Cameron’s EU referendum pledge makes winning the Battle for Britain more difficult

23 January 2013

12:53 PM

23 January 2013

12:53 PM

At the risk of seeming parochial, I’d suggest that David Cameron’s long-awaited Europe speech and his endorsement of an In or Out referendum has implications and consequences for another referendum campaign closer to home. I suspect he has bought himself some time on the Europe question but this comes at a price. He has made winning the Battle for Britain – to be decided in 2014 – more difficult.

The SNP should be very pleased today. Cameron has demolished a couple of core Unionist arguments. He can no longer credibly point to the unknown uncertainties of Scottish independence. Not when he has embraced, even made a point of celebrating, uncertainty regarding Britain’s membership of the EU. And at Prime Minister’s Questions this afternoon he also appeared to tear down the notion that an independent Scotland would necessarily or automatically have to agree to join the eurozone.


All this is fine as far as it goes. But the price of extricating himself from a euro-hole is digging a fresh Scottish hole for himself. That’s something I talked about in my Think Scotland column yesterday:

I doubt that europe-related questions will determine the outcome of Scotland’s own referendum. Nevertheless, they contribute to the “mood music” playing in the background of the debate. And that explains why Scottish nationalists have reason to be pleased with Cameron’s euro-predicament. The impression that Britain is lurching towards a euro-exit bolsters the idea that it is Westminster, not Scotland, that now lies outwith the mainstream. “Little Englander” is a pejorative, but powerful, label of abuse.

England’s difficulty is Scotland’s opportunity. That is the theory and it carries some weight. Cameron’s British Unionism is threatened by his party’s scepticism of the European Union and it is imperilled in ways that I suspect his party neither appreciates nor much cares about. The sorry truth is that many English Tories care much more about the future of europe than they do about the future of the United Kingdom. The latter may, to put it charitably, be something they simply take for granted. But that complacency poses dangers too since, to put it charitably again, it is something that is liable to offend Scots’ amour-propre. How dare they overlook us or consider us a secondary issue!

The relative weight attached to the arguments over the future of the EU and the future of the UK matters, however, for if the impression is given that the English are, as the saying goes, just not that into Scotland then it cannot be terribly surprising if Scots are tempted to conclude that perhaps they have tired of England too. A Tory party obsessed with europe to the exclusion of other, nearer to home, constitutional issues is not a party best-placed to make an argument for British Unionism. This is an under-appreciated part of Cameron’s euro-dilemma but it is as important as it is under-valued.

Whole thing here. Bottom line: the EU matters more to Tories than the UK seems to.

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Show comments
  • PA

    How far can self-determination go? The border has changed over the years. Perhaps Northumberland would like to be in Scotland and move the border back to Hadrians wall?

  • PA

    How is the national debt to be divided if Scotland gains independence, or do the Scots expect to be cut free without paying?

  • Macky Dee

    “…even made a point of celebrating, uncertainty regarding Britain’s membership of the EU…”
    When Alex, was this?

  • DavidHalliday

    I think it’s all also going to make it impossible for the unionists to maintain their refusal to say what, if any, further devolution they’ll propose in the event of a “no” vote. The refusal to have a devo-max option on the ballot paper was justified on the grounds that we have to decide if we want to stay or go first and discuss reform later:

    “I’ve always taken the view that we have to first settle the question, does Scotland want to stay in the United Kingdom. If the answer is yes, then obviously further devolution is possible.”
    (David Cameron, on signing the Edinburgh Agreement, 15 October 2012)

    How does that fit with:

    “How can we sensibly answer the question ‘in or out’ without being able to answer the most basic question: ‘what is it exactly that we are choosing to be in or out of’?”
    (David Cameron, talking about something clearly completely different, 23 January 2013)

  • Roy

    The party who commits to the resulting referendum will win the election. Since they are supposed to be working for the people, they would indeed be doing as the people wish.

