Subscribe to Holyrood updates

Newsletter sign-up


Follow us

Scotland’s fortnightly political & current affairs magazine


Subscribe to Holyrood
United front: Q&A with David Cameron

United front: Q&A with David Cameron

Mandy Rhodes: There are now just six months until the independence referendum, given everything that is happening in the world, where does it sit in terms of your own political priorities?

David Cameron: As I have made clear on numerous occasions, keeping our United Kingdom together is a top priority of this Government. As you rightly suggest, there are many important events taking place around the world and here at home we are focused on the long-term plan to secure a lasting economic recovery. But the future place of Scotland needs to be settled, and that is why ensuring that there would be a legal, fair and decisive referendum was the right thing to do.

MR: There has been a noticeable shift in attention in the last few months from the Coalition, did you start to get jittery about the possibility of a ‘Yes’ vote given the polls are moving slightly in favour?

DC: Polls come and polls go – indeed, the most recent ones show a hardening of opinion against independence. But we have remained focused throughout on providing the information which people deserve and need to make one of the most important decisions they will ever be asked to make, about the very future of their country. That means setting out the arguments of the head, but also the arguments of the heart and why we are better together. The message is now ringing out from the rest of the UK to Scotland – ‘Don’t go, we want you to stay.’

MR: Why do you believe that it will be a ‘No’ vote?

DC: At its simplest, because what we have works, and works really well, and because we all are part of a family of peoples and nations which has achieved so much together.
It is a choice between security of being part of something bigger and the risks and uncertainty of going it alone.

MR: The majority of Scots don’t want independence but they do want what we’ll call devo max. What will you promise ahead of the referendum in terms of additional powers?

DC: The only threat to devolution – of whatever shade or adjective – is separation. Devolution has always evolved by different parties and groups setting out their case and, following elections, a process being established to consider the various options and creating a consensus for change.
As a Conservative, I believe in the principle of fiscal responsibility. Parliaments and governments should be significantly accountable for the money they raise, as well as for the money they spend. But we must never lose sight of those things which unite us in the UK and from which we can all draw greater security and safety.

MR: We seem to have gone from Project Fear to being love bombed, to now the Dambusters strategy. What is the best way to persuade the Scots to stay part of the Union and don’t you feel that there is a bit of a scaremongering overload which could work against you?

DC: We will keep making the case, the big, positive case, why we are better together. But our duty is also to lay out the facts and to pose the big questions which those who want to rip the UK apart need to answer.
It is not good enough to simply keep saying “It will be alright on the night” as seems to be the Yes campaign’s stock answer. The people of Scotland demand and deserve better than that.

MR: One of the main arguments for voting ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ appears to be to stop the Tories being in charge, how does that make you feel?

DC: The next six months will decide the future of a nation for generations to come. To try and reduce this to party politics is to take the voters for fools. They know that in Scotland more people voted for the parties of the UK Coalition in 2010 than voted ‘Alex Salmond for First Minister’ 12 months later. But governments come and go. Separation would be forever.

MR: Any promises of further powers will need to be in the UK general election manifestos for 2015. Can you guarantee that they will be?

DC: I don’t write the manifestos of the other parties!

MR: Do you think this referendum debate has better informed opinion generally about how the UK could be constitutionally changed and do you think there will be a thirst for further devolution throughout the UK?

DC: It is already clear that the referendum has focused more attention for more people in Scotland onto the constitution but the key issue is not, at this stage, the fine detail but rather the straight answer to the straight question of whether Scotland walks away from the UK or stays in the family of nations which is the UK. Our commitment to devolution is unequivocal. We have delivered the biggest transfer of financial powers to Scotland in 300 years and we are actively promoting the process of more powers to Wales as well.

MR: There is a fear among Scots that if they vote ‘No’ they will see the Barnett formula cut and that they could be financially punished. Can you allay those concerns?

DC: These are manufactured concerns by the Yes campaign. Changes to Barnett are not on my horizon. The biggest threat to Scotland’s funding arrangements comes from independence.

MR: Another concern is that Scotland votes to stay in the UK and is then faced with an in/out referendum with regard to Europe. Isn’t the safest way for Scots to stay within the EU to vote for independence?

DC: As polls show, a clear majority of people in Scotland want a say on our relationship with the EU. As part of the UK, they get to keep the pound, keep the rebate, and keep control over our borders. All that is under threat with separation. If you believe in a referendum on Scotland’s place in the UK, why not one on the EU? I back both.

MR: You signed the Edinburgh Agreement and said there would be no pre-negotiation and yet isn’t that exactly what you have done by slamming the door on something as fundamental as a currency union?

DC: There will not be a currency union. No ifs, no buts, no maybes. That means it is not up for negotiation. It is not in the interests of Scotland nor the continuing UK. And that is a position agreed to by a majority of the members of the Yes Scotland board. We agree with them. The only issue now is for the SNP to explain what its new plan A is.

MR: There are some who say that Sir Nicholas Macpherson breached civil service impartiality by allowing his opinion re the currency to be published. Clearly, that was designed to have an impact on the debate. When you contrast that with the unpublished advice given to the Tory government in 1979 from McCrone re the value of oil, doesn’t it just show us that you are willing to share information if it is damaging to the ‘Yes’ side but not if it was the other way round?

DC: The referendum is fundamental to the very existence of Scotland within the UK. And the currency question is one of the most crucial aspects of nationhood. It was right that the clear evidence and advice on sharing the UK pound was made public.

MR: In this debate, when the stakes are so high and you basically have all the weight of the establishment bearing down on a ‘Yes’ argument, how is the public meant to trust anything it is told by either side?
DC: It is crucial that as many independent voices as possible have their say. Our Scotland analysis papers are prepared by civil servants. They cite as often as possible third-party evidence. Major companies and employers are adding their voices, as are trade unions and civil groups and personalities. There is a growing wealth of evidence, helped and nurtured by the media, on which people can base their decision.

MR: The next test of that will be with the European elections. How concerned are you about the threat from Ukip and if they prove successful doesn’t that again throw into sharp contrast the difference between Scotland and rUK?

DC: The European elections are distinct from other votes. And I am making no predictions about who will get how many votes, and where!

MR: What will your rally call be to Scotland in terms of the referendum at the party conference?

DC: That we have a long-term plan for recovery for all of the UK. That we are better together. So don’t let anybody wreck it. It isn’t broken – so don’t break it

Holyrood Newsletters

Holyrood provides comprehensive coverage of Scottish politics, offering award-winning reporting and analysis: Subscribe

Read the most recent article written by Mandy Rhodes - Fiona Hyslop: The feeling of unity is already palpable in the SNP.

Get award-winning journalism delivered straight to your inbox

Get award-winning journalism delivered straight to your inbox


Popular reads
Back to top