In the league table of who was the UK’s worst ever prime minister, the accolade normally goes to Lord North, the man who presided over the loss of the American colonies. Neville Chamberlain whose dithering appeasement emboldened Hitler and led, eventually, to the dismantling of the British Empire, is at number two. At number three comes David Cameron. Through a combination of hubris, arrogance and monumental misjudgement, the man who once requested, “Call me Dave” ushered the UK out of the EU. It was to be the greatest self-inflicted economic, foreign policy, cultural and political catastrophe in the 307-year history of the UK. In doing so, he reignited the flame of Scottish independence. He thought he’d snuffed it out when the union side triumphed in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum. Cameron, the Eton and Oxford-educated, arch-high establishment Tory, married into the English aristocracy, must have felt his place in history was secure. He had saved the union. The Queen “purred” on hearing the news of the union’s victory, reported Cameron. Now, he’s back for a second chance at rebellious Scots to crush.
Brought back from the political graveyard by the struggling Rishi Sunak, Cameron has been given not only the Foreign Office but the freedom of action that comes with being a vital prop to a crippled prime minister. His Majesty’s Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, The Rt Hon Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton, knows his time is short. He knows this is almost certainly his last shout in high office. He will do his best for Sunak on immigration, Europe, Israel/Palestine, climate change and Europe, but what he most wants is to secure his legacy. Not as the man to be blamed for the EU mega-shambles but as the man to be forever thanked for saving the United Kingdom.
If, at some point in the next 20 or 30 years, Scotland votes for an independent future, Cameron will know that history will rearrange the hierarchy of the failed. Lord North and Neville Chamberlain will vacate slot numbers one and two. None of the 56 prime ministers of the UK – not even Liz Truss – will hold a candle against the man who lost the EU and lost Scotland. Cameron will officially be the worst prime minister ever.
All Scotland – every acre – voted to stay in the EU
Before the 2014 Scottish referendum, Prime Minister Cameron was all reason and good fellowship. The SNP had won a majority of Westminster seats at the 2015 general election. He said democracy demanded that Scotland must now have a referendum on its constitutional future. He won. Alex Salmond and the SNP were swept from the field of battle. The rest is history. Until 2016 that is, and the EU referendum that saw all of Scotland – every acre – vote to stay in the EU. The effect of that vote was twofold. It galvanised the pro-independence young, giving them a tangible and measurable list of lost benefits. It also undermined support for the union among the middle and professional classes. Robbed of the EU membership that could be guaranteed only by staying in the UK, Scotland’s wealth creators and managers could now see the duplicity of Cameron’s politics and the potential for a sovereign Scotland inside the EU. It is high in Cameron’s priorities that as much damage as possible now be done to the SNP and the wider independence movement. If Cameron can help engineer its emasculation, he can protect his place in history.
Yousaf’s misdemeanour was to meet Turkish leader Pecep Tayyip Erdogan at the recent COP meeting, without having a UK diplomat present. Thus, his unchaperoned meeting with Erdogan came as a gift to the Foreign Secretary. Not only has he publicly treated Yousaf and his government like badly behaved schoolboys, but he has also threatened to deprive the Scots of office space and facilities at British embassies, thus chopping away important planks in Scotland’s inward investment, tourism and diplomatic armouries. Cameron would now like nothing better than a bitter fight with Edinburgh. In his letter to Scotland’s external affairs minister Angus Robertson, Cameron wrote:
“Any further breaches of the protocol of ministerial meetings having a FCDO official present will result in no further FCDO facilitation of meetings or logistical support.
We will also need to consider the presence of Scottish government offices in UK government posts.”
In tone and content, the letter leaves the Scottish Government in no doubt about who is boss. To its credit, Edinburgh’s response has been measured and calm. It denies any malign intent and says the fault lies with Foreign Office officials running late.
Positioning the Scottish Government as ‘the enemy within’
Keeping the uppity Scots in order goes down well in Hertford, Hereford, and Hampshire. However, what the Father of Brexit is really doing is creating a row in the hope that the Scottish Government and the SNP can be positioned as ‘the enemy within’, a fifth column undermining the UK’s interests on the world stage.
The idea is to weaken the whole concept of devolution by alleging Holyrood to be operating its own foreign policy, something that not only goes well beyond its powers, its attackers will say, but that is contrary to the interests and policies of the UK government. They will cite in evidence Edinburgh’s vocal disapproval of London’s carte blanche support for Israel, its opposition to the Rwanda policy and its undisguised enthusiasm for all things EU. Putting Edinburgh’s gas in a peep, winding up English public opinion against Holyrood and positioning the SNP as close to seditious would be a precursor to infantilising the Scottish parliament and tightening up the law around its powers. Labour might have created the Scottish parliament and government, but it is unlikely to champion the institution it now sees as the machine that caused the almost total wipe-out of Labour in Scotland. Lord Cameron’s place in history would be the one he wants and thinks he deserves and he would have done Labour a favour.
Every incentive to slay the dragon
Is this all hysteria and hyperbole? Possibly, but Cameron is no fool. He’s seen the private polling that shows consistently high support for independence, particularly among the young. He knows that five years is probably not enough time for a Starmer government to substantially make a dent in the chronic problems that beset Scotland’s economy. He knows that the SNP is still the biggest and most popular party in Scotland. In five years, its current problems around past and present leadership and lacklustre head office machine will be likely forgotten and solved. The beast can easily rise from the doldrums, re-energised, enthused, with far fewer pro-union voters on the electoral roll and the power of the right- wing press further eroded. No, Lord Cameron has every incentive to try to slay the dragon now. Don’t be surprised if we see more of this tough cop stance from Cameron. He has nothing to lose but his reputation. Lord North is one Old Etonian David Cameron would rather not emulate. England expects.