Just over a month ago, I was at a conference in Berlin, receiving the commiserations of many colleagues from around the world (including Venezuela, USA, Mexico, Australia) on the globally disappointing result of the Referendum. Inevitably, in this international environment, and directly linked to the result in Scotland, the question of the UK’s EU In/Out Referendum was not far away. Most espoused the opinion that it would be madness for the UK to leave the EU, and although Cameron didn’t want to do it, he might just have painted himself into something of a corner.
Largely, it is madness because of the massive economic impact (an even bigger economic impact than the £500+ million calculated for businesses in England and Wales if Westminster had not agreed to a currency union following a ‘Yes’ vote). A new Freedom of Information request by ‘The National’ has highlighted that the Treasury (so keen to have its opinions on the currency union publicised back in February) are refusing to disclose the same advice given to Government Ministers concerning the implications of an EU exit for the UK. How one interprets the decision to withhold (which seems to be an increasingly subjective decision, depending on the political affiliations of the time, contrary to the intention of FoI), depends on which way Westminster wants the public to jump. And they may well want to contain that little problem until after the May General Election is out of the way…Cameron would not at this moment want to be seen as supporting an EU exit by having the Referendum, in the light of Treasury advice saying (probably) “it’s madness”, as that would make it a little more difficult for him to get reelected, in what is already looking like a difficult fight to win a majority for the right to become the Prime Minister of Austerity Britain.
This is, of course, interesting in the context of the Scottish dimension. Polls (before and after September) have regularly shown a clear majority of Scots wanting to stay in the European Union. At the end of October, a report in The Times noted that only four Scottish Westminster constituencies wanted to leave, as opposed to the majority of constituencies in England – and of those four Scottish constituencies, only one (Banff and Buchan, on 57%) made the top 250 Westminster constituencies that wanted to leave. The lack of support for a Scottish exit from the EU (as one might guess from the percentages cited thus far) also goes well beyond the ‘Yes’ camp: my own constituency of Edinburgh North – which I think only managed in the high thirties for ‘Yes’ – only shows 23% support for an EU exit, with Edinburgh South nearer 24%.
The implications of this apparently likely opposing result on each side of the border then brings the constitutional element into play. In a poll at the start of November by Panelbase, those surveyed were asked to consider the (apparently likely) scenario whereby Scotland voted to stay in the EU, but was outvoted by the rest of the UK to leave with it. They were then asked, in these circumstances, if a second independence referendum would be justified, in order to ensure that Scotland was not taken out of the EU against its will. Excluding the 13% Don’t Knows, 52% said yes (including 22% of former ‘No’ voters in the Referendum), and 48% said no, the UK decision should be accepted.
This, of course, is one of the keystones of the 2017 ‘Referendum Rerun’ scenario. With SNP majorities in the Scottish Westminster constituencies in 2015 and for Holyrood in 2016 endorsing their mandate for a rerun, a split on leaving the EU would be enough to trigger the second referendum as an act of responsible governance. Given that the position of all those malleable banks and big businesses (who were loudly saying ‘No’ in September because of some hypothetical damage to business), would now be reversed at the prospect of losing the EU market with some serious real damage to business, there might be some interesting flipping of positions.
This should be remembered in the context of the IPSOS-MORI poll at the end of October that showed 55% support for a second independence referendum if either the above EU in/out scenario OR a majority Conservative Government was elected in May 2015. Longer term, 58% would support a second referendum within 5 years (or 66% for it happening in the next ten years) REGARDLESS of circumstances.
The EU In/Out split is an interesting scenario – but one should not underestimate David Cameron’s ability to play both the English electorate and his political opponents by using them as proxies (you see, Nick?). His use of Labour as his Referendum prophylactic, so that he could stand back while they soaked up the damage to their long-term reputations, was clever if obvious – as was his linkage of EVEL to ‘The Vow’ (Gordon Brown as the extra-special Labour prophylactic of choice on that occasion – a lot safer than using ‘the Darling’). Cameron also knows that framing the question carefully could also make him appear to partially satisfy both sides to an extent that would defuse the passion for an exit, and thus give him the result that he almost certainly wants.
And all that is before even considering how he would run the campaign – but one would imagine that he would use it to try to eviscerate Labour in England and Wales in a similar way to the neat filleting he just gave them in Scotland.
‘[Britain] is a coopted democracy, it’s an aristocratic class aligned with big business, industry, the upper middle class…who control this whole society and manipulate it for their own interests and while it is called a democracy…- nominally it is a democracy but in practice it is a very successful totalitarian paternalistic system, where the government is for the interests of a very tiny minority, and the majority of the people… in my view are not politically mature and have no real idea of what is happening to them.’ (Professor Tony Carty, Professor of Public Law & International Law, Aberdeen University)