THE referendum in September 2014 will not just be a vote on Scottish independence, it will also be a vote on whether Scotland has a future in the European Union. That, in essence, is what Alex Salmond said yesterday in what could be a landmark moment in the Scottish constitutional debate.
The First Minister was responding to David Cameron’s attempt to quell the eurosceptics in the Conservative Party. The Prime Minister had promised to bring forward draft legislation paving the way for a UK-wide referendum on membership of the EU, should the Tories win the next general election.
Mr Cameron’s actions are beginning to take on an air of desperation as he seeks to head off the threat in the Tories’ back yard from the UK Independence Party.
Mr Salmond has seen an opportunity and, as is his wont, grabbed it with both hands, hoping this can be a transformative moment in a Scottish independence campaign that is struggling to make an impact.
There are two contrasting ways of looking at this new conundrum in Scottish politics. The first accords with Mr Salmond’s view: that it is hugely in Scotland’s interests, whether independent or not, to be part of the European Union, and that Mr Cameron’s panic over Europe throws that future into doubt.
“A Yes vote [in the independence referendum] means Scotland will remain in the EU as an independent member and a seat at the top table,” said the SNP leader yesterday. “The alternative is Scotland being dragged to the EU exit door against our will as Westminster descends into a right-wing debating society that threatens jobs and prosperity in the real world.”
The alternative point of view has a different starting point. It argues that, more important than Scotland being in the EU, Scotland has to be in the same trading area as the rest of the UK. This after all, is Scotland’s main trading partner. If Scotland was in the EU and the rest of the UK was not, the argument goes, then the inevitable barriers to trade, commerce and possibly population movement would be a disaster for the Scottish economy.
This is a troublesome argument for Scottish politicians, because it involves an acceptance that sometimes Scotland, for its own economic self-preservation, may have to follow England’s lead. This may be an uncomfortable position – but is it a sensible one, reflecting realpolitik? These are the arguments around which the two referendum debates – the first on independence, the second on Europe – will coalesce in the coming weeks and months.
On one point, however, Mr Salmond is unquestionably right. This tussle over Europe is a blow to the Better Together campaign, which had made great play of the First Minister’s evasiveness on the issue of an independent Scotland’s entry into the EU. This has now, to some extent, been overtaken by more dramatic events.
R&A must lose its ancient attitude
Some traditional ways of doing things are precious and need to be treasured. Others are dusty antiques that have no place in today’s world, and need to be jettisoned. According to top Scottish golfer Catriona Matthew, the tradition that bans women from becoming full members of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club falls squarely in the latter category.
Ms Matthew is clear in her mind that the ruling body of golf should end a discriminatory ban that in the 21st century looks positively antediluvian. “They should lead by example,” she says.
This is a self-evident truth. What kind of world do the R&A decision-makers inhabit in which they can deem it acceptable to impose strictures according to gender?
It would be one thing is this were a small and insignificant club where elderly gents could conspire in the sad delusion that it was still 1950, and act in accordance with the social mores of that long-bygone age. But this is the R&A. It is a force in world sport.
Not only that, but it is also an enormously powerful body in a sport where women are coming to prominence at a rate that no doubt has many of these gents spluttering into their sundowners.
Do any of these men have daughters? If they do, do they regard these daughters as in any way secondary in importance to men? How would they feel if these daughters, in whatever area of work or leisure, were told, “Sorry, there is no place for you here, because you are a woman”?
Sport is a great leveller. Except, it seems, in St Andrews. The R&A is an embarrassment to sport. And it is an embarrassment to the egalitarian nation that is the home of golf.