Cameron Begs Scotland To Stay

Today British Prime Minister David Cameron began his personal barnstorming of Scotland to beg for a “no” vote on Scottish independence Thursday. Here’s an assessment of his performance by The Guardian‘s Andrew Sparrow:

Rarely have I heard a prime minister sound so powerless. Big prime ministerial speeches – the ones they deliver at party conferences, or on setpiece Commons occasions, or when they have major policy to announce – are all about what the government will do, what levers of power it will tug, but this wasn’t like that at all. It was more like a plea – polite, well-crafted, but with a slight edge of desperation – from someone who realises that, as an English Tory three days after from the referendum, there is no longer anything he can do about a vote that could associate his premiership with the destruction of a 307-year-old union.

There was a tiny bit of prime ministerialism in it; Cameron delivered the most categorical promise yet that he would push through further devolution for Scotland in the event of a no vote (although he ignored the fact that some of his MPs are opposed to this.) He did not attack [Scottish National Party chieftain] Alex Salmond personally and, although he warned about the dangers of independence – including claiming that Scots may have to “pack their passport when they’re going to see friends and loved ones” (in England) under independence – generally it did not sound like a scaremongering speech. Cameron is often at his most passionate when talking about the family, and this was really a family speech writ large – a love letter to the family of nations that is the UK.

Will it make any difference? The very fact that Cameron’s visits to Scotland have been few, and that he has avoided walkabouts, shows that he knows as well as anyone that his appeal here is limited.

In the long run, a rump UK shed of Scotland might be good for the political strength of Cameron’s Tories. But it’s clear he doesn’t want to eternally sacrifice his reputation for The Cause.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.