By Calum Ansell
The decision taken last week by David Cameron not to get involved in a debate with Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond on the issue of Scottish independence is one that has, by and large, passed the traditional Scottish media unnoticed despite its significance.
Being the elected leader of the institution that the Better Together campaign is asking Scots to endorse means that Cameron cannot take a back seat in this debate. As Prime Minister of the United Kingdom one would think that Cameron should be campaigning with “every single fibre” he has instead of leaving the debate to a previous and previously disgraced Chancellor of the Exchequer.
The decision may be an astute one, the Prime Minister is not popular in Scotland, his party has consistently failed to persuade a significant number of Scots to back them. Cuts to welfare and the state of the economy have left his government looking vulnerable and the Labour party has been benefiting from a swing in the latest polls. The Unionist Better Together campaign clearly understands this electoral liability and have sought to put Alistair Darling in the driving seat of the campaign.
This may seem to many to be surprising as during his time in power Darling had planned to make cuts “tougher and deeper” than those that had been implemented under the Thatcher government. Darling was also caught having flipped his second home four times at the taxpayers' expense making himself a considerable sum of money. Much to the benefit of the Better Together campaign the Scottish media appear to have suffered some form of collective amnesia with regard to Darling's history.
There are significant problems with the approach taken by the Unionist parties here. By endorsing the Union, the Better Together campaign has to explain to Scots why being governed from Westminster is preferable to governance from Scotland. This task will not be an easy one when the campaign is attempting to hide away the leader of the political establishment in Westminster. Scots have the right to hold David Cameron and the Liberal Democrat-Conservative government to account. There are many questions that are being avoided by both Better Together and the Westminster government that the Scottish media is happy to let slide.
It should be for David Cameron to explain why the UK government is refusing to initiate talks with the EU to clarify the Scottish position after a potential 'yes' vote. The Better Together campaign was quick to highlight the Scottish Government's unwillingness to produce legal advice it had been receiving however they have not pressed their allies in Westminster for the same. The legal advice attained by Westminster is still unknown. The UK government must also explain to the Scottish electorate why it has prevented the release of documents relating to the devolution of Scotland, another point the traditional Scottish media has failed to follow up.
During what can only be described as a frenzy within the media, David Cameron's government piled the pressure on the SNP to accept the advice given by the Electoral Commission regarding the referendum.
Among the recommendations made was one in particular that suggested that the Scottish and UK governments should outline what exactly would happen after either a 'yes' or a 'no' vote. The Scottish Government duly did this however despite all the pressure which the unionist coalition heaped upon the Scottish Government, the Westminster Government decided not to follow suit describing such a move as “pre-negotiations”. It is clear to see from the Scottish Government's response to the EC that this was far from pre-negotiations. The very least that Cameron's government should offer is what will happen if the Scots decide to vote 'no' to independence however it seems that this may also prove to be an electoral liability and is being put off until after the referendum.
These are all significant questions that need to be addressed by the UK government and not the representative of the Better Together campaign. Those in Westminster were very eager to point out that they are the elected representatives of Scotland during the debate over how the referendum should be organised. It is clear this far into the campaign that the traditional Scottish media is willing to compromise the quality of the debate in order to undermine the prospect of an independent Scotland however this is far from the enlightened consideration that is needed for the biggest decision ever taken by the Scottish electorate. If we are not to rely on the printed press the least we could have expected was that the leader of the United Kingdom would take part in a debate over its very existence. It is becoming clear that the unionist Better Together campaign would prefer Cameron to remain out of sight and therefore out of mind and the media seems prepared to allow that to happen.