WITH Westminster now distracted by the EU referendum issue Yes campaigners are ready to make capital, writes Eddie Barnes
There will be a referendum, though we must wait for it. The “Fundies” in the party are therefore not happy: they want the referendum now so we can be fully independent as soon as possible. Yet their leader ponders whether or not he can find a compromise that will keep the country in the Union, but with more powers: a kind of devo-max.
But enough of David Cameron’s EU referendum problems. What might the muddle over the Conservative’s EU referendum pledge do for Scotland’s own independence referendum debate? Might it be the spark that finally sets alight the pro-independence cause?
Academics and politicians will debate the finer points of the arguments around the merits of remaining within the EU or not. Certainly, this adds an element of uncertainty to the pro-UK side’s prospectus for life after a No vote to independence. But what matters more from the current row are the impressions that busy voters take away from it and the conclusions they draw.
The most powerful impression will probably be that the main party of government in the UK is once again tying itself in knots over an issue which is of secondary importance to most of them.
It is true that over a half of Scots think there should be a referendum on the EU. But the crucial chunk of that question is the prefix “When asked”. When given a blank sheet of paper, the question of the country’s EU membership is barely noted. The economy and jobs are what’s important. So it is fair to say that when Conservative MP John Redwood, the eurosceptic’s eurosceptic, declared yesterday that the EU referendum “can’t wait until 2017”, he was not speaking for the masses. Again. Mr Cameron’s climb down on Monday night now suggests nor is he.
The conclusions that people in Scotand may draw from this were summed up in a tweet by Lib Dem MP Charlie Kennedy yesterday. “Amazing that the Conservative and Unionist party still obsesses over a euro ref when the UK itself is under threat from a real ref next year,” he declared.
Amazing indeed. By getting into a lather over an immediate EU referendum, voters in Scotland may well conclude that their own referendum next year ranks down – way below John Redwood – on the party’s s priorities.
However, pro-UK figures inside and outside the Conservatives in Scotland professed not to be too bothered by the muddle yesterday. Their view is that it won’t have much impact on Scotland’s own choice. Nor do they buy the argument that Euroscepticsm is something that is only found south of the Tweed (a point likely to be made today by Nigel Farage, who is in Scotland tomorrow). For Salmond and Co, however, the EU referendum mess presents an opportunity to demonstrate that Westminster is once again focussing on concerns which, driven by UKIP’s sudden surge in England. don’t speak to voters here.