Cameron shows contempt

Shortly after becoming Prime Minister, David Cameron spoke repeatedly about a "respect agenda" for Wales and Scotland. In his speech at the Tory Party conference yesterday he showed us that he's either changed his mind ... or never meant it in the first place.


We will always pursue British interests. And there are some red lines we should never ever cross. The sight of that man responsible for the Lockerbie bombing, the biggest mass murderer in British history, set free to get a hero’s welcome in Tripoli. No. It was wrong. It undermined our standing in the world. Nothing like that must ever happen again.

As we can see, this was delivered with a clenched fist banging the lectern. It can only mean one thing: that if Cameron was Prime Minister when the Scottish Justice Minister made his decision to free Al Megrahi, he would have stepped in to prevent it.

Back in February in his speech to the Tories in Scotland, Cameron said almost the same thing, although it might just have been possible to understand what he said then as less of a threat. He said:

And it's shameful that during one of the most emotionally-charged moments in our recent history, when the Lockerbie bomber was released from jail to return home to Libya where he still is today, the Scottish Government and British Government refused to cooperate.

That would not happen on my watch.

At the time I said this about it:

The matter of compassionate release—whether one agrees with the decision in the Al Megrahi case or not—is a quasi-judicial decision exercised by a minister of government: in Scotland by the Cabinet Secretary for Justice and in RUK by the Secretary of State for Justice. So how precisely are two different governments meant to "cooperate" if they disagree?

It might mean that the government that did not have the responsibility for making the decision simply made whatever representations it wished to make in private. In fact the Labour government in Westminster did do exactly this, constantly saying in public that it was a matter only for the Scottish government. I think that was entirely right. But Cameron has called it "shameful". Read the sentence again carefully, he did not say the decision to release was shameful (although he undoubtedly thinks it was) but that what happened was a refusal to cooperate, and that the refusal to cooperate was shameful.

So what are the alternatives? Well, one alternative would be that each government openly declared its disagreement with the other. At least that's an honest position. The American government certainly voiced its disagreement with the decision in no uncertain terms. And the Conservative Party both in Holyrood and Westminster were particularly vocal in their disagreement too. But how on earth can open disagreement be described as "cooperation"?

So what's left? If Cameron's statement has any meaning, it can only be that he intends Westminster to overrule any similar decision the Scottish government might make in future. I find that very sinister.

Syniadau: Cameron on Scotland, 13 February 2010

Cameron seems to be very confused about this matter. How can the decision to release Al Megrahi possibly reflect badly on the UK? It wasn't the UK's decision to make, so the UK cannot be in any way responsible for it. The only people who are likely to be unimpressed with the UK are dictatorial governments who think that the hallmark of leadership is to ignore democracy and the rule of law, and instead to enforce your will over those who disagree with you by whatever means it takes. They'd call that "strong leadership", but why should any democrat care what people like that think? That Cameron obviously does care about it speaks volumes about his own attitude. It's the attitude of playground bullies everywhere: kow-tow to those who are bigger than you, while at the same time threatening those who are smaller than you.

So we can see how little the idea of mutual "respect" matters to David Cameron. For him it is only a one way street. And this puts into proper prespective what Cheryl Gillan meant when, as reported here, she echoed the call for the Assembly to show "respect" to the ConDem government in Westminster.

So forget the "respect agenda". These are empty words. The reality is nothing but arrogant contempt for the devolved governments of the UK.


I'd now like to turn to another subject in the same speech:

And I want to make something else clear. When I say I'm Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, I really mean it. England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland – we are weaker apart, we are stronger together, and together is how we must remain.

Taken in isolation, these words might just mean that David Cameron wants the UK to stay together. That's perfectly reasonable, and he's as entitled as everyone else to his view.

But there are a couple of things which show that he has something more draconian in mind. The first is the use of the word "must". Why must the countries of the UK remain together? If we respect the idea of democracy, surely people in Wales, Scotland—and indeed England too—each have the right to decide for ourselves in a referendum whether we want to be independent of the rest of the UK. Indeed, he mentioned it in the context of Northern Ireland, where a fundamental part of the agreement is that Ireland will be be reunited if a majority in the North vote for it. Why the double standards?


