Good morning. The defence of Scotland is the theme of the day. Philip Hammond will use a speech later to set out his argument against independence, focusing in particular on what will happen to Trident. He will say that protracted and costly negotiations will be necessary to remove Trident from its bases at Faslane and Coulport. His argument is previewed by Admiral Sir George Zambellis, the First Sea Lord, who uses an article in the Telegraph to set out his concerns for naval security if Scots vote for separation: his central point is that the two residual navies would be weaker than the current whole. And to reinforce the point a dozen former armed forces chiefs, including Air Chief Marshal Lord Stirrup and Gen Sir Mike Jackson, have written to Alex Salmond to caution that getting rid of Trident would infuriate allies and “cast a dark shadow over Scotland”. It’s all of a piece with the stark warning last week from Lord Robertson, the former Nato chief, who said Scottish independence would have a “cataclysmic” effect on the Atlantic alliance.
It has the feel of a concerted military campaign. But will it work? As is so often the case, the arguments being advanced seem to be based more on a complaint about the trouble Scottish independence would cause to the residual UK than potential harm to Scotland. Scotland may have a proud history of military achievement as a major, and disproportionately potent, part of the UK armed forces, but culturally and politically it has long given every sign of being uninterested in taking part in the geopolitical responsibilities that the British government has pursued. If London’s argument is that Britain will no longer be able to play a major role on the world stage, it may well find that Scotland is indifferent because, well, it doesn’t want to. To complain that rUK will be a lesser entity is hardly a compelling reason for Scots to stick with the current arrangements. Scotland may just choose to be a small, regional player on its own terms, rather than part of a more influential whole. The danger is that London is advancing an argument that sounds perilously as if it is complaining about the loss of a submarine base, aircraft carrier, training ground and source of effective mercenaries. Hardly a vote winner.
I’ve looked at Scotland in my column by the way, and the failings of the two main parties that are encouraging a sense of angst in the No campaign. I am struck by the uncertainty among Tories about what to expect this summer: will David Cameron get stuck in and lead from the front? Or will he leave it to Labour? Gordon Brown is about to publish a book and will step up his involvement. I argue that Mr Cameron should ignore the claims that his presence would be counter-productive, and take the fight to Scotland.
MORE AWKWARD QUESTIONS FOR FARAGE
The Times leads with an investigation into Nigel Farage’s expenses. They detail how he has received £15,500 a year from the EU for the costs of his office in Bognor Regis, even though it is provided to him for free. He’s the subject of a complaint to the EU anti-fraud body OLAF from a former Ukip official who has claimed anonymity because of “physical threats” within the party. Mr Farage denies the claims naturally. What’s noteworthy is that the Times’ treatment is evidence of the kind of scrutiny he and the party can expect to see a lot of over the coming months. The question is whether, as with Boris Johnson, a number of complaints about Mr Farage and Ukip are already priced into the market, and will therefore have only negligible effect. “The truth about Ukip is slowly emerging” the Times says in its main leader. “Mr Farage is not an ordinary politician – he’s not that good”. How will he fare under this kind of pressure? Quite well, so far at least. A poll for the Independent meanwhile finds that 51pc of people surveyed say Ukip does not offer a realistic alternative for Britain.
SO IS LABOUR WINNING OR NOT?
The Guardian leads with a poll that puts Labour five points ahead, and the Tories down three despite the Budget. “Tories stumble in polls despite economy boost” it says. The numbers are: L37 T32 LD12 Ukip11. Today we get the inflation figures, and we expect wages to outpace prices once again. Ed Balls anticipates the criticism by urging us, in a piece in the Guardian, to ignore a “handful of statistics” and instead note that the answer to Ronald Reagan’s “are you better off” question will still be “no” next year, and that will help Labour. The Mail anticipates him too, with a leader that opens “One by one, like snowballs in the spring sunshine, Labour’s economic arguments against the Chancellor are melting away”. That’s as may be, but in this Easter week while everyone is away maybe we should consider this emerging theme: why is Labour still ahead?
BLAIR ATTACKS CLEGG OVER CHILCOT
The papers cover yesterday’s exchanges between Tony Blair and Nick Clegg over the Chilcot report. The former Prime Minister rejects the suggestion he attributes to the Lib Dem leader that he is blocking publication of the report on the Iraq war. So who is? The other person who keeps being mentioned in the reports as one of the politicians entitled to raise objections is Gordon Brown.
WOLLASTON DEFENDS HERSELF
Sarah Wollaston has taken to the Telegraph to defend her self against accusations that she shopped Nigel Evans. In fairness Mr Evans, now cleared of the charges against him, says “I don’t blame her” and offers to meet her for a chat. But Dr Wollaston accuses senior figures of “turning a blind eye” to sexual harassment at Westminster. The Totnes MP says she is “truly shocked” by the “rank hostility” she has experienced from colleagues.
CHINA CANCELS HUMAN RIGHTS ‘DIALOGUE’
Just when the Foreign Office thought it had got relations with China back on track after the Dalai Lama business and Dave’s visit last year, the Guardian reports that the Chinese have cancelled this week’s bilateral human rights dialogue with Britain, claiming the UK has been making “irresponsible comments” and is interfering in China’s internal affairs. The row seems to stem from a proposed minute’s silence in memory of Cao Shunli, a Chinese activist who died in custody last month.
DAILY POLL, TWEETS AND TWITS, AGENDA, BEST OF ETC
Nope, sorry, can’t quite manage it. Digging out links and fighting with this software is taking ages. But nothing’s happening, believe me. @TimWig is still on holiday.