All eyes next week will be on the first Queen’s Speech of a Conservative Government for 19 years. Yes, the last one was back in the mists of time, October 23, 1996, when the Spice Girls were Number One with Say You’ll Be There. How things have changed!
Since then we have had three Labour governments and one Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition, seen the Scottish Parliament established, the rise of the SNP and a referendum reject Scottish independence. Next week a new era begins and more pages of history will be written.
Expect between now and Wednesday all sorts of stories being leaked about what will or will not be included.
Rattles will be thrown out of political prams by those getting upset before the speech, with tantrums by those angry about its contents afterwards. It wouldn’t be a Queen’s Speech without such theatrics.
Given this last week when the SNP MP group has displayed its juvenile side by taking selfies in the Commons chamber, trying to bully 83-year-old Denis Skinner from taking his usual place and sitting in the Labour front bench I would not be surprised to see some childish stunt or disrespectful interventions to try and get headlines.
Such antics do nothing to gain respect and make me cringe when I’m asked about it by my friends and colleagues from the rest of the UK. How to make friends and influence people it is not. Don’t take it from me, the SNP whips are already trying to rein their MPs in from their wilful inverted-pomposity.
Seeking to undermine procedures will simply end up in the SNP being marginalised by everyone else. That hardly makes our representation Stronger for Scotland at Westminster as the SNP claimed it would, it makes it weaker and open to ridicule.
David Cameron has made it clear that he will not be Prime Minister for the full five years so that means he has to achieve all he wants to do in the next three or four. We should therefore expect the legislation to be front-loaded, with a very busy period in the first few years, especially anything controversial.
For all that, his period in office will be defined by two things, his attempt at a renegotiation of the UK’s membership of the European Union – and the subsequent referendum – and his constitutional reforms that might help preserve the United Kingdom.
For Scotland – and the rest of the UK, for he will need to look at how power can be spread around the whole of country – I think he will take a little time to think matters through. For him to announce anything beyond the Smith Commission proposals would be a surprise, although there are many in his party calling him to go further. Some want to deliver Full Fiscal Autonomy so that the SNP has to face reality in making its fantasy economics work, while others are looking for a federal UK. A Constitutional Convention or some other form of consultation is a possibility before the year is out.
For the European Union we have already had the siren voices calling to gerrymander the referendum and trying to scare the wits out of voters. The latest kite being flown is a call for 1.5 million EU nationals to be given the vote. This is as dangerous as it is daft.
Given that one of the key issues of concern (by those for or against) over the EU is the open immigration of EU Nationals, giving them a say in the future destiny of the UK could seriously undermine the credibility of the referendum. The vote could be knife-edge and were the difference to staying or leaving the EU decided by temporary residents the injustice could lead to bitterness and division just when we need to pull the country back together.
Rather than the referendum being decisive for at least a generation, such gerrymandering could leave a grievance that will keep the issue alive for years to come. The solution is simple, Cameron should insist upon using the general election register, which allows British citizens at home or abroad to vote so long as they meet the usual qualifications.
The pro-EU campaign is already marshalling its forces, with the CBI saying how the referendum should be held as soon as possible and Airbus saying it would consider future investment in the UK if our economic conditions became less favourable. Scaremongering on stilts that should be ignored.
The CBI was the corporatist outfit that told us we had to join the euro or suffer – when it is those countries that did join the euro that have suffered the most. It was also against the referendum but now can’t have one quick enough, even without knowing if there will be any reforms.
As for Airbus I liked the Global Britain tweet: “the UK is to the EU the equivalent of Red Bull – it gives Airbus wings. Without us it just wouldn’t fly!”
Would Airbus move out of Toulouse if the French economy crashed? No, and neither will it leave Bristol either, especially when the UK economic conditions improve outside the EU.
Next week my reaction to the speech – and more!