Cameron urges Scots to remain in ‘Team GB’
British prime minister attempts to shift pro-union camp to positive ground
David Cameron delivers his speech on Scottish independence at the Olympic Park in Stratford, east London, yesterday.
His intervention marked a change of emphasis in the campaign to keep the UK intact. The campaign had been criticised for too often warning Scots about the negative consequences for them, economically and socially, should they leave the union.
Mr Cameron made an impassioned plea for a No vote to the four million Scots entitled to vote in the referendum.
He urged English, Welsh and Northern Irish people – and Scots living elsewhere in the UK – to encourage voters to reject independence. He said it should be made clear to the Scots how much they were wanted as part of the union.
“So to everyone in England, Wales and Northern Ireland – everyone, like me, who cares about the United Kingdom, I want to say this: you don’t have a vote but you do have a voice,” he said.
Mr Cameron had refused repeated demands that he argue the merits of independence in a head-to-head debate with Scottish first minister, Alex Salmond, arguing that the vote was down to the people.
However, even though the pro-union camp is ahead in the polls there have been signals since last autumn that a number of those on the “don’t know” side have been drifting towards independence. The prime minister’s speech, made in the Olympic Park in Stratford, east London, deliberately sought to capitalise on the feelings of Britishness fostered by the 2012 London Olympics.
Recalling Scot Chris Hoy’s historic cycling victories, Mr Cameron said: “The best thing about the Olympics wasn’t the winning. It was the red, the white, the blue.
“It was the summer that patriotism came out of the shadows and into the sun. Everyone cheering as one for Team GB.”
Mr Cameron, seen by many in Scotland as a privileged Old Etonian, sought to emphasise his Scottish heritage.
“The name Cameron might mean ‘crooked nose’ but the clan motto is ‘Let us unite’ – and that’s exactly what we in these islands have done,” he said.
The speech, which has been in the works for weeks, was crafted to move the pro-union camp on to positive ground, while attempting to avoid accusations that he was improperly interfering in Scottish affairs.
“As I have made clear, this is a decision that is squarely and solely for those in Scotland to make. I passionately believe it is in their interests to stay in the UK. That way Scotland has the space to take decisions while still having the security that comes with being part of something bigger,” he said.
Mr Salmond criticised Mr Cameron’s decision to make the speech in London, adding that he had politicised the legacy of the Olympics – though there is little doubt that Mr Salmond is planning to do the same with this summer’s Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
“This is a speech delivered from London ostensibly telling the people of England what to do, instead of a debate the prime minister must do in Scotland with me about the pros and cons of independence,” Mr Salmond said.
The Scottish National Party, which Mr Salmond leads, sought to underplay Mr Cameron’s influence in the campaign by not putting out first-rank figures to criticise the details of the speech. Instead, SNP MP Stewart Hosie criticised “the constant attacks on Scotland’s ability to prosper as an independent country”.
“The No campaign must stop their scaremongering. Whether it is their crude attacks on the Scottish economy, their scaremongering about mortgages or their wrong-headed attacks on pensions and benefits, the No campaign runs the real risk of been seen as nothing other than a Labour front defending Westminster Tory cuts,” he said.
However, some of pro-union arguments – particularly over Scottish rights to use sterling after a Yes vote and other economic issues – have struck home.