Conservatives at war over Cameron’s referendum date climbdown


By a Newsnet reporter

UK Prime Minister David Cameron has been slammed by Scottish Conservatives angry at his treatment of Scottish party leader Ruth Davidson.

Senior Conservative MSPs have accused Mr Cameron of hanging Ms Davidson out to dry and that the party north of the border were being treated as “an irrelevance”.

The criticism follows comments from Mr Cameron earlier this week where he claimed not to be “fussed” over the date of the independence referendum.

According to the Herald newspaper one senior Tory said: “The real significance of this is David Cameron clearly doesn’t think he has done anything wrong because the Scottish Tories are such an irrelevance we are just not on his radar.  This was not wilful or deliberate or even careless. It just showed it did not occur to him the view of the Scottish party or its leader might even matter.”

“There is absolutely no communication from London,” said another Tory MSP to the paper. “It’s ridiculous.  Even the Liberal Democrats are better at this.”

The UK PM’s comments follow months of attacks on the SNP’s referendum timetable by senior UK cabinet colleagues and members of his own party in Scotland amid claims that it is ‘damaging’ investment.

The apparent U-turn by the Tory PM is the latest in a series of statements that appear to have wrong-footed his Scottish party leader.  He also caused confusion after appearing to promise more powers should Scots reject independence despite Ruth Davidson describing the current settlement as a “line in the sand”.

Ms Davidson was also made to look foolish after she described the SNP’s proposed referendum question as fair, only for UK Ministers to subsequently claim the question was biased.

Another who looks to have been ignored by Mr Cameron in this latest interjection by the PM into the referendum debate is Scottish Secretary of State Michael Moore.  

The Lib Dem MP has been at the forefront of the UK Coalition’s attacks on the referendum timetable and only yesterday claimed that First Minister Alex Salmond was delaying the referendum.

Mr Moore said: “We’ve always said the referendum should be sooner rather than later, and it’s strange the First Minister would want to delay the referendum he’s spent his professional life working towards.”

However Mr Moore went on to suggest that the Autumn 2014 timetable was not now an obstacle to any agreement between London and Edinburgh over the referendum and added: “We’ve indicated that we don’t anticipate the date being a barrier to an agreement.”

The confusion was seized on by the SNP’s constitution spokesman at Westminster, Pete Wishart, who said: “David Cameron’s cave-in on the date of the referendum left the Scottish Secretary and indeed his own Scottish leader looking very silly – and Michael Moore has now fallen into line.

“The Westminster Government’s insistence the referendum had to be in 2013 was clearly all a big act.

“Only last month Michael Moore was warning about waiting until 2014.  He is left looking very silly, as his Tory warnings over the date are exposed as a sham.

“Where does the Prime Minister’s ‘Dover Declaration’ leave the Scottish Tories? Ruth Davidson has been undermined again by David Cameron.”

Ruth Davidson has attempted to play down the row, saying: “The Prime Minister was simply repeating what he said on the campaign trail in Bellshill a few weeks ago. That is, while he would prefer to see a referendum sooner rather than later, having a single question in a legal, fair and decisive referendum is much more important than the date on which it is held.”