Are the wheels beginning to come off David Cameron’s coalition wagon? Did it ever have four wheels in the first place?
The revolt by backbench Tories against their own government’s Queen’s speech is unprecedented in modern times. True, three Tories rebelled back in 1992 – but not since 1946 has there been a time when over a hundred members of one of the ruling parties has voted for an amendment to their own government’s legislative programme.
The SNP announced earlier in the week that its MPs would vote against the referendum amendment – saying it would get in the way of the referendum on Scotland’s continued place in Great Britain. This was typically disingenuous, for the referendum on being British and Scottish or just Scottish will take place in October next year – the proposal for the EU referendum was that it be in 2015, the following year, so it can hardly be an obstacle if it comes afterwards.
Of course what would likely happen, and what I suspect they really fear, is that were a EU referendum to be held in 2015 it would dominate the political airwaves, sucking the oxygen out of the independence referendum and make their campaign harder.
David Cameron’s plan is if, and it’s a big if, he remains Prime Minister after the 2015 general election he will renegotiate Britain’s terms of membership and put his new deal it to a referendum in 2017 – four years away.
Well, I’ve got news for the SNP and David Cameron: if they think the European issue will politely go away until the independence referendum has been held and he’s negotiated his new EU membership deal then they are only fooling themselves.
The issue of what is going to happen in Europe will continue to appear at regular intervals, how the parties and their leaders respond will shape what we think of them – and as I said back in January when I was predicting the winners and losers for 2013, Nigel Farage will be the one to gain.
The reason for this is quite simple. The more people look at an issue and believe our government, be it the British one in London or the Scottish one in Edinburgh, needs to make changes – but cannot because of European Union agreements – then the more they are going to gravitate towards at the very least a looser arrangement with Brussels.
It may be something to do with taxes, immigration, fishing and farming, the shape of cucumbers – whatever – but each time it is Farage that will pop up with the answer: leave the EU so we can decide for ourselves.
This has two direct ramifications to Cameron and the SNP. For Cameron, it means that the only way he has a genuine chance (if he ever gets that far) of winning an EU referendum is to have a deal that makes a big enough difference to make it worth staying in the European Union. That is a big challenge for – thanks to the crisis of the euro currency and its need for greater political union – the direction of travel in the coming years is going to be towards a closer union, not a looser one.
For the SNP, the success of Farage in England will, at the very least, make Scots ask why, if London rule is so bad, should we believe even more distant Brussels rule is okay – why will the SNP not agree to us having a vote on that too?
It is noticeable that Alex Salmond is saying that only way to guarantee staying in Europe is to vote for independence. That guarantee is being offered because the SNP will not let Scots have a vote on EU membership in case we decide that we don’t want to be part of the EU either.
But an independent Scotland will have to negotiate its own terms of membership for the EU – so why won’t Salmond let Scots endorse that membership deal – just as Cameron is willing to let the British people endorse or reject his negotiation?
The SNP has ended up on the wrong side of being democrats and trusting the people – hardly an auspicious reason for voting for independence.
There is also an impact from UKIP’s rise on Labour leader Ed Miliband as he flounders around taking the position that the British people should not be given a say over our continued European Union membership – another anti-democrat.
Funny how some people think it’s okay to have a referendum on Scotland being in or out of Great Britain but not Great Britain being in or out of the European Union.
Meanwhile, as I type my last sentences Nigel Farage is in Edinburgh facing abusive demonstrators shouting “scum” and forcing him into a Royal Mile pub, telling him to stick his Union flag and go home – with him being “rescued” by the police.
But Farage is home. He’s British, the Union flag is our flag too, and last time I looked Edinburgh is in Britain. What an advert for tolerance. Welcome to Scotland after independence, where those with the wrong opinions will be shouted down and abused.