Thursday, 24 January 2013
That was quite a speech Dave
On Twitter I asked whether it was Cameron's '95 Theses on the Reformation of Europe' (with thanks to Archbishop Cramner) or was it purely about Tory electoral prospects? I think the truth is it is rather more about Tory electoral prospects and outflanking the UKIP.
Interestingly, Lord Ashcroft - the Tory benefactor, pollster and strategist - points out that when they talk about Europe they lose. Well, we'll see, but I do think their position will unravel somewhat and its still all about the economy stupid!
I think the Conservative's position will unravel because we have no idea exactly what powers Cameron would like to repatriate or the consequences. There is in some quarters a view that Europe takes over and tells us what to do but only 6.8% of UK primary legislation and 14.1% of secondary legislation has anything to do with implementing EU obligations - and these are not EU diktats but policy that is agreed to, approved of and signed off by UK officials.
The fact is Euro-scepticism plays to an idea of Europe that "we are with Europe but not of it" to quote Churchill.
One of the really interesting things today was that if you substituted the word Scotland for the words 'Britain' or 'United Kingdom' it could have been Alex Salmond talking. In fact the Scottish nationalist community has been quite taken with the irony of the whole thing and what Cameron is saying about the pros and cons of holding an EU referendum! But this should not surprise us because both the Conservatives and SNP are nationalists.
The other question I posed on Twitter was 'what effect will this have on the Scottish independence referendum?'
That remains to be seen but while there are some huge ironies in hearing David Cameron sound like Alex Salmond, I don't think it changes the fundamentals of the debate very much. In fact, I believe this makes the case for Scottish independence still weaker.
In 2012 there was much debate about whether an independent Scotland could remain automatically within the EU. While the process and basis for a separate Scotland becoming a member state are unclear there is little doubt we would take our place. However, the possibility that you could have an independent Scotland within the EU and England & Wales outside the EU is not a good proposition. Where would this leave the currency? This would not be a good place for Scotland's main market and trading partner to be, and what of the Schengen agreement on borders?
The fact is that to be a viable proposition Scotland needs to be part of the EU. While I am a strong supporter of the EU, the rest of the UK does not need the EU as much as an independent Scotland would. And, as I said, the prospect of our main market being on the different side of the EU's borders is something of a nightmare scenario - and it wouldn't do much for the 'social union' either.
I have argued before that our interests are best served by British unity, collective interests abroad like the EU and decentralisation at home.
The commentator David Torrance said something this morning I thought may yet prove to be quite significant. He said, "PM's position vis-vis EU is basically devo-max for the UK. And if that doesn't work , then he wants independence." Yes, David Cameron is arguing for a looser connection with Europe but to remain inside none the less. In this I sense the possibility of a changing view in England to the British constitution. The parallels between the EU debate and the constitutional argument will not be lost on everyone. The awareness of English nationalism, the value of regional autonomy and how these things can exist within something bigger is growing. The fact that the Scots seem to be largely opposed to independence but want strong devolution within the UK is also becoming increasingly clear. All these things add up to the possibility that maybe, just maybe, something that was unthinkable a few years ago could soon be thinkable. That is that people in England may come to accept a federal solution for the UK is a good thing.
This is important because today another poll put support for independence below 30% and the numbers supporting increased devolution much higher.
If independence is voted down in 2014 we can get on and take the devolution settlement further. We can start to work towards making devolution part of a wider decentralised settlement in the UK. How this develops is the more important question - not independence!
Meanwhile the European question remains and I fear David Cameron has opened a Pandora's Box. I'm not at all sure where we are headed but I'm not sure he knows either! My best guess is we won't hold this referendum for I don't believe the Tories will win the next election. But, If we do hold a referendum I think we'll vote to stay in - by the skin of our teeth. I can only hope that the re-engineering of Europe, because that will happen in the next few years whatever course we take, is one that benefits us all.