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Could Cameron Survive Scottish Independence?

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Iain Martin remarks on reports that Scottish independence would trigger a Tory revolt against Cameron:

A group of Tory MPs is preparing to remove David Cameron if Scotland votes Yes, the Independent reports today. The excellent James Cusick writes that the Tory leader will face a challenge because he will have lost Scotland and ended the United Kingdom, which on a Prime Ministerial CV counts as something of a blemish.

Martin allows that there is a “certain logic” to this, but rejects it for the reason that someone will have to lead the rest of the U.K. in negotiations with an independent Scotland and it may as well be Cameron. That’s a fair point, but I suspect that confidence in Cameron would be so shattered after a ‘yes’ vote that no one would want to entrust this task to him. If Scotland votes ‘yes’, as it may do, Cameron will get the blame for agreeing to an up-or-down referendum, and he’ll become the convenient scapegoat for frustrated unionists. There is already enough discontent with Cameron in his own party that independence would just be the last straw. According to the original report, anti-Cameron maneuvering is being driven by more than just the Scottish issue:

Backbench unrest over the UK’s relationship with the EU means the Scotland issue will be combined with other anti-Cameron grievances. One MP expected to be the leading figure in the revolt if the PM tried to stay on after a Yes win, said: “This isn’t a coup d’état, or a sinister plot. It would be the consequences of a catastrophe. There would be a flood of anger.”

There is a sense in which it would be unfair to pin a failure by the ‘No’ campaign solely on Cameron, since unionist efforts on the referendum have been pretty uniformly unimpressive. Nonetheless, Cameron is the prime minister and is bound to be held responsible if part of the country separates itself. That is especially true when independence has as much support as it does is in part because many people in Scotland never want to be governed by Cameron’s party again. Considering how overwrought some unionist fears for their country without Scotland are, it seems unlikely that the same people fretting about Britain’s supposedly diminished role in the world are going to accept the leadership of the man that presided over that outcome.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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