Tom Richmond: Better together? Bitter together after Cameron sells out to the Scots

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BRITAIN is broken – despite Scotland’s rejection of Alex Salmond’s independence crusade which threatened the future existence of the United Kingdom.

It was epitomised by the sight of David Cameron ignoring the most pertinent question of all at breakfast time yesterday. How can this result be construed as a success when there is so much division in every corner of the country?

The Prime Minister’s silence, as he returned to the sanctuary of 10 Downing Street, was deafening after the Scots, to their eternal credit, saw sense in spite of the blundering of Westminster’s out-of-touch leaders.

They were only spared an even greater humiliation when a brooding Gordon Brown reinvented himself as ‘Brown the braveheart’ and came charging to the nation’s rescue with the type of passion that was so lacking during his disastrous premiership.

This was a Pyrrhic success – despite the final result being more convincing than those opinion polls which shocked British politics to its core and led to Cameron, as well as Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband, offering cobbled together financial inducements to preserve 307 years of UK history.

Better together? Bitter together is perhaps a more fitting description of a vote which has left Scotland deeply divided – and an explosion of resentment in England at the manner in which Westminster’s leaders sold out to the Scots after being spooked by one ultimately rogue opinion poll, and without appreciating that wavering voters were likely to endorse the status quo because they were fearful about the financial repercussions of independence.

Talk about giving greater credence to the opinion polls and ubiquitous focus groups rather than leading the country with principles and an agenda underpinned by fairness for all.

Of course, the Prime Minister could not own up to this great betrayal as he sought to reassert his authority by restating his promise to transfer further powers to the Scottish Parliament while demanding, in the very next sentence, that English MPs have the right to determine English laws at Westminster.

By linking the two issues so directly, the Conservative leader hoped to silence those restless backbenchers who believe that he has marginalised England – and the North in particular.

But it neglects the fact that there is insufficient time to pass the relevant legislation before the next election and that it will be virtually impossible for the main parties to reach a consensus on the so-called ‘devolution revolution’ because Ed Miliband will only be able to form a government after the 2015 election with the support of the massed ranks of Labour MPs for Scotland.

This is not the ‘new politics’ which the public demanded when they backed Nigel Farage and Ukip in this year’s European elections – or in Scotland where 45 per cent of voters, including a majority in the great city of Glasgow, were actually prepared to risk the break-up of the United Kingdom.

It is, frankly, the same old politics of denial as Cameron – together with Miliband and Clegg – lurch from soundbite to soundbite, issue to issue, without actually stopping to consider the scale of the resentment that has been fuelled by the Iraq War, MPs expenses scandal and the financial concessions of the deepest recession since the war.

Most people in this country are conservative by instinct. By this, I mean in their desire for better – and more effective – governance rather than any party political affiliation.

They do not want more costly tiers of government – this is the very reason why John Prescott’s plan for regional assemblies was comprehensively rejected exactly 10 years ago.

But they do want to be able to trust their elected local councillors and town hall bosses to protect society’s most vulnerable – a guarantee that cannot be taken for granted now that the shocking scale of the Rotherham sex abusing scandal, and the failure of leadership involved, has been exposed.

They do want Yorkshire’s civic, political and business leaders to work collaboratively for the betterment of this region without this process being distractd by score-settling and historic rivalries that are, frankly, parochial when set in the context of the need to attract more jobs and investment to this region (and where the unemployment rate is significantly higher than levels in Scotland).

They do want, and expect, Westminster’s leaders to acknowledge the public’s desire for competent government and policies that reward endeavour. Each and every report exposing flawed and wasteful expenditure only serves to further alienate taxpayers who are fed up at being taken for granted.

And they do want an answer to questions about Britain’s membership of the European Union and the country’s role in the world as it comes to terms with the hideous and gruesome sight of British-born jihadists beheading humanitarians and journalists following the emergence of the so-called ‘Islamic State’ in Syria and Iraq.

At every level, confidence in the political establishment – locally, regionally, nationally and internationally – is at an all-time low and leading to the electoral volatility which has culminated with today’s depressing and dispiriting state of affairs.

Don’t get me wrong. I could, and perhaps should, have begun this piece with the prefix ‘great’. There is still much to admire and cherish about the country that we’re all proud to call home.

Yet what makes it so special is the people; the inspiring individuals from all walks of life who are making a lasting difference at a local level.

They’re the embodiment of Great Britain rather than the pontificating and self-aggrandising politicians who have contributed to this crisis of confidence.

Until David Cameron, and his counterparts, realise they’re part of the problem, rather than the solution, trust will continue to ebb away.

In this regard, Alex Salmond – Scotland’s defeated First Minister – was right when he said in his concession speech: “I don’t think that we will ever be allowed to go back to business as usual in politics again.”

Each and every voter in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will probably concur, but can our politicians be trusted to deliver reforms that lead to better, and more effective, government for all?

I fear it is a forlorn hope and, becuase of this, demands for Scottish nationalism have only been put on hold following Thursday’s vote. They have certainly not been quelled for a generation, and that can only be to the detriment of Great Britain’s long-term success and prosperity.

tom.richmond@ypn.co.uk