Category Archives: referendums

Emoting about the EU

Tory MP Nick Herbert is leading the EU "Stay" campaign - or one of them at any rate - and not before time if a poll in the Mail is to be believed.  According to the Survation poll the "Leave" option now leads by 6%, given impetus it would seem, by concerns over terrorist attacks and a migrant influx that would clearly not exist if we weren't in the EU.

The Telegraph describes this as a "war", although quite why the preparation to debate an important referendum issue should be a "war" is puzzling in itself.  The Telegraph lost a lot of its news credibility some time ago when its cozy relationship with HSBC was revealed, but still.  A war?

Nick Herbert is effectively leading what will be the minority view within the Tory party about Europe.  Sceptics in the Tory party - up to and including the cabinet - are so plentiful that David Cameron has almost seemed besieged by his desire to secure a deal which could persuade people to vote to stay in.  As Nick Clegg - resurfacing on today's Marr show - remarked, it is going to be important to remember that the EU referendum extends rather further than the broiling civil war amongst the Tories.

Another salvo in the right-wing exchanges was fired in the Telegraph as well.  "Historians for Britain", a fantastically named group presumably suggesting that other historians are not at all committed to Britain, has dished the notion that the EU has had any role in preserving peace since the war.  And in this, I have to cautiously agree.  I think the EU has been a remarkable development in a continent which little over half a century ago was used to tearing itself to bits every few years on the battlefield, but yes I think NATO more than the EU can claim the credit for actually helping to preserve the very peace from which the EU has emerged and flourished.  The EU's forays into foreign policy have not been particularly effective - witness eastern Ukraine, a crisis begun at least in part by heavy handed EU overtures to pro-western Ukrainian politicians - and they struggle to speak with a single voice over such things as migration or the middle eastern conflict.  But still.  At least they do speak. And meet. And negotiate. And hold summits and things.  I doubt there's a person alive in the war-tortured middle east - outside the gun-toting, violence-inflicting, morally abandoned psycho loons of ISIS and their associates - who wouldn't rather have an EU type approach to inter-state affairs than the military machisma currently prevailing.

The referendum will hopefully be based on rational pro and anti arguments, but in amongst it I have to confess that there is a wholly emotive endorsement on my part of the whole EU experiment, and what it is meant to represent.

Has Scotland shown us how to reinvigorate democray?

There hasn't been wanting commentators and ordinary joes to tell us that the extraordinary turnout in the Scottish referendum has shown us the way to a better, more invigorated democratic system.

Janet Street Porter, one of the more emotional of these, says in her paean of praise to the Scottish people that "You showed us what commitment and passion are all about and given the rest of the UK a wake-up call."  Mind you, Janet also noted how wonderful it was that "people who don’t agree can accept a result and move forward together", suggesting she hasn't been watching events in Glasgow too closely.

The reality, though, is that this is an exceptional rather than indicative democratic event.  Rarely will people get to vote on the very nature of their country, or to bring a new country into existence, so it is hardly surprising that the interest and turnout should have been high.  Scotland has hardly been a shining example of democratic activism in any of its other elections however.  Turnout for their own parliamentary elections in 2011 was a mere 50% (it's on this miserable turnout that the SNP won their victory).  It was slightly up for the apparently hated Westminster elections in 2010 at 63.8%, and even for the first ever elections to a Scottish Parliament in 1999 it was only 58%.  So let's rest on praising the Scots as great democrats and consider that this was an exceptional circumstance.  

The referendum offers us no answers about the participation crisis in British democracy.  Indeed, it is instructive to note, as politicians start discussing regionalism as a way forward for a more balanced UK polity, that even in Scotland, where bile towards Westminster was at its height, voters have still preferred to turn out and vote for a parliament that no longer runs their domestic services than they do for their own home-grown assembly. 

After ‘No’, What?

First detailed reaction to the No vote in Scotland comes from the Spectator's team of Fraser Nelson and James Forsyth.  Their article here is a thorough examination of the campaign, and the problems it now poses.  "This morning, the United Kingdom wakes up to one of the biggest constitutional messes in its history" they begin, and who could argue with that?

Key points:

- The referendum has failed to settle the issue of devolution, as it was supposed to, because David Cameron changed the terms of engagement at the last minute
- The Egnlish Question is now writ large on the political agenda, with most Tory MPs determined to pursue it (and, incidentally, furious with Cameron for his ill considered 'Vow')
- Ed Balls is angry at Miliband's commitment to this 'Vow' too as it hamstrings Labour's ability to pass a budget for England
- Today's mess is the consequence of the original, and disastrous, New Labour devolution settlement
- All the main Westminster parties are frankly in a mess in Scotland; in Labour's case they have a B-list of politicians active at Holyrood, easily outmanouevred by Salmond and Sturgeon
- Salmond remains in charge in Scotland - he will use any failure to pass the pledges of the 'Vow' as an excuse to reignite the independence question
- The referendum question was poorly worded as far as the Unionist side were concerned; nstead of asking whether to vote for an independent Scotland, it should have asked whether Scotland wanted to remain part of the UK, giving the Union campaign the advantage of a positive 'Yes'.
- The leadership of the Better Together campaign was fraught, with Darling unequal to the street-fighting nature of the Yes campaign
- The rejection of a currency union was done in a way that made it look like a Westminster diktat - grist to the nationalist mill
- "A mixture of Labour squeamishness and Tory uselessness ensured that the battle for Britain was never properly fought. The case for the Union was reduced to a series of dire and sometimes implausible warnings."

Nelson and Forsyth conclude:

The unionist campaign was designed to achieve a victory clear enough to end the independence question for a generation. Instead, it found itself taking support for separation to levels never seen, or anticipated. Scotland is now a divided country, after a debate that has split families and damaged friendships. The healing process will begin, but no one can claim the country is stronger for all of this. It would have been bad enough for the combination of Cameron, Miliband and Clegg to have had no impact in saving the Union — but in many ways they managed to make things worse. This weekend, all three party leaders have a lot to answer for.

Yes. One hundred per cent spot on. Sadly.