  • Robert Taggart

    Smart move Cameo – if this rids England of the ‘Celtic Whinge’ !

  • Noa

    It may not work for Cameron but it works very well for UKIP.

    As Van Rumpey has said that an independent Scotland would have to re-negotiate because it was a new entity, the same principle should equally apply to England.

    Scotland’s departure from the Union would also signal England’s EU exit.

  • RBcritique

    Interesting argument, Alex, but I find myself disagreeing with almost every point of it.

  • Macky Dee

    “…Cameron’s British Unionism is threatened by his party’s scepticism of the European Union…”
    The union of Europe is undemocratic, there are a lot of Scots making a real difference in the UK union. (Although I’m in favour of Scottish independence (I’m English)).

  • Adrian

    I promise, that subject to certain indeterminate eventualities, I will give every reader of this Blog, £5 million in 5 years time.
    That is my cast iron guarantee to you all.

  • Daniel Maris

    Reasonable observations for once!

    The law of unintended consequences is once again shown to have universal writ .

  • William Haworth

    To an extent it depends on how you define ‘mainstream’. The majority of people currently in the UK want to get out of the EU, according to most polls; so far so mainstream.

    You appear to ignore the fact that English Tories won’t be consulted on the future of the Union; they may as well be Lithuanian or Portuguese for all their opinions matter. They don’t talk about it in England, because it’s not something they can influence. Your insights regarding the debate North of Berwick are interesting, but what can the English do? Argue about it in England, and you’re wasting your breath, no votes to be won here. Argue the case in Scotland, and you’re a colonialist lecturing the Scots on what’s good for them (although the abuse I’ve received in Edinburgh was more Trainspotting than Heriot Watt).

    In any case, Salmond has done such a good job of alienating the English, that many have fallen into his trap and wish to see the back of the Scots.

  • William Haworth

    Ooh, that horrid Scots word “outwith”. How parochial of you!

    • AndrewMelville

      Aach, that vile Inglish word, horrid – pronounced with two “w’s” natch.

      Just for that we’re taking Berwick back – so ha!

  • JPJ2

    “At the risk of seeming parochial…”
    Ah, the infamous “Scottish cringe” at work again-still Mr Massie, you did overcome it, so there is hope for you yet-well done 🙂

  • Jim Fraser

    David Cameron is too smart a political player not to have noticed the inconsistency in his positions on the Scottish independence and European Union membership referenda (causes terrible uncertainty; why wait for years to decide? etc.) So you have to conclude that he just doesn’t think the Scottish issue is important enough to limit his freedom of action on the bigger battlefront. Which is kind of the problem many people in Scotland (whingeing benefit scroungers that we are) have with Westminster: our agenda does not seem to be their agenda. The fact that Ruth Davidson gets unintentionally shafted once again in the process just serves to confirm Scotland’s branch-office status in David’s eyes.

  • LB

    So why isn’t England allowed a vote on the Union?

    Same as the EU. We’re not allowed a vote.

    The more this goes on, the more people will conclude, I haven’t been asked, I’m not responsible. If I’m not responsible, I’m not going to pay.

    However, the irony of Scotland saying we want to be in, and England saying we don’t want you is too delicious to contemplate.

    • Jim Fraser

      Yes LB, after the independence referendum Scotland could be in the position of negotiating to join the European Union, while the rest of the UK are negotiating to get out. (You’ll forgive my presumption that you’d want to take Northern Ireland and Wales with you 😉 )

      • LB

        Presume all you want.

        My view is that each country should get the vote. My view is also that countries should not be denied the vote either.

        Even Cameron admits that consent is wafer thin. Politicians speak for if people had the vote now we would lose. That’s the problem. There is no democratic consent.

        Shouldn’t England get a vote on the Union? e.g England votes to leave the Union. Leaves Scotland Wales and Ireland to fund themselves, and they get to be in the EU.

