Clash of the Cabinets: A wasted opportunity

I’m feeling a bit disgruntled today. My two governments are in the news. The Scottish and UK Cabinets have set up rival camps, glowering at each other with the City of Aberdeen providing an unwitting No Man’s Land.

How very different it could have been.

Given that these governments share responsibility in really important areas like employment, climate change, transport and energy, I think it would have been so constructive if they’d been able to organise a joint session to discuss these issues. Youth unemployment, for example,  is a significant issue north of the border and it’s something that both governments are pledged to tackle, to enable young people to fulfil their potential.

They could even have gone as far as talking to some young people. How revolutionary would that have been?

Instead, we have some theatrical spectacle which revolves around David Cameron’s refusal to debate Alex Salmond on independence. That, not Scotland’s unemployed young people or transport links, is all that the media are interested in talking about. A debate that will never happen should not be the only talking point from a once in a blue moon occasion. Of course Salmond wants to debate Cameron. He knows that he could turn up drunk wearing only saltire boxer shorts, and do nothing but sing Caledonia (he’s done the last one before) and he would still most likely be considered the winner. He wants to play up the English Tory vs Scotland angle when that’s not what it should be about. He makes it all very personal when he goes on about Cameron being on the playing fields of Eton while he was working as an oil economist. Do we really need to invoke a class war as well? Especially when his own background has been reasonably privileged from an early life in Linlithgow to St Andrew’s University.  You don’t hear the same sort of personal diatribe from the UK Government, even if their arguments could sometimes be articulated with more empathy.

The oil and gas industry, so important to the North East of Scotland, has been highlighted by both governments.  Of course they are going to have competing visions. The UK Government says that it’s best placed to absorb the volatility of the energy markets which make it difficult to predict oil revenues, while the Scottish Government says that Norway manages it, so why can’t we? Last year a leaked paper showed that Finance Secretary John Swinney has more doubt about the public finances post independence than he is allowed to admit publicly.

It’s a pity that the independence referendum has polarised Scottish politics so much that the two governments could not, just for an afternoon, put their differences aside and show that they both have Scotland’s best interests at heart. They both, after all, have a responsibility for it, at least for the next two years and, if the polls are right, way beyond. That would be so much better than all this macho posturing about a debate that will never happen. What a wasted opportunity. For me, it’s the Naughty Step for both governments today.

One final point about the news coverage. It sounds very dramatic to say that it’s only the second time in over 80 years that the Cabinet has visited Scotland. Actually, it’s the second time in five years. The Cabinet stayed put in London until Gordon Brown took a notion to take it out and about when he was Prime Minister. Since then, in a handful of outings, they’ve been to Scotland twice. Scotland is hardly being hard done to.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • Alex Dingwall 24th Feb '14 - 4:30pm

    “He makes it all very personal”

    Caron that’s an awfully big glass house you are building yourself and it really is not needed. You make a good case that there are far more important issues that voters want addressed than who debates who. But then you can’t help yourself. Some of the recent posts would have been far better left to personal blogs than LDV

    What was the point in providing the link to the First Minister singing at an event in his own constituency?

    And are we to absolve our own party leadership on this one so lightly? Nick or Danny could have pressed for a joint meeting of the cabinets but didn’t. So yes there is blame, but it cuts both ways.

    Lets have meaningful discussion on Independence, Home Rule (The Scottish Party’s option) and the Labour or Tory alternatives, if any. Lets read about what these mean for our country and our party but please when you rightly criticise the media obsession with non-issues around the referendum lets also make sure this platform practices what it preaches.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 24th Feb '14 - 5:03pm

    Alex, can I refer you to this line:

    “For me, it’s the Naughty Step for both governments today.”

    I didn’t say it was all the SNP’s fault. I’m annoyed with both of them for allowing this media circus to be created and not letting anything remotely c onstructive come out of it. BBC News said it was a complete coincidence that they both ended up meeting in the same city on the same day and I can actually imagine that to be the case, but once they’d realised it, surely they could have played like grown ups. Cameron has annoyed me just as much as Salmond has. I’d have liked to have seen sensible ministers like Angela Constance talk about young people and jobs and things that need doing now.

