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Did you hear the one about the Old Etonian Tory Prime Minister, directly descended from William IV, who felt passionately that the debate about Scottish independence should only be conducted among Scots, and who demonstrated that passion by continually paying day-trips to Scotland to lecture the locals on how they should vote? It all makes perfect sense, honestly, and any suggestion that Mr Cameron wanted to have his cake and eat it by avoiding an unwinnable live TV debate while still feeling free to campaign against independence on his own terms is just a scurrilous lie.
And did you hear the one about the club for fabulously wealthy businessmen which thought that a position of studied neutrality on the independence referendum was pretty much the same thing as going around telling anyone who will listen that independence is a truly God-awful idea? It all made so much sense to the CBI that they still didn't think anyone would be mad enough to question their impartiality when they went the whole hog, and formally registered with the Electoral Commission as a No campaigner. After all, they were only registering because of a "compliance issue", don't you know - the nature of that issue being that the Electoral Commission had spotted they would probably be spending more than £10,000 campaigning against independence.
Alas, many of CBI Scotland's members, such as Scottish Television and several universities, didn't get the memo explaining that all of this campaigning for a No vote would be done in a scrupulously neutral way, and as a result they resigned from the organisation en masse. It probably wasn't entirely a coincidence that the CBI Director-General, John Cridland, suddenly decided that the registration with the Electoral Commission that he'd been defending in the TV studios had in fact been done accidentally by a junior member of staff. Incredibly, the Electoral Commission accepted that explanation, and allowed the CBI to deregister in the most humiliating manner imaginable.
It was a moment of supreme exquisiteness when these two separate Alice Through the Looking Glass aspects of No campaign logic briefly fused together yesterday. David Cameron made an anti-independence speech that he shouldn't have been making if we buy into his "Scots only" logic for refusing to debate with Alex Salmond, and he did it at a CBI campaigning dinner that shouldn't have been taking place if we believe that organisation's protestations of neutrality. Even from a "compliance" point of view, they only got away with it because they drastically scaled down the event from the original plans, thus keeping it within the Electoral Commission's £10,000 spending limit. But presumably if they want to squeeze any more campaigning dinners in between now and polling day, it'll be on a park bench with plastic cutlery.
Easy ride from the BBC
I've no particular interest in examining the content of Cameron's speech, because he lost the argument from the moment he allowed his non-Scottish lips to start moving. If he's now changed his mind about this being a debate only for Scots, and has instead reverted to his original stance that he would fight "with every fibre of my being" to prevent Scotland governing itself, he really ought to be able to locate enough fibres in his being to defend his beliefs in a TV debate with his opposite number in the Yes campaign. Instead, the only "scrutiny" he is subjected to comes from tame journalists bussed up from London. The BBC's Nick Robinson asked him if he would guarantee that more powers would be devolved to the Scottish Parliament, and also for a timescale. Apparently "yes, and soon" were perfectly satisfactory answers to those questions.
But what specifically will those powers be? What exact date does "soon" fall on? What will the consequences be if the promise is reneged upon? After all, the Scottish people will have no sanction at their disposal if Cameron gets his way, because they will have thrown away their only bargaining chip by voting No. Will a breach of faith be regarded as an automatic resignation matter this time, in the way it so obviously wasn't the last time Scotland was led up the garden path, after being told by a Tory leader in 1979 that a No vote would not be the end of devolution? From a BBC London perspective, these questions seemingly aren't even worth asking.
Rest assured they would be asked in a normal campaign. But then that would involve the London political, media and business establishment stepping outside their Looking Glass world, and accepting that it's not actually possible for a man to simultaneously be the leader of the No campaign, and not to be involved in the campaign at all.