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Why Cameron has said he won't resign if Scotland votes for independence

Aside from his own preservation, any hint that he would depart would aid the Yes campaign. 

Aside from his own preservation, any hint that he would depart would aid the Yes campaign.
David Cameron and Alex Salmond attend the Drumhead Service on June 25, 2011 in Edinburgh. Photograph: Getty Images.

For weeks, Westminster has been awash with speculation that David Cameron will resign if Scotland votes for independence (I was one of the first to report the story here). There would be no constitutional requirement for him to do so (we would, after all, be in uncharted territory) but the loss of the 307-year-old Union, combined with the fact that Cameron initiated the vote, means many regard it as the only honourable course to take. 

Today's Daily Mail, however, reports that whatever the outcome on 18 September, the PM will remain in office. The paper's James Chapman writes that Cameron has told friends he has "no intention" of resigning if Scotland votes for independence. One source comments:

Better Together is cross-party, so this doesn’t arise. He would not resign - definitely not.

In Scotland, Labour is the big, dominant political force. Does Ed Miliband have to resign too if there’s a yes vote? The SNP was elected with a clear majority in the Scottish parliament having said they would hold a referendum.

We either moved ahead with that referendum or we blocked it. Do people really think the Prime Minister could have said to the people of Scotland: 'You may have voted in favour of having a referendum but you can’t have one?'

Aside from Cameron's own interest in his preservation, there is one other reason why the Tories are keen to kill the speculation. Any hint that he would resign would only serve to energise the nationalists and encourage a Yes vote. Alex Salmond would be able to boast that not only would he free his country from Westminster, but that he would topple the prime minister in the process. And Cameron, as he self-deprecatingly remarked at a recent PMQs, is a man whose appeal "does not stretch to all people in Scotland" (where the Tories have just one MP). 

Assuming that this is no bluff (as nationalists will claim it is), we are left with the oddity that Cameron has made it clear that he will resign if he is unable to deliver an EU referendum by 2017, but that he won't if he loses the Union.

The issue, however, is likely to remain hypothetical. Despite the recent excitable commentary, the reality remains that the No side retains a comfortable average lead of eight points and that the Yes campaign has not led in a single poll.