As Harold Wilson is oft quoted, “a week is a long time in politics”. This week will mark the starting gun on Scotland’s next referendum. The third in five years. Remind me who usually complain about a neverendum syndrome? Ah yes, our Unionist countrymen (and women).
Well the Queen’s Speech heralds the legislation for a referendum on whether we are in, out or supposed-to-be shaking it all about. Cameron has started a Tory charm offensive with other European leaders. An oxymoron if ever there was one.
I can imagine he will report back that his first stage Grand Tour of Europe will be recorded a success by his most Loyal press. There will be little to disagree with in terms of reforming areas of European bureaucracy. All this to stem any uncertainty in the markets and calm the jitters of pro-European captains of industry.
There is a delicious irony that as Standard Life issues its annual threat to move jobs out of Scotland if IndyRef2 becomes more than just a hashtag, Deutsche Bank, HSBC and others threaten to dump the City in favour of a stable financial centre within the EU (possibly, whisper it, within the Euro zone). Edinburgh burghers, Glasgow go-getters and those at Scottish Financial Enterprise should be girding the loins to do battle for these jobs and capital.
It’s a shame SFE spent so much effort opposing Scottish independence that they may come to realise it could provide the real competitive advantage to prosper from London’s haemorrhaging.
So what does this really mean for Scotland? Is Brexit the silver lining of Tory rule? Possibly. If Scotland votes to stay in and rest of the UK to come out. That’s a big IF. For too long now we (at least in the SNP) have told ourselves that Scots believe the EU is good. Mostly to reassure ourselves that Independence in Europe was a legitimate claim. I’m not so certain that is the case. On the doorsteps, even a lot of SNP (and Labour) voters can give a good impression of Nigel Farage on speed.
We could end up with a political leadership, dare I say elite, that espouses an In vote which the majority of their regular supporters disagree with. Do remember David Cockburn got elected in 2014 at a time when the Yes vote was coalesced around the SNP at a time of Scottish national unity. Will that be the same in Autumn 2016? Could a rise in Euro-scepticism in 2016 lead to UKIP in the Scottish Parliament? Would that prospect only dent the Tories? Probably not.
Will the Sun do a split personality and maintain its anti-EU stance whilst encouraging the Tartan edition to vote to stay in? I doubt it. Murdoch’s strategy is the removal of the UK from EU and Scotland won’t be allowed any opportunity to dissent from that aim.
So my advice to pro-Europeans in Scotland is simple: start early, work hard and convince Scots that a reformed EU is in Scotland’s best interests. Never assume as the Unionists did in IndyRef that a vote for the SNP in 2016 is a vote to stay in the EU. Our Unionist foes learned that lesson the hard way.
Lastly, there is more to look forward to in the great European debate. Whilst Cameron and Osborne think they can stage manage the illusion that the UK is getting a reform agenda out of Brussels, they are in danger of looking like Neville Chamberlain in 1939. Waving a communiqué on the runway at Heathrow is not the same as a reform Treaty which would be essential to renegotiate terms of membership.
For many Euro-sceptics in the Tory party, the real aim is withdrawal from the EU, not reform. Many of the current Bill Cash-style Euro-sceptics, such as Daniel Hannan, Bernard Jenkin, have stuck with the Tories on a ‘better in the party to agitate for withdrawal than be on the UKIP sidelines’. If they don’t achieve withdrawal because Cameron botched everything by agreeing to minimal reform, then all bets are off and Douglas Carswell gets a parliamentary group of European Tea Partyists.
The next two to three years of Tory majority government will crumble and make the Major years look like a Utopian past. Rebellion, defection, splits will come thick and fast. A great time for a progressive alliance to take shape and advantage.