DAVID Cameron’s battle against Scottish independence was dealt a severe blow last night when the former treasurer of his party was caught on tape saying the Tories must “be seen” to fight for the Union even if they disagree with keeping the UK together.
Peter Cruddas, who resigned last weekend after being filmed selling secret meetings with the Prime Minister to potential financial donors, said the party should be prepared to fake its opposition to Scottish independence to get a better break-up deal for England.
Last night, fresh footage of Cruddas emerged in which he described a meeting with Cameron when they talked about a forthcoming trip to Scotland.
In the footage, Cruddas suggested that if the Conservatives gave the impression that they supported the Union, then that would ensure that England got the best possible deal after independence.
Cruddas said: “He [Cameron] told me that he wants to fight to keep the Union… he told me that was, those were his true feelings, however, even if they’re not, we as a party have to be seen to be fighting to keep the Union together, even if we don’t agree with it, because, at the end of it all, if the Scots say ‘we’re out of here’ and they want to go independent, we can turn around and say it’s not what we wanted, it’s not what we campaigned for, you can’t have this, you can’t have that, and you can get on with it.”
The Prime Minister has made great play of his desire to keep Scotland in the United Kingdom. Although Cameron does not want to go down in history as the Prime Minister who presided over the break-up of the 300-year-old Union, some Conservatives have privately indicated that they could see the advantages of Scotland going independent.
With Scotland – and its large contingent of Labour MPs – outside the Union, the Conservatives would enjoy an almost unchallengeable majority in the House of Commons.
The SNP last night described the footage as a “bombshell” for the Tories. Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “It shows that senior Tories in London are cynically faking their opposition to independence to position themselves for a post-independence deal.
“The Cruddas revelations show that they believe in nothing except protecting Westminster interests. Their claims about winning the referendum are exposed as mere bravado. In fact, they are already preparing for losing.”
The latest footage was filmed earlier this year, ahead of a meeting between Cameron and Salmond in Edinburgh. The pair met in February to discuss the terms of the independence referendum, including Salmond’s preferred date of autumn 2014 and his plan to allow 16 and 17-year-olds to take part. During Cameron’s visit to Scotland the Prime Minister urged voters to say “no” to independence, and in return held out the prospect of more powers to be granted to Holyrood under an enhanced devolution settlement.
A spokesman for First Minister Alex Salmond said Cameron’s “appointee as Tory treasurer is on tape displaying his contempt for Scotland and our parliament and directly implicates the Prime Minister in that attitude.
“The First Minister believes that the Prime Minister owes Scotland a full and detailed explanation of the Cruddas revelations. He will demand one.”
Cruddas resigned after footage appeared to show him offering access to the Prime Minister in exchange for a donation of £250,000. Filmed by Sunday Times reporters posing as potential donors, it also shows Cruddas claiming that he and Cameron both referred to Salmond as “the mad Scotsman”, although last night the Conservatives denied that Cameron had used those words.
A Scottish Conservative Party spokesman said: “The Prime Minister has always been very clear that he wants to keep the Union together. Indeed, the transcript shows that the Prime Minister privately told Peter Cruddas that his true feelings are to support and to fight for the Union.”
Last week’s revelations forced the Prime Minister to publish details of all Conservative donors who had dined with him in his Downing Street flat.
He also agreed that details of all meals between donors to the party and ministers will now be published on a quarterly basis. Cameron has promised to hold an inquiry into party fund-raising in the wake of Cruddas’s resignation.