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I hope David Cameron, in his hour of triumph, can find time to write a thank-you letter to Nicola Sturgeon. She won him this election. For all her party’s brilliance in capturing Scotland, she made a serious mistake in her UK campaign. By boasting that she would forge an alliance for “progressive change” with Labour across the United Kingdom, she at last woke the English people from our slumber.

Many of us don’t like “progressive change” at the best of times, and these are not the best of times. The idea that Sturgeon’s party should help impose it — and we should pay for it — was just too much. As victory approached early yesterday morning, Cameron declared that he wanted “One Nation”. The ears of the BBC’s reporters pricked up because they thought this was traditional “wet” Tory code for spending more public money; but this was not what Cameron meant, as his next phrase made clear. He was talking about the future of the United Kingdom.

As Ed Miliband resigned a few hours later, he too spoke of this central point — the need “to hold our country together”. This election has ensured that “One Nation” has moved from being a tired political cliché deployed by a few flabby old Tory politicians to the overriding question of our time.

Despite his excellent words, a temptation confronts Cameron. For him, yesterday was a different sort of V-E Day from the one 70 years ago — Victory in England. If he chose, he could now turn the Tories into the party of English nationalism. That is not his natural inclination, and it was not what he said outside Downing Street yesterday afternoon.

He is a Unionist. But it corresponds with the political facts. Politically, England has made him. Virtually alone, it has given him his first untrammelled command of the United Kingdom. If he felt like it, he could now treat Scotland harshly and still win the votes he needs in Parliament.

No doubt plenty of idiots, many of them on his own benches, would applaud him if he did. But that would be for him to make the same mistake that caused half of this trouble, when he responded to the Scottish referendum result by pumping up English passions.

Much better to move fast, as he says he will now do, to give the Scots full fiscal authority over all devolved matters: they should have the right to run their own affairs, in other words, and the right to pay for them. Then Scotland will at last experience a real dose of power and a powerful dose of reality.

Working out what to do about England can be taken at a slower pace. The question of English votes for English laws must be settled in this Parliament, but there need be no rush, because the result of this election means that England will be governed, for the next five years, by English (and Welsh) MPs.

We may find we need a fully federal system, but this is not proved. There is time to think about it, to set up a parliamentary commission, ultimately to frame legislation which should be debated in Parliament without a guillotine. There is time, too, to consider other things which could help save the Union — even proportional representation, for instance. It might remind people that there is no such entity called “the Scots” who all want the same thing; and it would placate disfranchised Ukip and Greens.

And high time to make sure that the Boundary Commission’s work, disgracefully postponed in the last Parliament by the Liberal Democrats, can be implemented. Then the electoral shape of our One Nation would at last correspond with its demographic reality. If this theme of “One Nation” really starts to govern Cameron’s thinking, it gives him a lead in the coming European referendum — a vote which he doesn’t want, but can’t get out of.


A paradox has now emerged because of Scotland’s pro-European feelings. Anyone who votes, in 2017, to get out of the EU now risks breaking up the United Kingdom, with Scotland heading for the Continent and England for the open sea. Cameron is well placed to argue that our Union is best guaranteed within a bigger one, so long as the EU agrees to be loose-fitting. More and more, for those who want to break absolutely with Europe, the referendum is looking like a trap.

‘One Nation’ is a strategic concept too. It is extraordinary how, until almost the last moment before the election, the Tories let the SNP get away with the argument that Trident’s renewal had nothing to do with Scotland’s security and place in the world. Over the past five years, in Britain as a whole, we have learnt how a country that forgets to defend itself properly starts to lose a sense of its identity. In the next five years, that sense must be restored.

Trying to explain what was happening to Labour on Thursday night, Lord Mandelson of Foy and Hartlepool (how that colossus straddles our land!) said that his party found itself “caught between two nationalisms”. It was a clever way of trying to turn the Tories into a southern SNP (ENP?) It matters very much that he be proved wrong.

Thursday’s results actually showed the Conservatives performing quite well in most parts of the United Kingdom: they were the only Unionist party to have done creditably in Scotland. For Cameron to turn ‘One Nation’ into a reality, he has to address the divisions within it, as well as the way it is governed.

It is a truly scandalous thing, for example — a complete reversal of the opportunity that grew so consistently from the Forties to the beginning of the 21st century — that millions of the young generation cannot hope to buy the sort of house which their parents could afford.

It is also shocking, given how much we worry about capitalism’s failure to keep delivering benefits for the many, how fiercely governments of all parties have attacked private pensions. It is strange how little effort has been made to devise much wider schemes of workers’ ownership of the business that employ them.

The One Nation concept should apply to the Tories themselves. Even after this dashing victory, one of the biggest impediments to voting Conservative remains the public belief that the Tories are in hock to hedge funds, non-doms and other assorted plutocrats.

The main reason for this perception is that it is often true. Big donors certainly do not control Conservative policy, but cash for access is exactly what they offer and what the party greedily accepts. It would be a wonderful One Nation gesture if Cameron were to announce that the Conservative Party, while still not accepting state funding, will from now on refuse any donation over £5,000 (Dh28,348). He almost certainly won’t, because he will be advised that his party would go bust.

But in fact it is only by “crowdfunding” that the Conservatives can become once again a mass movement and an integral part of our culture, rather than the political equivalent of a private equity takeover. I apologise for these rather stern words on a day when roughly half of England is laughing with relief.

The Conservatives deserve praise for victory, but the trouble with them, I find, is that one has only to tell them they’ve done well for them to agree complacently and go to sleep once more. It is bad for them. So please read this column as coming from that particularly irritating individual — the candid friend.

The point is simple really: Cameron is the first Tory leader to have won the chance to do something big since Margaret Thatcher in 1987. So it matters.

— The Telegraph Group Limited, London 2015