The great balancing act – negotiating a new settlement for Scotland

If Scotland rejects independence, further devolution will be needed to preserve the United Kingdom, writes John Lindberg

The 18th of September will be a historic day, regardless of the outcome in the referendum on Scottish independence. One thing has become clear: If Scots reject the utopia promised by Alex Salmond and the Yes-campaign, change will be required. The status quo has become untenable, and if the unionist side wishes to secure Scotland’s long-term membership of the United Kingdom, further devolution is a necessary step.

There is a historic precedence for this to be found on the other side of the Atlantic. For many years the predominately French-speaking part of Canada, Quebec, expressed wishes for independence. This eventually led to a referendum on the issue in 1980, a referendum that was won by the political parties that were in favour of Quebec remaining a part of Canada. The final result was 60% to 40% in favour of staying. Further devolution to Quebec was promised.

However, this turned out to be an empty promise and no further powers were delivered to the National Assembly in Quebec City. Fifteen years later, in 1995, a second referendum was held. Whilst the outcome was still in favour of remaining a part of Canada, the gap had shrunk from roughly 20% to 1.16%. This was a very close call for the pro-Canadian side of the argument and further devolution was promptly delivered subsequently. Ever since, independence has disappeared from mainstream politics in Quebec.

If we want to avert a similar development in Scotland, it is essential that further devolution is delivered as promised. All of the unionist parties in Westminster have agreed upon the need for further devolution following a ‘no’ vote on September 18. However, if any further devolution settlement is not negotiated very carefully, then two wholly undesirable consequences will inevitably lurk in the background.

The first of these is independence by the back door; the second is Scotland ending up with significantly higher tax rates than the rest of the United Kingdom.

It is, however, particularly hard for Alastair Darling to set out a detailed devolution programme when grilled on the issue by the First Minister. The Better Together campaign was never intended to function as an all-party group charged with bringing about further devolution in Scotland. Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Labour politicians are bound to have different ideas on what the best way forward would be.

In recent weeks, prominent politicians (not least the Mayor of London Boris Johnson), have stated their opposition to any further transfer of powers to Holyrood from Westminster. For Westminster simply to refuse to recognise the desire of Scots for further devolution would be politically unwise, especially if we use the Quebecois case study.  The vast majority of Scottish Social Attitude surveys and opinion polls have consistently shown that a majority (57% in relation to welfare, 59% in relation to taxation) of Scots questioned support and desire greater powers for the Scottish Parliament.

Many prominent politicians, such as former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, have expressed a desire for welfare policies to be devolved to the Scottish Parliament, as this would allow it to mitigate the effects of unwanted Westminster policies, such as the imposition of the so-called ‘bedroom tax’ (spare room subsidy).

In order to fund these newly gained powers, the Scottish Government would have two options: either to increase tax or to reduce funding elsewhere. It is essential that the UK Government, through the new devolution legislation, ensures that the Scottish Parliament becomes accountable for the money it spends. This would ensure that the current system, which is wholly untenable and which allows the Scottish Government to overspend and to run up a deficit with impunity, would be dismantled.

However, if further powers in areas such as welfare were devolved, in addition to the tax-raising powers which would necessarily accompany them, dark clouds would soon amass on the horizon. In particular, if welfare was to be fully devolved to the Scottish Parliament and MSPs kept their promise to revoke all welfare cuts, taxes would inevitably have to rise further in order to fund this extensive welfare programme.

It is likely to assume that, in such an event, a significant tax gap between Scotland and the rest of the UK would emerge. What would then stop people from leaving Scotland and relocating to, for instance, Carlisle and commuting to work in Glasgow for tax purposes?

This could well threaten the very existence of our United Kingdom, as these forces are likely to create rifts between Scotland and the other parts of the UK, thus threatening the very successful monetary union that the UK represents. For these reasons it become even more important to act with great care when the main parties in Holyrood and Westminster sit down to discuss the new settlement for Scotland.

