With his cheerful acceptance of a jibe that his background as a “Tory toff from the Home Counties” made him an unsuitable figure to campaign against independence, David Cameron acknowledged Scotland’s uneasy relationship with privilege.
“I humbly accept that while I am sure there are many people in Scotland who would like to hear me talk about this issue, my appeal doesn’t stretch to every part,” the Prime Minister told the House of Commons this week.
One part of the country where Cameron’s appeal does not extend is the area inhabited by Ian Davidson, the Labour MP for Glasgow South West. It was Davidson who suggested that the last person “No”-supporting Scots want as their representative is a Home Counties “toff” like the Prime Minister.
Of course, the Prime Minister and Mr Davidson are right. Many Scots would not take kindly to being lectured on politics by an Old Etonian Tory.
Particularly not an Old Etonian Tory whose most obvious connection to Scotland is the holidays he spends on the sprawling 20,000-acre estate on Jura owned by his step-father-in-law Viscount Astor (no less).
The issue of class and its role in the referendum may be a relatively new one, but class has long been at the heart of a controversy with which Viscount Astor will be only too familiar – Scottish landownership.
This week, an excellent BBC Scotland documentary laid out these tensions between Scotland’s political and land-owning classes. Interviewed on the The Men Who Own Scotland was the scourge of the Home Counties toffs, a certain Ian Davidson.
Davidson is one of the driving forces behind attempts to devise a fairer pattern of landownership in Scotland. As the chair of the Commons Scottish Affairs Select Committee, he is a harsh critic of a system that has resulted in just 432 landlords having control over half of Scotland’s land. The privileged few have long felt they are demonised by class envy and argue that they invest much time and money in an attempt to make a success of managing some of the most inhospitable wildernesses in the country.
As Davidson and the SNP’s environment minister, Paul Wheelhouse, whose Government has commissioned a review of land ownership, indicated on the programme, there is not much sympathy for those sorts of arguments amongst Scotland’s left-leaning political establishment.
Cameron may have come to terms with Scottish attitudes towards his patrician background when it comes to the referendum. But one wonders what he will do for his holidays if the land reform agenda results in the isle of Jura becoming another part of Scotland that is immune to his “appeal”.