Cameron urges business leaders to ‘choose openness over narrowness’
Heckled by protesters outside the Hilton, his presence in Glasgow was appreciated by a local cabbie ‘it’s about time’.
In the rank outside Glasgow’s Hilton hotel is that rare breed: the undecided cabbie. Embarking on what looks set to be a profitable night for fares, the first two drivers shake their heads at the prospect of the forthcomingreferendum, more vigorously at the notion that David Cameron’s speech to business leaders inside the hotellater that evening will make any difference to their decision.
Third in line, driver Robert McMaster is more reliably definitive. “It’s about time,” he says. “He’s the leader of the British government. What he says is important whether people listen to him or not.”
A committed no voter, McMaster considers Cameron’s refusal to debate the independence question directly with Alex Salmond a tactical mistake. “We need to have the best politicians available so people can make up their minds,” he says, adding he has not heard much from Ed Miliband on the subject either.
Cameron ducked into the hotel just before 5pm, an hour before pro-independence protesters planned to gather. But a handful of dedicated early arrivals spotted him and issued a heartfelt heckle: “Pandas 2, Tories 1.” That referred to the unflattering ratio of bamboo-eaters to Conservative MPs currently in Scotland. The mood became angrier, with chants of “Tory scum” and “go back to Eton” directed at the man described by SNP officials as one of the best recruiting sergeants for a yes vote.
In contrast to some of his more emotional appeals of late, Cameron set out in his speech a highly focused economic case for the union, urging business leaders to “choose openness over narrowness” and presenting the risks to business and jobs “if Scotland follows Alex Salmond into the great unknown”.
Describing the Scottish way as “reaching out, branching out, demonstrating world-beating ambition”, he emphasised the role of a host of UK agencies in promoting Scottish businesses, warning: “It is something we will only sustain if Scotland chooses these great advantages over the great unknown.
“This isn’t just business for business’s sake. Because a Scottish private sector with its wings clipped, its horizons narrowed, its scope limited – that doesn’t just affect profits, it affects people.”
Outside, the protest organised by the Radical Independence Campaign (RIC), a socialist and left green coalition, was gathering pace. RIC has been canvassing in working class neighbourhoods across the country with the slogan. In a tactic now adopted by the wider yes campaign, RIC has been hammering home the message that a yes vote is the only way to protect Scotland from Westminster’s austerity agenda for many months.
Nicola Stephens, a full-time mother waving a yes saltire with her two children, said: “I think it’s disgusting that they’re sitting in there at a dinner that’s costing £10,000 when people in jobs can’t get a living wage and need to use food banks.” To describe the Tories as unpopular was a gross understatement, she laughed.
Holding aloft a home-made panda placard, academic Jez Millar said it was important to protest with humour. “The media portray the ‘angry yes’ angle, but I’m here because it’s a lovely evening and the yes campaign are a happy lot, as you can see.”
A giant papier maché Scotsman arrived just then, be-kilted and wearing a yes sweatshirt.
The Yes campaign was boosted by the results of the first poll taken since the second televised debate between Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling, the Press Association reported.
A Survation poll for the Daily Mail indicated its 13-point deficit in a previous poll in August had shrunk to just six. The poll of 1,000 residents over 16 put the no vote at 47.6% (down from 50.3% three weeks ago), with support for independence rising from 37.2% to 41.6% and 10.8% still undecided.
Earlier, Salmond had challenged Cameron to use his visit to Scotland to set out what job-creating powers Westminster would guarantee after a no vote. “Alistair Darling was unable to name any job-creating powers guaranteed by a no vote when I debated him earlier this week – so today I am laying down the same challenge to the prime minister.”
However, the CBI president, Sir Mike Rake, caused embarrassment for Cameron when he raised business concerns over the proposed EU referendum. He said: “We accept that calling a referendum on EU membership is a constitutional issue for government, but the ambiguity has already, and is increasingly, causing real concern for business regarding their future investment. Business is in no doubt that we must retain and secure our country’s global future. If we’re isolated, we cannot be our best.”
The deputy first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, was swift to capitalise on Rake’s remarks, saying: “This is a humiliation for the prime minister on the same day one of his MPs has defected to Ukip, exposing the deep Eurosceptic seam running through the Tory party, which is dragging the UK ever closer to the exit door of Europe.
“For David Cameron to be lectured by one of the UK’s most senior business figures about the dangers of his in-out referendum on EU membership shows just how worried companies are about the prospect of the UK being taken out of Europe.”
- The Guardian,