    I thought that throwing in the Salmond/Caledonia link was an appropriate illustration for that point. It is true that he could do virtually anything in a debate with Cameron in Scotland and be judged the winner. That might not be his fault, but it’s the fact.

    Alex, if you want to write for LDV from a pro-independence perspective, you are welcome to do so. It would be a bit of an injustice if the only people who were not allowed to express their opinion on this site were its editors and we wlcome all perspectives.

    We have published posts on independence, home rule, devo max and just about everything in between and not just from me, either.

  • Very much agree with Caron on is matter. Not sure what the thinking behind having the rival camps on opposite hills was, but the only way to describe both of them in regard today’s spectacle is like looking a bunch on numpties. The matters being discussed are vitally important but it has been turned into a soap opera.

  • Frank Booth 24th Feb '14 - 5:23pm

    These cabinet away days serve no purpose whatsoever from what I can tell.It should be in a government minister’s DNA that they represent the wholeof the UK and in Westminster we’re supposed to have representatives of every blade of grass covering this Island. If anyone remembers the brilliant spoof news programme The Day Today, the cabinet journeys are reminiscient of them taking the fictional soap opera The Bureau on a tour of the regions.

    There is an uncomfortable truth that needs to be realised. The Lib Dems have many senior Scottish figures. The Conservatives used to be the party of the Union. But there is only one party that can save the Union and that is the Labour Party. What is the point of having Cameron in the campaign when the main thrust of the Yes vote argument is No More Tory Governments. The whole reason Scotland might leave is because of prime ministers like Cameron. If he really cares about the union he should just shut up. Short of a major change in policy Scots will never be reconciled to him. What I can’t understand is Ed Miliband’s silence. Someone needs to present a positive vision of a united union for the future that appeals to Scots. Only he can do that. Gordon Brown/Alastair Darling (yesterday’s men), Nick Clegg/Danny Alexander (tainted by association with the Tories), Ed Balls (no-one likes him). Whatever you think of him, it is up to Miliband

  • What on earth is going on. 7 months to go and the BBC and the rest of the London-based media are climaxing already. Given the shortness of their attention span, perhaps the Scottish referendum will be old, dead news in a fortnight’s time.

    As for this (UK) Government’s news management, today’s stuff seems to me to be yet another gift for Salmond. Why are they quite so incompetent?


  • Dr David Hill 24th Feb '14 - 10:50pm

    It is not energy that is Scotland’s greatest asset but its creativity, inventiveness and innovative thinking.

    For some 20-years ago the Foundation undertook an in-depth analysis of the creativity and inventiveness of nations throughout the world. The nations that had provided most to the technological and scientific world that we see today. In other words at the fundamental level which nations had contributed most to the formation of the modern world. Remarkably the nation that had at the fundamental thought level provided most was Britain. Indeed in the 1980s the Japanese MITI undertook an analysis also on these lines and remarkably they found that at the fundamental creative thinking level the people of the UK had provided 54%. A decade later the Germans undertook something similar and came to the deduction that the modern world of technology had been produced through the creative thinking of the people of the UK to the tune of 53%. But the most startling find was that per capita wise, Scotland had produced far more of the fundamental thinking within the UK than any other area of Britain and was in fact the most creative nation on earth. Therefore if Scotland left the United Kingdom they would most probably be far better off in the long run than staying in the Union and where this if it happened would be year-on-year economically damaging for the UK and its people.
    But even though this is the case neither England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland have not yet realised that even they have an Achilles heel that needs to be sorted –

    Dr David Hill
    Chief Executive
    World Innovation Foundation

  • Alex Dingwall 25th Feb '14 - 1:10am

    Hi Caron, thanks for the reply. Certainly over the next 7 months I’m sure LDV can be a more reasoned platform for discussion on the referendum than the comments pages of the Herald or Scotsman. I think Stephen’s article struck the right note in planting a Liberal Democrat flag firmly into this debate.

    On 18th September I’ll vote Yes and you’ll vote No, but before then we will both vote Lib Dem on 22nd May .

