There are strange parallels between the issues surrounding September’s referendum on independence and David Cameron’s supposed pledge that, if he is still Prime Minister, he will oversee an ‘In – Out’ referendum in 2017 on whether Britain should remain a member of the EU.
If you allow for Northern Ireland to be the exception that proves the rule because of its peculiar circumstances, it has always seemed to me that for the UK the concept of devolution was a potential unmitigated disaster, as the decision of the Labour government of Tony Blair to adopt it as a formal policy has proved, arguably with bells on.
I say this because, once you’ve conceded the principle, the end-game is surely inevitable independence.
As a first base, devolving limited governmental powers to Scottish and Welsh assemblies is an undoubted hostage to fortune. Nationalistic movements grab what is offered – and then demand more, and more. It’s an unstoppable tide. Way back in British history it was called Danegeld. Every successive concession designed as a sop to ‘buy off’ the problem only makes it worse. Not least because any refusal to concede a new demand only ramps up the sub-nation’s sense of indignation and ‘chip on the shoulder’ conviction that, if only full independence was given, it would be incalculably better off. Furthermore, it fuels a growing belief that – even if full independence didn’t result in infinite prosperity – it would pay compensating dividends in terms of national pride and confidence.
Plus, if Scotland and/or Wales was allowed to go independent, why not England … or Yorkshire, the North-West … or even Cornwall? Once the principle has been conceded, where does it all end?
Yesterday, David Cameron flew north to Scotland as part of an effort to pump new vigour into the Scotland ‘No’ campaign, now regarded as having been too negative and – in the hands of ineffectual ‘leader’ Alistair Darling – lacklustre.
As far as I can tell from the reports I’ve read, Cameron arrived north of the border armed with further offers of concessions (in terms of devolved powers) if only Scotland votes to stay in the UK. In my view, that’s short-sighted to the point of insanity. He’s giving away points before he’s even identified how strong the respective negotiating positions are, which can only be to the Scottish nationalists’ advantage.
As regards Cameron’s proposed ‘In – Out’ referendum on EU membership, he’s already dug himself an enormous and complex Black Hole. As I understand it, he’s made no secret of the fact he’s in favour of Britain staying in the EU, but he will only recommend it at referendum time if by then he can ‘bring back’ an acceptable re-drawing of the terms of British membership.
That’s another self-imposed hostage to fortune of epic proportions. He doesn’t know – or doesn’t wish to tell – what terms he would regard as being ‘acceptable’ with regard to the above. Perhaps because – as yet – he doesn’t have anything specific in mind.
It’s a pretty ridiculous stance to adopt when you think about it.
As I see it, Cameron is effectively saying “Britain is going to have a referendum on British membership of the EU in 2017. At the moment, there are huge numbers of things wrong within the EU set-up – including as regards Britain’s terms of membership – and I’m going off to Brussels to demand a whole series of improvement and changes, upon which any failure to gain satisfaction may affect whether I can recommend staying in the EU when the time comes for the referendum.”
Given that there are less than three years to go before the proposed referendum and that (1) there are 27-plus countries within the EU, any one of which can effectively veto any concessions made to Britain; and (2) based upon what has been said publicly so far, there are precious few signs of any EU leaders being prepared to concede anything at all to Britain, the chances of Cameron returning from Brussels with any concessions, let alone sufficient to justify him coming back in Neville Chamberlain-mode claiming “Peace in our time! I can whole-heartedly recommend my new EU deal to the nation!” must be minimal.
The ‘penny to a pound’ bet must surely be that whatever Cameron returns from Brussels with, even it is only an inward flight ticket stub, he is bound to hail it as enough for him to recommend that the UK should remain in the EU.
He’s bluffing if he’s pretending that failure to get what he wants will make him recommend the opposite and I’m convinced that both he – and the EU leaders he’ll be ‘negotiating with’ – know this too.
In the meantime, therefore, we’re presented with the sight of Cameron – as the leader a ‘big’ entity seeking to persuade a smaller one (Scotland) not to leave – offering concessions left, right and centre … and then simultaneously, as the leader of a small entity (the UK) dealing with a big one, trying to convince the EU that it should make concessions in order to persuade the UK not to leave.
Kinda ironic, ain’t it?