Leaders: Cameron can’t win, except when not losing

The SNP sees rich political pickings in Mr Cameron's involvement in the debate. Picture: Getty
The SNP sees rich political pickings in Mr Cameron's involvement in the debate. Picture: Getty
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When it comes to intervening in the Scottish independence referendum campaign, the Prime Minister is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t.

If David Cameron appears unwilling to engage – for example, refusing First Minister Alex Salmond’s invitation to participate in a televised debate – then his opponents taunt him as “feart”.

And if the Prime Minister does get involved, as he did yesterday, he is dismissed as a day-tripper, “lecturing” the Scots.

The SNP sees rich political pickings in Mr Cameron’s involvement in the debate. And the pro-union Better Together campaign knows that the nationalists are correct to do so. After all, in different times Scottish Labour and Liberal Democrat politicians have told their own stories of the evils of the Conservative Party with no small effect.

But though his presence may be problematic for Better Together, it is required.

Previous forays across the Border by Cabinet ministers have not been entirely successful. When Chancellor George Osborne came to Edinburgh in February to rule out a currency union between an independent Scotland and the UK, the SNP gained some traction with accusations that he was bullying Scots.

Proof that the Better Together campaign realised the dangers of having a Tory minister come to Scotland to proclaim on matters pertaining to the referendum came soon afterwards, when Westminster published a paper suggesting Scottish Independence would have a negative impact on pensions. Rather than Iain Duncan Smith travelling north to trail the paper, former Labour prime minister Gordon Brown took centre stage.

It was particularly important, therefore, that Mr Cameron got the tone right this time.

The Prime Minister made a good start, preceding his trip with remarks about the late Labour leader John Smith’s support for the UK. The 20th anniversary of Mr Smith’s death united politicians across the spectrum – nationalists included – in respectful remembrance this week.

Mr Cameron said Mr Smith was a “proud Scot” who “knew that loving your country and at the same time wanting to be part of something bigger does not make you any less Scottish”.

The Prime Minister’s praise for Mr Smith’s principles was timely, though Mr Salmond remarked, “I knew John Smith. David Cameron’s no John Smith.”

Alongside the promise of strengthened devolution, the Prime Minister delivered a heavy dose of flattery. Scotland, said Mr Cameron, put the Great into Great Britain.

Better Together campaigners will be relieved that the visit was not a disaster. That was always as much as they could hope for.

Whether Mr Cameron will win new No votes in Scotland is questionable.

The No campaign will be happy as long as he doesn’t lose them existing supporters.

Controversy is par for the course

IT’S a promise to make golfers shudder. Having paid a reported £35 million for Turnberry, American tycoon Donald Trump says he will make “tweaks”.

From almost anyone else, such a pledge might be unremarkable but Mr Trump is not a man known for his lightness of touch.

The businessman’s first venture into Scottish golf – the purchase and development of the Menie Estate in Aberdeenshire – remains fraught with controversy.

Mr Trump’s relationships with Scottish politicians, once convivial, soon soured over the location of a wind farm within view of the new course. Meanwhile, opponents of the businessman’s development accused him of bullying locals and ravaging the countryside.

And there is still no sign of the proposed 450-bedroom luxury hotel, conference facilities and residential developments, all of which were supposed to create jobs in an area of high unemployment. Mr Trump makes similar promises for Turnberry. He says there may be a further course to add to the three existing links, and that he will spend “probably $150 million” in bringing the hotel which overlooks the fairways up to the highest standard of luxury. Not only this, but Mr Trump heaps praise on local politicians for the way they’ve welcomed him.

There is a familiar ring to all of this. The Menie project began with promises of redevelopment and regeneration but, so far, those promises remain unfulfilled. It began with praise for politicians whom Mr Trump later denounced.

He says the Royal and Ancient Golf Club is supportive of his plans to “tweak” Turnberry. How Mr Trump and the R&A define “tweak” may, we suspect, differ.