        • David Myers

          You’re calling for what’s called self-determination, and if there is the demand for it in England, you can get a referendum. My guess is that there is no demand in England to leave the Union (other than that damned European one people bang on about so much).

          • JPJ2

            David is right, of course. If you want to have a vote in the referendum on Scottish independence, you would have to concede a vote to Europeans on the EU in/out vote-see how ridiculous that is ?

            • LB

              There is no EU sovereignty.

              There is Scottish and English Sovereignty

            • LB

              OK, if we take that position.

              EU Votes to keep the UK in, it likes the cash.

              UK votes to leave the EU.

              Now what?

              Scotland votes to leave the Union. The rest vote not to let them.

              Now what?

              • JPJ2

                LB I agree with the analysis that neither Scotland nor the UK can de facto be kept against their will

                • LB

                  Well, should not be kept against our will.

                  However, we’re not allowed to express that, because we aren’t being asked, we are being dictated too.

                  It goes back to what democracy should be, not how its subverted by the elite.

                  Democracy means having your say. We no longer live in a world where it took weeks to get to parliament. Representatives are redundant when it comes to voting on issues. An MP should have exactly the same vote as the public.

                  So if they want to raise taxes, they have to ask us.

                  If they want to hand over power, they have to ask us.

                  If they want to take back power, they have to ask us,

                  Now general referenda are expensive, but it can be done very cheaply, and by getting rid of the Lords save money to boot.

                  That way, lying in a manifesto? So what, you can’t get it passed the voter.

                  Didn’t tell the voter? Well if they like it, you can get it passed, If you can’t tough.

                  If you like some parts of Labour’s manifesto, vote for those parts and not the bits you don’t.

                  However, at the end of the day, you have to accept the popular vote.

                  Currently with no say, why should you accept dictates? EU or Westminster.

                  Why should you pay for their frauds? And I’m not talking expenses.

                • global city

                  has anybody thought of the outrage should all EU countries get a vote on whether the UK stays in the EU?

          • LB


            There is demand for a EU referenda, We can’t get that.

            So if we can’t get one on Europe, we won’t get one on the Union. Just the Scots get that vote.

      • William Haworth

        I suspect that if Scotland goes, the Welsh and Northern Irish will soon be out the door after them, willing or not. Scottish independence will be such a slap in the face for the English that they’ll be looking for a new place in the world, and Celtic half-brothers, perceived to be living on English handouts, won’t be in the frame.

        • LB

          An option.

          I suspect they will want to wait to see the mess in Scotland. With a Barnet formula share of the debt, bankrupt Scottish banks to deal with, and an economy built on the state, it wouldn’t take long.

          Just look at how quickly they messed up with Holyrood.

          • Highlander

            Don’t be daft. Holyrood led the way on many issues like smoking, alcohol abuse, free prescriptions and many more of the issues that really matter. The banks would not have gone belly up if Scotland had control over the financial sector as we would not have been so reckless with regulation.Furthermore, if even the Better Together Campaign admit that the worst case scenario is that every Scot would be a pound a year worse off, its a no brainer- you can keep your Barnett formula and we will keep our own tax revenue. You can have your weapons of mass destruction back. How many of the countries that gained their independence from Westminster rule, have requested a return ticket – not one!

      • Macky Dee

        Northern Ireland and Wales are part of the UK and (hopefully) always will be. It would be a great shame if they wanted to leave (i want the scots to leave).

    • Macky Dee

      I think there are more English that would vote Scotland Out of the UK than there are Scots that would vote either way.

  • Richard Ede

    British relations with Europe and relations between the British are all different aspects of the same question. How can the Scots in 2014 make a meaningful decision about the present Union of the British without knowing what its future relations with Europe might be? Is it intended that the Centenary in 2016 of the Easter Rising should come and go without the people of the British Isles as a whole having their say on a Union which could end the Partition of Ireland and produce for the British a Union with which all the British might be content? Is the English Model for a British Constitution never to be questioned?