So what did he mean by the heavy emphasis on the word "must"? Was it merely rhetorical flourish ... or was it exactly the same "must never happen" as he used to say he intended to trample over the independence of the Scottish legal system? If anybody is in any doubt, look at this part of his same speech:

Now I know that there will be compromises and I want to tell you that there may be things we have to do that sometimes we won't like. Next May, there'll be a referendum on electoral reform. Now I don't want to change our voting system any more than most of you want to change our voting system. But let me just say this: let's not waste any time trying to wreck this bill – let's get out there and win this vote in the country.

This statement is perfectly reasonable. He acknowledges that electoral reform is a subject that people should be allowed to decide in a referendum, so he has allowed the referendum to happen, even though he will campaign for a No vote in it.

So why will he not do the same on the matter of independence? Why does his party, along with the two other unionist parties, continue to refuse to allow a referendum on independence in Scotland? If he was being consistent he would say:

Now I don't want to change our voting system Scotland to become independent any more than most of you want to change our voting system Scotland to become independent. But let me just say this: let's not waste any time trying to wreck this bill the SNP's referendum bill – let's get out there and win this vote in the country.

But being consistent is hardly a Tory strong point. If the Tories were so confident that a vote on Scottish independence would be lost, they would surely welcome a referendum to prove it.


These two examples—lack of respect for the independence of the Scottish legal system and the unwillingness to allow a referendum on independence—clearly show us that the only thing that's strong about Cameron is his desire to use strong arm tactics at the expense of democracy.

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glynbeddau said...

Cameron's true nature has been shown On Dick Coles of Mebyon Kernow blog.
I reproduced it on my National Left Blog but look at Dick's post he's always worth a visit anytin#me.

glynbeddau said...

don't know what happened there "anytime"

MH said...

Yes, Glyn. I read it and I agree. For the Tories, the only thing that matters is that any other identity is subordinate to British identity.

Hendre said...

I've yet to hear Cameron explain what was 'wrong' about the decision. Is compassionate release wrong in principle for all prisoners? Or does he mean an exception should have been made in the case of Al Megrahi. What legal argument (contestable in court) does Cameron think Macaskill should have made to keep Al Megrahi in prison, bearing in mind that another part of the Scottish justice system had determined that there were grounds to challenge his original conviction?

Pure grandstanding from Cameron.

Unknown said...

I've always thought it a delicious irony that the Al Megrahi affair proved so embarrassing for the British Government!

A long overdue payback for the ' Britain <==> England' equivalence that HM Gov has been quite happy to promulgate throughout the world for so long!

I was a a little disappointed, but delighted at the same time, to notice that the USA - where each COUNTY, let alone each state, has its own independent judicial system - failed to understand that the UK is now devolved (though this decision would have been taken in Scotland before devolution).

It demonstrates how overdue it is for English Politicians, and British Diplomats worldwide to be thoroughly educated in the new order!

Unknown said...

Cameron knows nothing about al-Megrahi or the history of that case. It is pathetic posturing and grandstanding in the name of British imperialism and colonialism. We can tell from their policies that the British parties do not understand the principle of compassion anyway.

MH said...

I agree with the first two sentences, WR, but I think you've over-painted the picture in the third.

Compassionate release is something that ministers from unionist parties have been able to apply perfectly well when they have been in power, both at Holyrood and Westminster. So it's not that they don't understand the principle ... it's a question of how consistently they apply it.

The Labour government in Westminster, in this case, did exactly the right thing by saying compassionate release was entirely a matter for Scotland to decide. Although they didn't do so well beforehand when they tried to arrange a transfer without consulting the Scottish authorities. So we could give them half marks.

In contrast, the Tories are just demonstrating double standards.

Unknown said...

Fair points MH. I fear my rhetoric was coloured by what seem like the anti-Welsh actions of the Tory government these past few weeks.

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