An open letter to David Cameron: How to Save the United Kingdom
Dear Prime Minister,
Last week I wrote an open letter to the First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond, so this week I thought I would be fair and write one to you as the Prime Minister of the (as yet still) United Kingdom. You are clearly an intelligent man with a passion for Great Britain and you have seen some success during your premiership. Your aim was to transform the Conservative party into a modern, 'progressive' party and to lead the country out of recession. It looks as though those aims have been achieved. However all that is in danger of being overshadowed if Scotland votes to become independent next week. How terrible to be the Prime Minister who presided over the break up of the United Kingdom!
Where are we?
Doubtless when you agreed to the referendum with its simple 50 per cent plus 1 formula you did so because, like all the pundits, a 'Yes' vote seemed a very remote possibility. You knew, as we did, that no more than a maximum of one third of Scots were keen on independence, and I guess you figured that even some of that could be attributed to romantic 'Braveheart' notions, which when it came down to the cold light of day would evaporate. A 70/30 split in favour of the Union seemed possible – the worst-case scenario was 60/40. But that has changed. Please be in no doubt that you are in grave danger of losing this vote – and even if a narrow 'No' vote is recorded, it seems as though the push towards independence will have gathered an irresistible momentum.
As I write this I am on a train from Inverness to Dundee...the places on the way give a picture of what is happening here in Scotland. And believe you me, something big is happening. There is a political debate like I have never experienced before – tens of thousands of ordinary people are involved. It is the subject of every dinner party, wedding, public meeting. It is as we say "the talk of the Steamie". Alex Massie in The Spectator sums it up well; "From Brora to Ecclefechan, Coupar Angus to Tobermory, this is a time of great and energetic disputation. The referendum is inescapable. Something is happening and that something is important. Of course there has been stupidity and dishonesty and some unpleasantness but, on the whole, the notable feature of the campaign has been its civility. There will be some fraying of this decency in the final, fevered fortnight, but this vigorous political carnival has been good for politics and good for Scotland. It has also been a revolt against politics as usual; a cry, from the heart as much as from the head, for a different way of doing things."
In every small and large town in Scotland today, town squares and high streets are filled with 'Yes' stalls and campaigners. The 'No' stalls are there too but I think what I witnessed in Inverness is typical of what is going on – a great crowd surrounded the Yes stall, the No stall was sparsely populated. As I journey down on the train I see 'No' posters but to be honest they give the wrong image – they are in the fields of the landed gentry in Perthshire – I see very few in houses. When I go into the housing schemes of Dundee, or the rural towns of Inverness-shire I see 'Yes' posters everywhere. It's far too easy to dismiss this as a few zealous political activists covering the country in paper. There is something far deeper going on here. I am astonished at the people I meet who have changed their minds from 'No' to 'Yes'. These vary from out and out Tories, to the scared and the fearful. My own family was split but they now all intend to vote 'Yes'. In my city Dundee there have been 7,000 new registered voters (in a city of 150,000). No one believes that the majority are registering to save the Union!
I would estimate that the majority of the poor and the young will vote Yes. Many Christians will vote No but there are also many who will vote Yes – there is even a Christians for Independence group. In my own denomination I suspect a slight majority of the ministers will vote Yes. The latest opinion poll has the 'Yes' vote actually ahead – 51 per cent to 49 per cent. That is an astonishing turn around from a month ago when No was 14 per cent ahead. Even more than that there is an air of excitement, anticipation and a sense of something big about to happen.
Why has this happened?
It appears as though the main parties in Westminster were not taking this referendum seriously. It was presupposed to be a forgone conclusion. You let a retired politician, Alistair Darling, lead the No campaign. I have a great deal of sympathy with you. You faced the classic 'damned if you do, damned if you don't' scenario. If you came up to Scotland and fought for the Union, then given that the Tories are not the most popular party here, you ran the danger of putting people off. But when you didn't really get involved until it was too late, it seemed as though you were not really bothered, or were actually taking it for granted. You should have had the courage of your convictions and come and fought the cause of the UK – you are the Prime Minister of the whole UK. There were 400,000 Tory voters here in the last election – you could at least have galvanised them. Instead, the party here has beenweakened by the appointment of Ruth Davidson as leader. She might have been good for the Tory Party's image, but her inexperience has really shown. You would have done far better with the more radical/traditional Tory Murdo Fraser, who has been very effective in arguing for the Union (I should know having debated him a couple of times!)...
But its not just your fault – the Labour party in Scotland has been ineffective for more than a decade, which is why the 'Yes' vote among Labour voters has risen from 12 per cent to 30 per cent and is climbing. And there are other factors as well. After the 2011 SNP victory it was a grave mistake to underestimate Alex Salmond who, with all his faults, is a political genius and knows how to fight campaigns which peak at just the right time. You should have debated him. You might have lost but by not debating you lost anyway. You have ten days to save the union...can I offer you a suggestion? I write as someone who is in favour of independence but who is not a nationalist and would happily lay aside the ideal of independence for a greater good.
