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David Cameron is heading for a showdown with Tory backbenchers over the last-minute flurry of pledges he has made to the Scots to convince them to vote No in Thursday’s referendum.
Conservative MPs have been angered by his decision to overlay the promise of greater powers with a pledge to maintain a formula for allocating public spending that favours Scotland over England.
“This bloody deal, there has been no discussion in the parliamentary party, no warning, talk about panicked policy making on the hoof. Morale in the party is at rock bottom,” said one senior backbencher.
“The mess we are in now means a No vote is only just better than a Yes vote. A No vote is a disaster for the Conservatives and not great for Britain; a Yes vote is a disaster for the Conservatives and a disaster for Britain.”
Sir Richard Ottaway, chair of the foreign affairs committee and a Cameron supporter, appealed for calm in a sign of the febrile atmosphere within the parliamentary party.
“These pledges have to be put into context,” he told the FT. “Colleagues should keep calm and wait for the detail.”
Andrew Rosindell, Conservative MP for Romford, told the Financial Times that the prime minister would have to reflect on his position should his attempts to win over the Scots fail.
“I hope Scots vote to stay; if it goes wrong, however, the prime minister will have to decide what the honourable thing is to do,” he said.
“Everyone I speak to thinks his position would be untenable,” said another Conservative MP. “We are the unionist party and on top of that he has made this personal plea.” A third MP said he believed the PM would resign of his own volition if Scots voted Yes: “He is an honourable man”.
Under Conservative rules, a vote of no-confidence in Mr Cameron would be triggered if at least 15 per cent of Tory MPs write to Graham Brady, the chairman of the influential 1922 backbench committee. Some 46 MPs are needed to trigger a vote.
John Whittingdale, a vice-chairman of the 1922 backbench committee, told the FT that Mr Cameron’s position was assured but expressed alarm over what the Scots were being offered.
“In my view, whatever the outcome, David Cameron’s position is in no doubt, but I for one would be very concerned at the idea that my electorate would continue to subsidise the Scots even after they have been given all these powers to raise even more money.”
Mr Rosindell said there needed to be proper discussion over a new UK settlement. “When the dust has settled, all the pledges and promises and threats have to be looked at in a coherent way to ensure the whole of the country is treated equally. But it can’t be done until the emotion of this referendum is over.”
David Mowat, MP for Warrington South and co-founder of the 40 Group for the most marginal MPs, said he did not think the outcome of the referendum was a cause for resignation on the part of the prime minister but was “very concerned” over Mr Cameron’s pledge to guarantee funding for the Scots.
“I have a great deal of difficulty in any constitutional settlement that enshrines higher public spending in Scotland than in my constituency regardless of relative need. If my constituency had the same demography and was in Scotland, it would have £1,000 a year more in public spending per person.”
Additional reporting by Jim Pickard