Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Westminster, the one story town for Scots

Holidays over, Westminster is back in harness today with Cabinet meeting, an Ed Miliband press conference, David Cameron promising to protect the NHS (from his own reforms), coastguard campaigners in town and Defence Secretary Liam Fox in front of the Scottish Affairs committee. Rust never sleeps and all that, but every move in Thamesville has to be seen through the prism of an independence referendum now.

Thanks to the genius of Scots Secretary, Michael Moore, the Westminster lobby was left at the wrong end of the "second referendum" story yesterday.

He made his two referendums announcement in Edinburgh where it was lapped up by the Holyrood lobby hacks (The logic is obvious - Michael is trying to do me out of a job here at Westminster, and there's me thinking that was the SNP's mission).

Salmond was scathing, accusing Moore of "withering and irrelevant nonsense" but the SNP will be well chuffed with the extended logic of the Moore doctrine, which is to ensure that everyone can take the option of voting for independence in the first ballot and think again in a second ballot, or vice versa.

I do get the feeling that Westminster still doesn't get the idea that the independence agenda is seriously on the table in the UK.

Labour leader Ed Miliband gave a pretty pat answer when asked about the second referendum at his post-honeymoon press conference this morning.

He talked about making a positive economic, cultural and social case for the Union and said he was confident that there would be no second referendum because the pro-UK vote would win the first one.

To be honest, he didn't sound that convinced himself and there's no sign of that "positive agenda" as the SNP organises for a vote on the question and timing of its choice.

With Labour still getting over a Caledonian mauling there is no one out there every day challenging Salmond on when this first referendum is going to be held, and what people will be asked?

Let's see if David Cameron fares any better tomorrow when all the devolved leaders come to Downing Street for a meeting of the Joint Ministerial Committee.

Salmond invariably comes out of these formal roundtables and strides straight to a microphone to fill the media maw with his upbeat version of events. You have to wait an age for an alternative account to emerge.

We're promised a joint communique tomorrow (what is this, the UN or the UK?) and I expect the Prime Minister to bang on about his "respect agenda".

What Cameron won't do, I'll bet, is bang the desk in defence of the UK. That's good for First Minister Salmond again, it means two Westminster leaders will have given him another week of a free run for independence.

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