Westminster politics often makes me feel foreign — the fact that it doesn’t make any more sense now than it did when I arrived in Scotland 14 years ago just shows how completely divorced Scotland and England already are politically.
The Tories’ referendum on leaving the EU is a prime example. In Scotland you simply don’t encounter that deep antipathy towards the EU that clearly must be a common theme amongst natural conservatives in England, and as a result what’s happening just now simply doesn’t feel relevant to me. Unfortunately, Scotland voted No to independence, and as a result, this referendum is happening here too, and the outcome does matter to people in Scotland (not least to EU citizens like me).
I therefore have to get my head round this. The first question I’ve been asking myself is why Cameron decided to boldly split his own party like no man has split it before, and in particular, how he ended leading the Stay campaign.
Before the summer holiday, I had convinced myself that he was looking for an excuse to head the Leave campaign:
My guess is he’s already expecting his negotiations will fail (if for no other reason because he’s asking for things that any EU expert will tell him the other countries won’t give him), and he’ll then go out and say something along these lines: “I really wanted to remain in a reformed EU, but the other countries have turned their backs on us, so I will with a heavy heart have to recommend that this great nation leaves the EU.”
Why is Cameron doing this? My guess is it’s to save the Conservative party. If he came out in favour of leaving the EU already, some pro-business Tories would break out, and if he campaigned in favour of EU membership, a very large number of MPs would rebel. By pretending to negotiate in good faith, he keeps the pro-EU Tories happy, and by setting the negotiations up to fail, he ensures the Eurosceptics will eventually be happy.
I was mulling this over when my beloved wife pointed out that I might have been right but that this analysis was overtaken by events. In normal circumstances, a lot of EU countries would have been quietly relieved to see the UK leave, so they wouldn’t have been willing to agree to many of his demands (and in fact Angela Merkel gave them a rather lukewarm reception when he first aired them).
However, these are not normal circumstances. The whole world is getting rather destabilised, and the EU is facing a lot of obstacles on many fronts simultaneously. The EU leaders therefore were afraid the whole edifice would come tumbling down if they gave Cameron the cold shoulder, so they were forced to agree to his proposals without major changes. As a result, he couldn’t really claim to have been let down.
However, this leaves Cameron in a horrible position. As John Rentoul described it in The Independent:
If Cameron wins this referendum he will be hobbled by his party. Within moments of the result, the anti-EU Tory party will be looking towards the next referendum. At some point the EU treaties will have to be rewritten and it will be hard to resist demands for another referendum. Far from settling the European question, this referendum could ensure that Europe will dominate the Tory party’s choice of Cameron’s successor. […]
If Cameron loses the referendum, forget all his hints about staying on. His time would be over. His party would not countenance Brexit negotiations being handled by a leader who wanted to stay in. One way or the other, this is the end of his premiership: we just don’t know how or exactly when.
I’ve said before that Cameron seems to be a clever tactician but a lousy strategist. I guess this might be yet another example of this, because surely he’s ended up somewhere he never wanted to be.
I wouldn’t mind the Tories half as much if they were just a fringe freak show (a bit like UKIP), but living in a country where these hapless wretched people have a parliamentary majority scares me witless.
The only glimmer of hope is that perhaps this referendum will lead to Scottish independence sooner rather than later.