Yesterday’ s Scottish papers carried various interviews with David Cameron, in preparation for the Scottish Conservative conference in Perth on Friday. There’s a summary of them from the Scotsman (which wasn’t favoured) here, and the interview with the Herald (which was) here and here.
There are two interesting points here. First, there is the explicit criticism of Alex Salmond and the SNP, and the general anti-SNP tone. This makes it very hard to see how Cameron as UK Prime Minister could resile from this position to enter an ‘autonomy-enhancing’ deal with the SNP. While there’s scope for some sort of deal, the extra powers that might be devolved would necessarily be limited, given how Cameron has staked out his position, and would be part of a package to emphasise the Union more generally. (As an aside, it appears that Niall Ferguson of Harvard University has been advising Cameron on ‘Britishness’; see this piece from the Daily Mail.)
Second, in his interview with the Daily Mail (sadly, not available on-line), Cameron said that the Barnett formula may be replaced by a needs-based formula, but that ‘Scotland has its own great needs and it would get a lot of money under any new formula.’ Up to a point, Lord Copper. David Bell of Stirling University recently sought to apply to Scotland the elements of a needs-based formula as being considered by the Holtham Commission in Wales, and concluded that the Scottish budget could be reduced by £4.5 billion as a result. (See a report of that from the Scotsman here.) That, of course, does not take into the account the tightening in public spending that is inevitable in any event – this applies only to relative needs on the current levels of spending. The Conservative line that ‘Scotland has extensive needs’ is not new, but it does not match up with the approach taken by the Holtham Commission (which is sound as far as it goes, bearing in mind one can always dispute the precise indicators used). That Cameron takes this position suggests either that he has been mis-advised, or that what the Tories want may be called a ‘needs-based’ formula but will involve such a selective approach to the indicators used that in fact it won’t be.