What is that greater good? You have identified it yourself. British values. But what are they? Here there is a major problem. You speak as though they are self-evident, but to many people from many different backgrounds they are not. Some will speak of justice, peace, tolerance, compassion etc. But of course it would be arrogant and a little foolish to claim that these values were uniquely British. So what do you mean? I asked Alex Salmond the same question – what are the values on which he bases his policies? When you answer this I don't want waffle, like this:
During the same sex marriage debate I wrote to your office asking why you supported SSM. The answer was fatuous. "The government should not seek to prevent two people who love one another from getting married". To get such an illogical, emotive and dumb answer from the Prime Ministers office was to say the least, disappointing. It sounds nice in a Disneyesque kind of way, but as a principle on which policy is based it is illogical nonsense. You don't believe it. You don't for example believe that two brothers who love one another should be allowed to marry – therefore you have completely undermined the stated basis for your policy. In fact I have really struggled to find your government being able to give any definition of marriage that makes sense. Likewise with the family. You give the right talk about the family – you want to support the family and encourage the family etc. But you seem unable to define what the family actually is. I heard you being grilled on Radio 4 and the interviewer pointed out that your definition of the family seemed to be any group of more than one person living together!
Why does this matter in the debate on independence? Because it is an example of your rejection of Christian values. Britain was founded on Christian principles, it was a union of Christian nations and all our laws, education, and culture were grounded on those principles. British values are based on Christian values. It seems as though you think that it is possible to take away the roots and continue to have the fruits.
You have said that your Christianity is a bit like FM reception in the Chilterns, it comes and goes. Personally I am not too bothered (except for your personal wellbeing) whether you are a Christian or not. What bothers me is when you redefine basic Christian teaching and then put that into government policy. It was not, as you declared, 'conservative' to redefine marriage for all – that was a bit of arrogant 'newspeak'. It was not wise in terms of your own party (you have lost a significant amount of support and in truth gained very little) and it is disastrous for the Union. Some of those who want independence are also secular humanists who want Christianity pushed to the margins, but the fact that you seem to offer no alternative is a major reason why people like me see little reason in voting for the Union. To me the death of Christian Britain poses the question, is political Britain worth saving? If you had offered a real defence of the Christian values of Britain then it may have been very different.
You will forgive me saying this but it seems from this side of the Border, that it's not just your faith that comes and goes like FM radio in the Chilterns, but that many of your policies seem vague and based on wishful thinking and 'focus group' reaction, rather than any deep seated principle. You were very enthusiastic about bombing Libya. It seemed at the time like a no-brainer and the other main political parties supported you in that. Bomb Libya, get rid of Gaddafi. That just felt like the right thing to do. But now what has happened? Hundreds of thousands are fleeing and the Islamists are taking over that large country, with its small population and vast oil resources, which they will then use to 'Islamise' the rest of North Africa. The point is that a policy that felt right at the time and fitted with the zeitgeist has in fact turned out to be disastrous. It is the same with your rejection of Britain's Christianity while at the same time trying to retain 'British' Christian values. You, and previous governments, have sown the wind and we will all reap the whirlwind.
As we move away from Christian values I note that we are becoming a less equal and more unjust society in which the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Yesterday I read about wealthy students in London who are paying up to £2,000 per week for a flat. Over £100,000 per year. And I contrast that with the vast majority of people and ask, how is that possible? How can your government guarantee banks who pay billions in bonuses, while penalising those who are a lot poorer? How can you encourage and support tax avoidance schemes for big corporations while clamping down on those who abuse the benefit system? I don't understand why you don't deal with both. Many of those voting Yes in Scotland are not voting so for nationalistic reasons, but simply because they want a fairer and more just society, and to be frank they don't see it coming from a government where the City is at the heart.
Perhaps the breakup of the United Kingdom is now inevitable. Who knows but that may be a judgement from God that will wake us up our of our stuporific drift into intolerant secularism, economic inequality, political extremism or militant Islam?
This is now getting serious. Before I could have voted Yes thinking that it did not really matter because the Nos were going to win anyway. Now when I vote I know it is for real and that there is a real possibility of my vote along with two million others leading to the breakup of the United Kingdom. (Actually there may be many others like this who will ultimately vote NO because they get scared YES might actually win!). In one sense I will be sad to see the break up of the United Kingdom. If you or any Unionists could give me good reasons for changing my vote I am still open to that possibility. Project fear does not count as a good reason! It may be that there are other reasons – it would be nice to hear them.
Meanwhile as I said there is a real sense of excitement and hope here amongst those who see independence as a great new beginning. To some extent I share that but I know that ultimately it will end up in disappointment either way. I love Simon Jenkins' realistic analysis in The Guardian – He is really saying that we need a good dose of biblical realism. In fact, a revival of traditional Scottish Calvinism will be essential to the success of an independent Scotland (although I suspect you won't hear too many politicians saying that!).
I don't put my hope in any politician, political system or even in 'the people'. My hope is in Jesus Christ and the life and renewal he brings. I pray that whatever happens on September 18 that you and I, all our peoples, will come to acknowledge, know, love and serve Him. Our decision to follow or not to follow Christ, is far bigger than any decision over national independence.
David Robertson, Free Church minister in Dundee and director of the Solas Centre for Public Christianity.