Sunday, February 8, 2009

The other 'respect agenda'

Scotland on Sunday is reporting that David Cameron will ensure any administration he leads establishes a far better relationship with the SNP government in Edinburgh than Gordon Brown has chosen to thus far. Mischievously, the article even invokes the phrase 'the respect agenda', hitherto associated with the government's never-ending drive to ensure that no child is left behind - all must have ASBOs.

The hint seems to be that Cameron envisages the Scots in his Shadow Cabinet - Michael Gove, Liam Fox and Lord Strathclyde - playing a key role in all this. Frankly, I'm struggling to imagine the insufferable Dr Fox in the role of cross-party bridge-builder. However, for all his reputation as an idealogue (a neocon, some would say), Gove did manage to strike a refreshing tone of humility when discussing the success of devolution (and specifically the Tories' previous block-headed determination to prevent it happening) when he appeared on Question Time the week before last. But it's the age-old question - Gove and others may be able to talk the talk, but will they walk the walk once in power? After all, the Tories went into the 1979 election nominally still open to the possibility of devolution, with the pro-assembly former PM Sir Alec Douglas-Home famously promising that a Thatcher government would introduce a 'better' form of devolution than the one Labour proposed. Perhaps a warning from history that it's best not to take vague pledges from a Tory opposition on the Scottish constitutional question at face value.

After all, a Tory government is highly likely to be elected with only a handful of Scottish seats, so in spite of Cameron's protestations that he wants to be Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and not England, we all know it won't be the Scottish electorate he'll be primarily pandering to.

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