DAVID Cameron may, in the final analysis, have rather a lot to answer for. It is fascinating how far his star has fallen in the eyes of those in his own party. Unusually for a politician, this has happened since he left office in the wake of the 2016 Leave vote, rather than when he was still in situ. Indeed, only five short years ago he was a Tory superhero and a figure of international repute, having unexpectedly won his party its first majority for the best part of a quarter of a century.

Now, when Tories in Scotland speak his name, it is generally accompanied with a volley of expletives. There are two reasons for this. The first is his now nearly universally-accepted botching of the Scottish independence referendum. After the SNP’s Holyrood majority in 2011, Mr Cameron made one old mistake and one new one.

The old one was to believe that “moving is losing”, in other words that conceding a devo max-style option in the referendum would equate to a capitulation to nationalism (in fact, had he done so, the debate would most probably now be dead and Scotland’s place in the Union would be cemented). Instead, Mr Cameron presided over a dismal campaign based on selling the status quo; a thankless task in politics.

The new one was, in signing the Edinburgh Agreement, to allow himself to be comprehensively outplayed by the SNP by conceding to the nationalists’ almost every term and condition of the referendum’s operation.

What is done cannot be undone, and Scottish Unionists now live with the consequences.

The interminable debate on Scotland’s constitutional future is far from the only Cameron Consequence, however. The other is Brexit.

I must say I have never been much of a fan of the European Union. I find it generally guilty of arrogance and overreach, a toxic combination. As a younger man, I’d almost certainly have voted to leave had a referendum been held. By the time, it was, though, I had mellowed considerably. It had become clear that leaving the EU was a very important issue for a very small number of people, most of whom had to be incentivised to cross the Conservative box in a general election in order to return the party a majority.

For the rest of us, the UK’s relationship with the EU would struggle to make the top 100 of our priority list, behind the obvious school, roads and taxes, but probably also behind a one-minute change in the bus timetable, the spending limit on a contactless card and the selection of magazines in the dentist’s waiting room. I came to see the EU as a silent partner; better there than not.

Pity the people, then, as Mr Cameron dragged us into the Tory Party’s historic psychodrama. I’m over it now, to be honest, but most of my fellow Remain voters are not. And this week, with the UK Government’s latest power play demanding a deal or no deal by October 15t,those fellow Remainers are in a heightened state of frenzy.

In Scotland, predictably, this week’s hysteria has seamlessly interjected itself into the nationalist versus unionist divide. Both sides should take a step back, for different reasons.

Let us look first at the unionists. If I were a unionist, in particular a Tory one, I’d say as little about Brexit as I possibly could. At its root, this is a basic mathematical calculation. Polling, as well as real elections, has shown us that the Scottish Tory Party has exhausted the pool of potential Tory voters from the 38 per cent of Scots who voted Leave (and, in any case, that percentage is now smaller).

The scrapping of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), in particular, acts as a crutch for the Scottish Tories, imprinting upon them the idea that Brexit can work at the ballot box. I understand why; control over our waters is a rural issue which penetrates the hearts and minds of urban Scotland, and an economically marginal issue which commands political centrality.

However , it is inconceivable that the outcome of the CFP negotiations between the UK Government and the EU will be the absence of European boats catching our fish. This has been oversold, and the fact that it is held up as Scotland’s biggest Brexit upside should in itself tell us that talking up Brexit ahead of May’s Scottish election has no upside for the Scottish Tory Party.

It may seem, at face value, that the reverse is true; that Brexit is a win-win for nationalists. Again, I understand the temptation. In the short-term, ahead of the deal deadline and the May Holyrood election, the electoral advantages are fairly clear. However, nationalist strategists would be well advised to think about the long-term implications of portraying membership of the EU as Scotland’s zenith.

Indeed, I find the presumption that an independent Scotland will become a member of the EU to be highly dubious. Put simply, EU membership almost certainly involves customs union membership, and customs union membership almost certainly involves some form of border with non-member states. I simply can’t envisage a situation where the people of Scotland, with all their cultural, social and economic links to England, will willingly countenance a situation where our island is split in this way.

Far more likely, I think, is an independent Scotland joining the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), thereby offering de facto membership of the free trade area without membership of the Customs Union.

The more the SNP walks up the mountain to the EU, the further it will have to climb down when the electoral unacceptability of full membership becomes evident. It is rather an irony of Brexit that, after it is done, it may play to the advantage of Unionists, even if the act itself cannot be shown to be particularly successful.

Until then, both Unionist and Nationalists in Scotland may well find that their best strategy is simply to let Brexit happen without making such a song and dance of it.

In any event, there is next to nothing either the Scottish Tories or the SNP can say or do which will have the slightest impact on the outcome, much as both may like to think otherwise.

Andy Maciver is Director of Message Matters

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald.

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