Brian Monteith: Euro fudge - don’t swallow it

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The first Conservative Queen’s Speech in 20 years, and I have to admit I was rather disappointed. I was maybe hoping for something a tad more radical, something to appear that would excite my spirits, but it hardly moved me. Too much constitutional reform and too little deregulation that will set our people and the economy free. It’s my own fault: in looking forward to the event, I forgot that the most important changes will come in the legislation that passes most people by unnoticed – the government’s finance bills that follow-on from a budget.

In other words, it will be George Osborne that will reveal the real reforms needed to make a big difference to our lives. Everything else will stem from these. That’s where the tax cuts, the duty freezes, the allowance changes will all take place – and where any reform of the tax system will happen.

While a majority Conservative Queen’s Speech has been a damp squib, there must be a hope then that a majority Conservative budget will be a veritable Festival of Fireworks.

Only the business deregulation bill caught my interest, as it will create jobs. Not surprisingly, the immediate focus has obviously been on the delivery of a referendum on the European Union and already the draft question has been released and the bill published. I remain of the view that the renegotiation of the UK’s membership terms is a sham. For a start, the Brussels leadership will not even use the word renegotiation!

I have no doubt David Cameron will come back to Britain at some point and wave his piece of paper telling us of reform in our time – just as Neville Chamberlain came back from Munich after meeting Herr Hitler and said “Peace in our time”. It will be just as false, although I would be delighted to be proven wrong.

Some minor changes on welfare benefits for immigrants and the ability to modify a directive on cauliflower will be lauded as a great achievement but, like Chamberlain’s gesture, it will be futile. Without treaty change it cannot be substantial – and because treaty change would require France to have its own referendum (which it could just as easily lose) President Hollande will not consent to that outcome. Thus it is all a charade.

When the referendum comes, we need to be alive to the fact we will not be voting on a choice between Cameron’s lame attempt at a reform but between what the EU will become – a single state of those in the euro dictating the terms of membership, regulations and cost to others like the UK – or the chance in a lifetime to establish the UK as a self-governing democracy once again.

Why so many Nationalists love the idea of being dictated to by Brussels but cannot stomach having a big say in the United Kingdom – both are political unions after all – is one of those absurdities that will never be settled. Only after regaining full control of our laws, regaining our own seats on many international bodies (which we have given up to the EU) and holding our own politicians to account can we begin to change what is done in our name.

Lesson for Sturgeon

WHEN in trouble, deflect. That is one of the golden rules of politics, and the SNP leadership are grand masters at it. You may not have noticed, but the SNP Scottish Government has been on the rack the last two weeks over its handling of education. Kids from the poorest families are being left behind. The latest results on literacy and numeracy are appalling. In power for eight years and with education devolved to Holyrood, the SNP cannot blame Westminster. Teachers cut, college places cut, exam passes worsening.

Then along comes the report on the leak of Nicola Sturgeon’s private conversation with French diplomats and how Lib Dem Alistair Carmichael is responsible. He apologises for his misjudgment and the lie that he denied doing it. He forgoes £20,000 severance – but that is not enough for the SNP leadership that sees its chance to deflect attention away from the education embarrassment.

Even better, the report stated: “The Cabinet Secretary has concluded that there is no reason to doubt that he [the civil servant] recorded accurately what he thought he had heard. There is no evidence of any political motivation or ‘dirty tricks’.” In other words, Nicola Sturgeon stands accused of lying when she denied she wanted a Tory victory. Carmichael can therefore claim he was acting in the public interest by leaking the transcript.

So who really should resign? Carmichael for lying that he had nothing to do with the leak, when he now admits he had? Sturgeon, who said she wanted a Labour government but was telling the English to vote Green and the Welsh to vote Plaid?

And do Sturgeon, Salmond and Swinney not have form on lying? That legal advice on EU membership that never actually existed? Those conversations with the Bank of England that never took place? I could go on and list more. Spare us the mock outrage, Nicola, and get back to dealing with Scotland’s education shambles – that’s far more important and it’s your responsibility and what you’re paid for.