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Coffee House

Is there a difference between voting to get out of the UK and voting to get out of the EU?

20 February 2014

12:15 PM

20 February 2014

12:15 PM

Those of us who want a referendum on the European Union need to be cautious in our approach to the Scottish one. What is sauce for Alex Salmond’s goose may prove sauce for the European gander. We should not assume, for example, that José Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president, is telling the truth. Or take the argument that business is opposed to Scottish independence. The CBI and suchlike always favour the current arrangements and fear uncertainty. They will oppose British independence even more surely than Scottish. They are not always wrong, but their view should not be credulously accepted. Mr Salmond is right that the threats made by the powers that be in a campaign are very different from what they say after a clear result. I have a nasty feeling he may be accurate when he predicts that ‘rUK’ would end up offering a Yes-voting Scotland currency union: it will not want a new beggar for its neighbour. When the main parties get together and agree about something — as they did, for example, about the ERM or the Climate Change Act — is when they most risk going wrong. As it happens, I think they are right about the danger of letting an independent Scotland ‘keep the pound’, but beware a mighty establishment moving one way.

Is there a fundamental difference, then, between voting to get out of the United Kingdom and voting to get out of the EU? If the EU had a 300-year history as a working entity, probably not. It would seem perverse to leave. But it has no such history. The difference is best expressed, oddly enough, by Nicola Sturgeon, Mr Salmond’s deputy. Speaking of the currency, she says what Scotland wants is ‘a continuity of effect’. She does not realise that such continuity is best secured by the simple device of voting No. Staying in the EU, on the other hand, has little continuity of effect: it signs us up for yet more constitutional and monetary ventures into the unknown.

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