In conversation with David Cameron

by Oct 03, 2011 No Comments

Mandy Rhodes: Before the May Holyrood elections, you said you wanted to see Tory support grow in Scotland. Given the result of the election, where do you think the party went wrong?

David Cameron: The result in May was very disappointing, no doubt about it. Scotland is very close to my heart – as you’d probably expect from someone called Cameron – and I wanted us to make significant gains, which we didn’t.

We had some powerful messages about what we’ve done so far to deliver for Scotland from Westminster on issues like reforming welfare and taking low-paid people out of income tax.

We’re basing one of the Multi Role Brigades in Scotland and we’re going ahead with the aircraft carriers – one of the biggest single orders in any shipyard.

I also hope I’ve demonstrated to people that when I said before the election that I wanted to treat Scotland with respect, I was serious.

In my first week as Prime Minister I met Alex Salmond at Holyrood, and I’ve met him many more times since and it is this government that is delivering, through the Scotland Bill, the greatest enhancement of the power of the Scottish Parliament since devolution.

Alex Salmond and I disagree on some big issues, but I think where we can work better together, it’s only sensible that we should. But it’s always difficult in an election where the voters expect only one of the two parties to win, in this case, Labour and the SNP. We didn’t do well and we need to learn the lessons so we can do better in future.

MR: How did the result feel for you personally given your relationship with Annabel and are you going to miss having her as leader?

DC: Annabel was and will continue to be a great asset to our party and to Scotland – she led with distinction and she will be missed at the helm – but I understand her decision to step down.

MR: What do you think the party should be looking for in terms of a new leader in Scotland?

DC: It is not for me to say who her successor should be – it’s up to the party in Scotland to decide that – but it is already apparent that with the Sanderson review implemented, a timetable in place and a vibrant debate taking place, we are in a good position to face the future with confidence. I leave others to compare our leadership election with Scottish Labour’s.

MR: Do you understand the support for the SNP and in some ways, given the antipathy that Scotland still appears to hold for your party, wouldn’t it be easier to just cast it adrift?

DC: Scottish politics has been dominated for too long by constant arguing over its constitution. I am proud to be Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. I do not want Scotland, or any part of it, cast adrift. I accept that Alex Salmond is the people’s first choice – at present – to be Scotland’s devolved First Minister but clearly that’s very different from having a mandate for independence.

MR: You have a number of Scots in your own Cabinet; Michael Gove, Liam Fox, IDS…never mind the Lib Dems; do you think they bring a different voice to the table? Is there such a thing as Scottishness?

DC: The Scots in my Cabinet know more than anyone that you can be Scottish and British and be proud to be both. That is not a contradiction. They are not in competition, they are complementary.

MR: Do you think you still have the moral authority to push the Scotland Bill through when clearly the party in power in Scotland wants more?

DC: At the UK General Election, Scotland returned six MPs who stood on a platform of separation and 53 who backed Scotland in Britain.

And more people in Scotland voted for coalition government parties in 2010 than voted for Alex Salmond as First Minister in 2011. So his is not the only mandate. He did not win a majority of votes and, as he had admitted, he does not have a majority of wisdom.

The SNP has won the right to hold an independence referendum. I just wish, for the sake of clarity and to clear up any uncertainty, they would get on with it, or drop it. We need a clear and unambiguous answer and a debate about all the unanswered questions that Alex Salmond keeps ducking – such as on the euro, our armed forces, defence jobs and social services. Most importantly, he needs to explain how his sums add up, because with greater fiscal powers comes greater fiscal responsibility.

MR: Will the Scotland Bill be the end of further constitutional change for Scotland as far as your government is concerned?

DC: The Scotland Bill will soon reach its conclusion and will represent the biggest ever transfer of fiscal power and responsibility to Scotland. I accept that circumstances can change, but barring minor adjustments, I expect the Scotland Bill to settle the issue for a generation or longer. Scotland needs to move on from the constant constitutional debate.

We need to move forward as a party and as a country to concentrate on how the powers are used. So I will make sure we implement the Scotland Bill and improve devolution.

MR: Are you confident that the ‘No’ campaign would win in a Scottish independence referendum and will you campaign alongside Ed Miliband?

DC: I want to keep Scotland in the United Kingdom and I will fight to do just that. We are proud of what we have achieved together; we value sharing our risks and rewards because that is good for us all and that is what society means.

And, at its simplest, as Annabel has put it, the majority of people in Scotland want Scotland in Britain because they are comfortable and confident with being both Scottish and British.

So I and others will take the message to the rest of the UK – we are all winners with Scotland in Britain. I expect there will be a cross-party political campaign and a civic campaign with people from all walks of life – and from around our United Kingdom – coming together to speak with one voice. This is an issue bigger than any one person or any one party, and it would be a mistake to let party politics get in the way of that.

MR: What is your answer to anyone that asks, ‘what have the Tories ever done for Scotland?’

DC: There is plenty for us to be proud of, even in the short period since May 2010. We’re reforming welfare so that work pays. We’re sorting out the mess in the defence budget, upon which many Scottish jobs depend, allowing us to ensure that £5bn of contracts for aircraft carriers built north of the border are going ahead, and basing one of the Multi Role Brigades there. We’ve toughened up on immigration, scrapped Labour’s job tax, taken a million low-paid people out of income tax, restored the earnings link in pensions, and cut fuel duty to help families in what are undoubtedly tough times. We’ve got a grip on Britain’s record budget deficit to ensure interest rates stay low. And we’re working night and day to unleash enterprise so that businesses of all shapes and sizes can start-up and grow, creating the jobs of tomorrow in Scotland and elsewhere.

In addition, it is this coalition government which is setting a new constitutional deal for Scotland, to create a strong and confident Scotland within a strong and prosperous United Kingdom. But this government is acting in the best interests of all of the United Kingdom.

So when we deal with the deficit, or cut taxes, or make Britain open for business or act on immigration, we do so because they are the right things to do and they are in Scotland’s best interests.

Mandy Rhodes Mandy Rhodes

Mandy Rhodes is Managing Editor of Holyrood Communications. Mandy is editor of the flagship title Holyrood magazine and responsible for the editorial content of all other associated titles and products. Mandy graduated from StirlingUniversity in the early 1980s with a joint Honours degree in Scottish History and Sociology. She trained on a local newspaper in Wester Hailes and completed her journalism training at Napier University. She has worked for nearly 30 years in journalism in Scotland in newsprint, television and radio broadcasting and was part of the launch team of Scotland on Sunday. She has won numerous awards over the years including PPA Magazine Editor of the Year, Feature Writer of the Year and Columnist of the year. She was social...

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