Friday 17 February 2012
Cameron stumbles into the Scottish lair
Cameron had been warned. Do not underestimate the political skills of the greatest living politician! No, it's not Ed Milliband. It's Alex Salmond, the First Minister of Scotland.
To recap: Salmond wants Scotland to have a referendum on independence. Since there is no stable majority amongst the Scottish people for outright independence, he proposed to field two questions at the same time. One about Scottish independence, the other one about Devo Max. It was up to Salmond to explain what exactly Devo Max might be, a serious political undertaking since it would leads everyone into the thicket of constitutional affairs. Not so anymore.
Yesterday, David Cameron joined the debate on Scottish independence with a speech in Edinburgh. I listened to it carefully and the speech seemed balanced and fair. He emphasised time and again that it would be up to the Scottish people to make the decision on independence. And then he made the mistake for which Alex Salmond will thank him for all time to come. Cameron mentioned that if the Scottish people decide against independence, they could still have Devo Max.
Enter Salmond. The First Minister pointed out straight away that, for Cameron to lure Scottish voters away from outright independence, he would have to clarify what he meant by Devo Max. Noticed it? Yes, Salmond had managed to kick the ball into Cameron's side without any sweat. Now Cameron has the responsibility to define Devo Max, an option that Salmond actually favoured to put on the ballot paper in the first place. This will become the stick to beat the Prime Minister with all along to the referendum.
Whatever Cameron says about independence now, the charge that he offered the Scottish people something that he cannot say what it is, will be ruthlessly brought by Salmond from now on. As I said, you underestimate the cunning of the Scottish First Minister at your peril. Salmond set a trap and Cameron walked right into it.