Lord Steel, in a speech to the Lords, laid several blows on the hitherto untouchable First Minister

At long last someone is deciding to confront the Scottish nationalists. In a speech in the House of Lords, reported in today’s Telegraph, Lord Steel manages to lay several punches on the hitherto untouchable Alex Salmond.

To call this a David meets Goliath encounter would be misleading, for David Steel is no David son of Jesse, no outsider, but rather one who is at the very centre of the Scottish establishment. But, and it is a very important but, Steel is as Scottish as Salmond: if anyone is to take on Salmond and his claim to be the authentic voice of Scotland, it has to be another Scot. The battle for the Union must be fought on Scottish soil. It would be to play into nationalist hands to send troops (metaphorically speaking) north of the border. Such fights are best left to people like Steel; Cameron would find himself in the same predicament as Edward Longshanks, whose very victories only served to stiffen resistance.

One is left marvelling at the robust nature of Lord Steel’s remarks. He claims to like Mr Salmond, but then appears to compare him to the late Kim Jong-Il, the cold, capricious, ruthless and overweight dictator of North Korea. And if that is not enough, he likens him to Louis XIV and his claim that “L’etat, c’est moi.”

All this is good knockabout stuff, the type of which Mr Salmond regularly dishes, so presumably he can take it. It is the type of language that no Tory and no Englishman would dare use. Which leads us to the question: who will lead the campaign against separation when the referendum comes? Lord Steel would be my choice, on the strength of this performance.

For, quite apart from the invective, Lord Steel makes a very important point.

Lord Steel also used the speech to attack the SNP’s “little Scotland” mindset. Although he is friends with a former Danish foreign minister, he said he does not want to see an equivalent Scottish post “with similar limited global influence”.

“I would rather have Scots like Robin Cook and Malcolm Rifkind wielding genuine strength as foreign ministers of a United Kingdom,” he said.

In raising this, Steel reminds us of the case made by the earliest proponents of union such as James VI and I. If Scotland is not to be a backwater, it needs to be in alliance with its southern neighbour. Too bad that only the smallest of our unionist parties, the Liberal Democrats, seems to be making this case with any force.