By Derek Bateman
We learned two things today. One, that David Cameron is a coward. Two, that the No campaign isn’t nearly as sure of itself as it likes to pretend.
The latter is the more significant because it could have a lasting impact as Scots realise -all Scots- that the Unionist champion hasn’t the stomach for the fight. He says he has of course, but here in turning down a televised debate, is proof positive that Cameron’s clever words cannot be trusted and when presented with a challenge, he will blink and back down.
This, remember, was the man who used an appalling personal tragedy to pledge a commitment to the health service, a pledge he has systematically broken.
He is a bunker PM, happy to sit in the Quad in London dictating political strategy to Osborne, Moore and Alexander, dispensing instructions to each and every department of state to devise schemes to defeat independence, and when asked to step outside, asks his mate to fight for him while he holds the jackets.
All nationalists should cheer with derision the man who holds all the powers over them and who sits at the pinnacle of the Union but hasn’t got it in him to face up to the cameras alongside his opponent…this, the man who was ready to send others into a real war in Syria. But even a war of words is too much for Brave Dave. He has wriggled out like a Bullingdon Boy squirming when the Master comes calling after complaints from the police over a wrecked dining room. "Not me, old boy. It’s Boris you’re after."
Having the measure of your opponent is half the battle. Knowing that any vainglorious statement he makes about straining every sinew for the Union is bluster, opens the door to more vigorous and enthusiastic campaigning for a Yes.
He was prepared to intervene and threaten like an Eton bully with his gang of legal lackeys when he wanted his way over the legality of the referendum but where is the follow-through? Faced alone by a bigger boy, a smarter opponent, contemplating a humiliating beating this time, he did what all bullies eventually do – he backed down.
This should put air in the independence movement and bring home the truth – that for all the patronising, dismissive comments and promises to fight to the bitter end, they haven’t the will. If their leader folds as easily as this, their case is a house of cards.
And consider, too that if the head of the British Government wishes to slink away from the confrontation, then he should delegate his deputy in Scotland, Michael Moore, to take his place. A moment’s reflection on the quality of the Scottish Secretary will resolve why that isn’t going to happen. But it should. Cameron could have made a plausible case that "Scotland’s man in the Cabinet" is the right opponent, representing the UK government, a Scot holding a Scottish seat. It is a naked mark of how short the Unionists are of genuine political talent that proposing Moore is a non-starter…for Cameron and for the broadcasters.
Of course, Salmond should now debate with Darling. He will be able to ask him which of the current unionist government’s policies he approves of and ask him how much power he himself holds in the British Government. If none, then what he is he doing debating on an issue which can only be resolved by the British Government?
Historians will marvel at how a Conservative Prime Minister allowed a Labour backbencher to take his place in what may prove the defining event in the campaign to save Britain. They will deduce that Cameron lacked the skills and heart for the job of taking on the First Minister and that Salmond was handed a victory by default. The pressure is now piled inexorably on Darling who has been given a soft landing by the media so far and who looks flustered the more he is questioned.
And never again should any Yes supporter accept questions demanding information and answers from those whose chief spurned the single best platform for providing information.
To be clear, the undisputed line-up between protagonists in terms of convention is as follows. First Minister v Prime Minister, (poss. Equivalent Secretary of State for Scotland); Chairman of Yes Campaign (Canavan) v Chairman of No Campaign (Darling); chief executive of Yes Campaign (Jenkins) v chief executive of No Campaign (McDougall). It is not disputed and it is the protocol the BBC would normally follow.
Lastly, as a journalist, let me make a plea to all those engaged in my trade. Any attempt by editors or commentators to pretend that Cameron’s actions today were not an abrogation of responsibility will shame the independence of their paper. I accept that an editorial line is taken by editors for one side or another, but if anyone commenting contrives an excuse about it not being the PM’s job to lead the movement to save the union, he or she is doing a disservice to the media and to the Scots.
There can be no excuse for Cameron on this issue and attempts to defend him will underline – if it is needed – that both journalist and newspaper are biased beyond redemption and should never be trusted again.
Meantime independistas have been handed a new poster slogan: Cameron is a Coward.
and another thing…
And all this leaves Alistair Darling as the Tory Prime Minister’s puppet. When Cameron can’t front up, it is a Labour MP who steps forward to do his work for him. Darling has just become the Tory Party’s Save the Union mouthpiece. Leading a united campaign of Unionist parties including Cameron’s Conservatives is one thing, replacing him is quite another.
If a televised debate is now an essential aspect of our politics, it is a Prime Minister’s duty to participate and represent his side – on behalf of all the people he represents. In fact, look at it another way, Darling should have told Cameron that it was his duty to speak up against Salmond head-to-head and should have made clear that he (Darling) would only debate with Salmond after the Salmond-Cameron programme.
It rather proves my point that Darling is the willing stooge that he hasn’t done so. The words: "But it’s your responsibility, Prime Minister," should be ringing in Cameron’s ears. So the deal clearly is that Cameron can’t stand up in part of the United Kingdom, which he governs, because he is a Tory who can’t command respect.
What better evidence could you have of a failing United Kingdom…of a kingdom which is in decline and no longer represents Scots? Our county, Scotland, is a NoGo Area for the leader of the United Kingdom. He requires an anointed placeman to state his case on his behalf. Darling is now the Tory Prime Minister’s Lord Lieutenant. No doubt, like the Queen’s loyal representatives, he will be on hand to greet his Chief when he deigns to turn up on foreign soil.
Why not turn this debate scenario round…if Salmond had refused to debate with Cameron on television, can you imagine the apoplexy in the Unionist media? Can you picture the jeering headlines, the endless laughter and incredulity that would have caused?
Darling is getting Cameron off the hook, acting as his agent and front man in Scotland. However Miliband tries to distance himself from the policies – and that’s a limited effort – Labour is standing shoulder to shoulder with the London neo-cons and their right to introduce their policies throughout the Union. In fact that is what this referendum is about. Labour is saying: We disagree with Tory policies but we will defend to the death their right to make them – here in Scotland.
The current myth is that Cameron shouldn’t debate with Salmond because it’s a decision for the Scots alone. But this isn’t a decision, it’s only a debate. We will decide for ourselves, all we’re asking is that Cameron does what he did for the General Election and appears on television with his opponent. He can’t argue it isn’t important either, as those debates won Clegg a place in government. And, surely his argument about it being a Scots-only affair falls at the first hurdle because he himself says this a matter for the whole UK. So one day it is, the next day it isn’t.
And if it’s true only the Scots who are the voters should be playing all the key roles, why doesn’t he condemn the donation of £500,000 to the No campaign by Ian Taylor of Vitol who doesn’t have a vote in the referendum? Double standards, perhaps?
So we now have the disgraced Chancellor, a man whose morals evaporate when money is mentioned – half a million from the revolting Vitol source, more than the First Minister’s salary in outside earnings and flipping his house four times – on the stage as a Tory puppet, his mouth opening and closing as Cameron pulls the strings.
There is something of the music hall grotesque about this unedifying old pals act embarrassing themselves this way. And for what? To prevent the Scots standing up for themselves and implementing policies that suit them. Independence is about self respect, something Alistair and Labour seem to have misplaced.
Courtesy of Derek Bateman