When David Cameron became Prime Minister he probably never envisaged he would be standing at the podium of a truncated CBI dinner making a last ditch appeal to the Scottish business community to stay in the Union – while also fending off questions about desertions from his own party to UKIP. It will probably not be his last visit to Scotland this side of the referendum, but with only three weeks to go, time is running out. But if last night was his big opportunity to set out his stall he, perhaps predictably given the reduced audience he was addressing, instead stuck to the safe territory of clichés and warnings.
The CBI dinner has been mired in controversy ever since the organisation took the misstep of registering (and then de-registering) itself as a campaigning organisation for the No campaign. Ever since (and even before then) the SNP has had its sights firmly fixed on the organisation. It should come as no surprise then that the dinner, held in the midst of the referendum campaign, should come under close scrutiny and was referred to the Electoral Commission.
Cameron’s commentary was somewhat predictable – save the pound; we’re a stronger economy together; and the supply chains of the economy cross and re-cross the border. Even though it was a solid speech, it was always going to derided by the Yes campaign. His comments have, however, come at a time when the economy is playing centre stage in the referendum debate.
The BBC’s referendum debate was dominated by economic issues – the currency, the continuation of research and jobs creation. Darling looked particularly vulnerable when challenged by Salmond to name what powers would be dissolved to Scotland to create more jobs, so it is perhaps no surprise that Cameron used his TV interviews to talk up the potential of job-creating powers being devolved. Jobs should be one of the No campaign’s trump cards, yet the Yes campaign has probably managed to make more of the issue by talking up the economy.
Earlier this week a group of 130 business representatives put their name to an appeal to Scottish voters to stay in the UK. A rapid response across the airwaves from the pro-independence business community neutralised some of the effect of this, particularly when it was followed up by an even larger number of signatories to an appeal to support the Yes campaign. It is unlikely that many large corporate companies will be coming off the wall any time soon to join the ranks of either party, but we can expect to hear more from business before the referendum date.
Cameron’s sojourn to Scotland has been necessary – any PM would do the same – but it will have done little to bolster the No campaign. He will now be doing his utmost to keep his own ranks in order down south over the next few days before planning any final forays north of the border.