In the aftermath of David Cameron’s speech on Europe, there is no avoiding considering the impact that a ~2016/2017 EU referendum may have on the 2014 Scottish independence referendum.
It is interesting to first note that the Prime Minister intends to fix the UK’s relationship with the EU before we take to the polls whereas with the independence referendum any improvement to the current arrangement was kicked out to after 2014 and promised as ‘jam tomorrow’. Read into that what you will.
There is an argument that this Europe referendum will muddy the independence waters and mentally bind people into the UK’s future. For example, even SNP MP Pete Wishart was talking about how “we” would be having this referendum in 2017, clearly subconsciuously visualising taking part in it. An EU referendum ahead of us and an Olympics just behind us. It’ll continue to be difficult for Yes Scotland to stop Brits feeling British. That in itself shouldn’t stop people from voting Yes but, realistically, it will.
A separate argument is that David Cameron is risking the unionist side’s strongest card in the independence referendum, namely the UK’s influence across the continent and wider world. Barack Obama is keen for the UK to stay inside the EU, Angela Merkel has already voiced her objections to the speech delivered today and Carl Bildt (Sweden’s foreign minister) warned Cameron against a “28-speed Europe”, reminding the PM of the need for each members to progress together. Further frustration with the UK’s lamentable attitude could lead to overtures towards an independent Scotland and the undermining of Cameron’s current position of one of the ‘big 3 in Europe’ as a result.
A neutered British bulldog would make EU round tables much more palatable for continental countries post-2014. Scotland would just be happy to be there, nodding matters through and wagging its tail excitedly, not that that is necessarily a bad thing.
Further to this, the considerable anti-EU bloc in England may judge that they would have a great chance of success in the 2017 referendum if Scotland didn’t get to take part in it. Donations and resources going into the Better Together campaign could dry up if this philosophy takes hold. If the choice for UKIP sympathisers (of which there are clearly many) was between leaving the EU or keeping the UK together, a fair few would opt for the former.
Personally for me, one of the most interesting aspects of Cameron’s speech, and highlighted at today’s PMQs, was the absence of any real vision from Ed Miliband. The Labour leader seems stuck between a largely Eurosceptic public and the need to differentiate from the position that the Prime Minister is taking. This is unfortunate for Ed as (1) he would not seek to take the UK out of EU save for the most remarkable of circumstances and (2) if we were in the run up to a general election, Ed would be promising precisely what Cameron is. Labour and the Tories read the same polls, they operate in the same narrow centre ground and the difference between their respective party Governments is not very much.
The choice in 2014 is becoming clearer, you can either vote for an independent Scotland that will likely seek to be a proactive and enthusiastic European team player or you can vote to be part of a UK which remains on the backfoot regarding all things EU, if it even remains a member at all.