David Cameron is not the change Scots are seeking

14 November 2023, 00:24 | Updated: 14 November 2023, 08:59

David Cameron is not the change Scots are seeking
David Cameron is not the change Scots are seeking. Picture: Alamy

By Gina Davidson

The Rishi Sunak reshuffle feels like it has little to do with Scotland.

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The Prime Minister may be attempting to shift his party to the centre in preparation for the next General Election, but the impact of those appointed to his Cabinet, or moved to new positions, will do little more than trigger a shrug from Scottish voters.

And while there will be many in Scotland glad to see the back of Suella Braverman given her rhetoric on refugees, the homeless, and protest marches, having James Cleverly appointed as her replacement at the Home Office changes, well… nothing.

But within this shuffling of the blue deck chairs on this particular sinking ship, there is one new player, in fact a returning player, whose appearance made Scots sit up and take notice - many with a shudder running down their spines.

David Cameron: former PM; joint architect of austerity, of the bedroom tax and benefit cap; signatory to the Edinburgh Agreement which tipped Scotland into a constitutional political quagmire from which it has never managed to crawl; the man who failed to win the Brexit referendum and then just quit, leaving everyone to it, humming as he did so. Oh and later threw in some indiscretions about Queen Elizabeth II’s reaction to the independence referendum for good measure.

Now he may well have felt he had no choice when it came to agreeing to an independence referendum. After all Alex Salmond had done what no-one had considered possible, winning a majority of MSPs in Holyrood under a proportional representation election system. But from the off, in a country where the Tories could not muster more than one MP between the years of 2001 and 2017, David Cameron did little more than act as a drag to the No campaign he supported - his personal popularity ratings among Scots were at one point -52 during that campaign.

Read more: David Cameron says his return to Cabinet is 'not usual' but hopes his six years as PM can be beneficial to Sunak

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Still, his side did win. Perhaps his last ditch plea to Scots that even if they didn’t like him, they weren’t voting for him personally, and he wouldn’t be around forever, worked. And yet here he is, around again. This time as Foreign Secretary, and an unelected one to boot.

Perhaps if Cameron had taken his victory in 2014 and left it there, the deep divisions which had erupted in Scotland would have had some space to heal. But the very day after the referendum result he moved on to speak about English votes for English laws, solving, he said the West Lothian question, but in fact creating a new divide in the Commons - one which lasted til 2021.

Ever the optimist, at one point Cameron had voiced aloud the thought that a No win would boost Tory fortunes in Scotland at the General Election - but in 2015 the SNP had a landslide winning 56 out of 59 Scottish constituencies. Scots really were not his biggest fans.

Then came Brexit, and he lost. This was, said Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland, a material change which could only mean one thing in her eyes - another independence referendum was required. And so it has been for Scottish politics ever since - a constant merry-go-round of demands for referenda, and rejections from the latest Conservative who happens to be in No10 at the time.

For Scots who support independence - well they do not like the new Lord Cameron. For Scots who support the union - they do not like the trail of damage wrought in the past by the new Lord Cameron. All in all, it’s a lose-lose situation.

With Cameron back in the Cabinet there may also be some trepidation among the six Scottish Conservative MPs currently in the Commons - not one of them has commented publicly on the reshuffle or their former party leader’s reappearance, not even David Mundell who served as his Secretary of State for Scotland. Indeed the only politician in Scotland who has welcomed him back is, wait for it… Alex Salmond.

The desire for a General Election is palpable in Scotland and this reshuffle will do nothing to quell it. Opinion polls show that people in Scotland want change - indeed want it so badly that thousands of long-term SNP voters look likely to switch to Labour the next time they’re in the polling booth (which is why it was so surprising to see First Minister Humza Yousaf demand an immediate General Election in the wake of the reshuffle given he looks likely to lose many of his MPs). Cameron is not the change they seek.