  • Let me put on my devil’s advocate hat for this comment.

    Suppose that Scotland does indeed become independent. Also that they cannot join the EU, for the reasons that Barroso described. It is highly unlikely that Spain for example will want to set the precedent, because of their own internal claims for independent areas.

    Also that they have to have their own currency. As all three main parties have pointed out (including ours) they can hardly consider themselves independent if they are still clinging on to the pound. They cannot use the Euro unless they are in the EU, so they will have to have their own currency.

    They will be forced to have a complete change of mindset. No longer able to blame England for their own problems, they will have to grow up and become much more resilient. Which I think they will do.

    They do have considerable natural resources. Oil and gas being the obvious, and that is even before they start fracking. They could be energy independent for many years.

    They could also be food independent. They would reclaim their territorial waters from the EU. They would then naturally allow fish stocks to replenish, because the domestic demand is less than that of the rest of the EU. As the stocks replenish and thrive, the Scottish fishing fleets could grow in a sustainable way. Scotland would then be able to export their catches which exceed domestic demand. In addition they would not be subject to having to discard the by-catch.

    There is a considerable brain drain of Scottish talent to England. Scotland can have a thriving technology and science sector if the conditions exist to offer careers to their brightest talents.

    Scotland being independent could become a great financial centre maybe even to rival London. We have the same time zone, it would just be necessary to put in place the high speed communication links between say Edinburgh and New York, Frankfurt etc. Scotland could become a tax haven like the Isle of Man, but on a much larger scale.

    The only possible fly in the ointment is if Alex Salmond starts talking about trading tariffs. The world is opening up to free trade, we should be looking to open up to trade world wide, not hide behind local or regional trading blocks. Free trade worldwide benefits everybody. Restrictions do not.

    Finally, Scotland would get rid of two layers of governance, namely Westminster and Brussels, which must surely lessen their tax burden, not having to pay for all that bureaucracy. The UK membership of the EU costs us £55 million per day. I have also seen figures that it costs the UK £140 billion annually if all costs are added up.

    To simplify the maths, let us say that Scotland is 10% of the UK. So they save £5 million per day EU membership fee. They save £14 billion per annum in total costs due to EU red tape etc.

    This also helps the remaining UK, we could reduce our EU membership fee to £50 million per day.

    Anybody willing to answer these items point by point? If we want a United Kingdom within the EU, we need to up our game and be willing to address the arguments made by those who are clamoring for independence.

  • andrew purches 25th Feb '14 - 10:19am

    One major factor in the scheme of things seems to be overlooked: irrespective of the overall debate concerning both sides in this argument, the fact that the younger Scots voters – those in the under 40 year’s of age bracket – overwhelmingly hate Cameron and the Tory’s. Salmond knows this only too well, and will be relying upon the younger vote to swing the result his way. The Scots Lib Dems, if they have any clout south of the Border,should be pushing for an offer of reasonable,open,discussion about our joint futures, even to the extent of offering a new constitution incorporating all our regions in a true Federal Kingdom, based perhaps upon the old states of our saxon era. If the Scots get their way, how long, may I ask, will it be before Northumberland seeks to join this new independent Scottish state?

  • Hi Joe
    If Scotland does choose independence I have no doubt that the sky won’t fall in. There are many independent countries smaller and with fewer resources than Scotland. They’ll be perfectly fine as an independent country and it’s churlish to suggest otherwise. However, the economy would be smaller and less diverse, heavily reliant on volatile oil for its revenue. This, combined with no debt history, would inevitably mean higher borrowing costs. This is the biggie – and is likely to cost Scottish taxpayers a great deal. On the upside maybe Scotland could cuts its taxes and attract financial services – much like Ireland did. But unless they were a very low tax environment (and how would Scotland pay for that?) there’s no obvious reason why firms would want to take themselves out of the biggest trading bloc in the world of 300 million people and relocate to an economy of 6 million.

  • As for the cost of the EU, I refer you to Catherine Bearder’s Euromyth page:

  • This is a decision for the coming decades and centuries, yet the discussion, on both sides, seems to be about the problems and benefits that will arise over the next 5-10 years only.

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