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
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Who will win the Copeland by-election?

Labour face a tricky task in holding onto the seat. 

What’s the Copeland by-election about? That’s the question that will decide who wins it.

The Conservatives want it to be about the nuclear industry, which is the seat’s biggest employer, and Jeremy Corbyn’s long history of opposition to nuclear power.

Labour want it to be about the difficulties of the NHS in Cumbria in general and the future of West Cumberland Hospital in particular.

Who’s winning? Neither party is confident of victory but both sides think it will be close. That Theresa May has visited is a sign of the confidence in Conservative headquarters that, win or lose, Labour will not increase its majority from the six-point lead it held over the Conservatives in May 2015. (It’s always more instructive to talk about vote share rather than raw numbers, in by-elections in particular.)

But her visit may have been counterproductive. Yes, she is the most popular politician in Britain according to all the polls, but in visiting she has added fuel to the fire of Labour’s message that the Conservatives are keeping an anxious eye on the outcome.

Labour strategists feared that “the oxygen” would come out of the campaign if May used her visit to offer a guarantee about West Cumberland Hospital. Instead, she refused to answer, merely hyping up the issue further.

The party is nervous that opposition to Corbyn is going to supress turnout among their voters, but on the Conservative side, there is considerable irritation that May’s visit has made their task harder, too.

Voters know the difference between a by-election and a general election and my hunch is that people will get they can have a free hit on the health question without risking the future of the nuclear factory. That Corbyn has U-Turned on nuclear power only helps.

I said last week that if I knew what the local paper would look like between now and then I would be able to call the outcome. Today the West Cumbria News & Star leads with Downing Street’s refusal to answer questions about West Cumberland Hospital. All the signs favour Labour. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.