INSIDE the Holyrood bubble, Alex Salmond’s difficulties over an independent Scotland’s EU membership has become so all-consuming that sometimes one can forget that he is not the only political leader to have difficulties over Europe.
The fault line over European policy, that has run through the heart of the Conservatives for decades, is widening once more and creating problems for David Cameron.
The rise of UKIP and the flexing of muscles by Tory Eurosceptics MPs are problematic for a leader who has a constant battle to paper over the dividing line – not to mention the challenge of keeping a coalition government together. For what seems like an age, we have been waiting for a “historic” speech from Cameron on the UK’s future in Europe.
The delay is understandable given the tightrope that the Prime Minister has to walk on an issue that proved so troublesome for his predecessors John Major and Margaret Thatcher.
In the absence of the Prime Minister outlining his position, the stirrings by the Tory right appear to be coalescing around a position that has been characterised by the phrase “Back to the Common Market”.
That would see the UK demanding a renegotiation that would result in an opt-out of many EU laws while remaining within the free market. The renegotiation would then be put to a referendum.
While such a position may provide a rallying point for the Conservative Eurosceptics, the divisions within the party are coming to the fore once more.
For example, this week it was reported that the Home Office minister Damian Green believes that such a position is unrealistic and would discourage investment.
“This is a fantastic vision precisely because it is a fantasy,” Green said. “What is in this for those on the other side of the negotiation? Any policy that could take Britain out of the EU would only damage the UK economy.”
So Cameron has a difficult dilemma on his hands. So far he has shied away from formally outlining the way he believes Britain’s relationship with the EU should be refashioned.
The Prime Minister may regard this as a pragmatic approach, but it does not satisfy the agitators on the right.
In the meantime, moving back inside the Holyrood bubble, the Prime Minister’s travails are providing a bit of ammunition for an SNP Government.
That’s why Nicola Sturgeon wasted no time in declaring that the “overtly hostile stance” of the UK government on Europe is the “real risk” to Scotland’s EU membership when she tried to explain away the muddle surrounding the SNP’s position on Europe. It also explains Salmond’s impressive rant against the Ruth Davidson at First Minister’s Questions when he scolded the Scottish Tory leader, saying: “It ill-behoves a representative of a Eurosceptical party to come to this chamber and ask questions of Scotland’s credentials as a European nation.”