bn of extra investment per year in energy efficiency improvements for fuel-poor households.

Secondly, despite the tough fiscal environment, the Chancellor has the scope to fund a range of areas of policy in dire need of extra resources. These include social care, where rising costs at a time of falling resources are set to generate a severe funding squeeze for local government, 16-19 education, where many 6th-form and FE colleges are at risk of great financial difficulty, and funding a guaranteed paid job for young people in long-term unemployment. Our paper suggests a range of options for how to put these and other areas of policy on a sustainable funding footing.

There is a political angle to this as well. The Conservatives are keen to be seen as a party representing all working people, as shown by the "blue-collar Conservatism" agenda. In addition, the spending review offers the Conservative party the opportunity to return to ‘Compassionate Conservatism’ as a going concern.  If they are truly serious about being seen in this light, this should be reflected in a social investment agenda pursued through the spending review that promotes employment and secures a future for public services outside the NHS and schools.

This will come at a cost, however. In our paper, we show how the Chancellor could fund our package of proposed policies without increasing the pain on other areas of government, while remaining consistent with the government’s fiscal rules that require him to reach a surplus on overall government borrowing by 2019-20. We do not agree that the Government needs to reach a surplus in that year. But given this target wont be scrapped ahead of the spending review, we suggest that he should target a slightly lower surplus in 2019/20 of £7bn, with the deficit the year before being £2bn higher. In addition, we propose several revenue-raising measures in line with recent government tax policy that together would unlock an additional £5bn of resource for government departments.

Make no mistake, this will be a tough settlement for government departments and for public services. But the Chancellor does have a range of options open as he plans the upcoming spending review. Expect his reputation as a highly political Chancellor to be on full display.

Spencer Thompson is economic analyst at IPPR