One way to avoid creating these rifts would be to partially devolve welfare with accompanying tax-rising powers. The UK Government would set a minimum level of entitlement that would apply throughout the UK. The Scottish Government would subsequently have the powers to ‘top-up’, thus increasing the levels of entitlement.

Bringing back tax on the political agenda in Scotland is also likely to further detoxify the Scottish Conservative Party when the Scottish Parliament must pay for the policies it is enacting. As current policies, such as free higher education and free subscriptions, are expensive, taxes are likely to increase to fully fund them. It is then up to the Scottish people to decide whether they want to continue having these very generous policies, or continue to pay a tax that compared with European standards is low.

In short and in light of recent polls showing a closing of the gap between Yes and No, the years to come in Scotland will be marked of charge, regardless of the outcome. If independence is rejected, further devolution will have to be delivered to the Scottish Parliament, for the sake of the survival of the United Kingdom. If not, we will be the witnesses of the slow death of the most successful of Unions throughout the history of mankind.

All views expressed in this article are John’s own, and were contributed in a personal capacity.


Permanent link to this article:

Europe faces a choice: federalise or die

Daniel Matthews-Ferrero writes that the future prosperity of Britain depends upon it taking an active role in a strong and united Europe, ready to meet the challenges of the future

eu flagThe British debate over European Union is dominated by virulent and impassioned arguments for isolationism, and by flaccid and at best lukewarm arguments for the status quo, (or for token reforms.) And federalism stands as nothing but a grotesque caricature in the British debate. This article seeks, as far as possible, to redress this imbalance and give federalism a voice, no more, no less.

A self-reflective notion of Europe and the idea of a fully-fledged nation-state both trace their origins to the period around the French Revolution. One of the founding fathers of modern conservatism, Edmund Burke, lamented during these precarious years that the “the glory of Europe is extinguished forever,” due to the principles unleashed by the revolution–and their implications for the rest of Europe, especially Great Britain.

The European idea and the nation-state therefore share a common historical starting point. The international system that emerged – and which we now perceive as natural and eternal – drove Europe into a prolonged era of imperial competition and war–along with the greatest economic progress in human history.

After the Second World War, the widespread perceived need for European solidarity lay the seed of a basic tension that has driven European integration ever since–that is the tension between the member states of the union (wanting to minimise sovereignty lost) and its more federal institutions (striving for a more streamlined European approach to global issues.) The 1957 commitment contained within the Treaty of Rome to progress towards an “ever closer union” epitomises this.

European integration is driven by the contradictions born from the inconsistent compromises that arise due to the basic tension between federal aspects of European Union and the member states. Central architect of European integration, Jean Monnet, said: “Europe will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan,” but that instead, “Europe will be forged through crises.”

We have been in the midst of such a decisive crisis.

Economic and Monetary Union was achieved as a compromise without the appropriate underpinnings of fiscal and banking coordination, or enforcement powers. The federal-national tension therefore created a contradictory and consequently unsustainable compromise that the economic crisis is forcing to be resolved. The European “economic” crisis can only be understood in these terms: as a political crisis. But the trend towards European economic decline was already present, and so the crisis must be taken as an opportunity to improve our long-term economic standing, or all the human costs will have been in vain.

The economic position of the US state of California is often in flux, but at various points its economy has been so large that if it were its own country, it would be richer than Great Britain. California effectively went bankrupt. Yet Greece, which constitutes a comparatively small percentage of the EU’s economy, has wrought far more havoc on the European economy. This highlights the fundamentally political nature of the crisis–considering the disproportionate chaos induced by a country as small as Cyprus reinforces this point.

There were also uncanny resemblances between the economic situation of the US state of Nevada and that of Ireland during the height of the crisis. Two fundamental differences set Nevada apart and explained the differing experience of these two areas during the crisis. First, the comparative lack of labour mobility in Ireland, despite it historically being one of the European regions with the most labour mobility. And second, Nevada did not have to worry about public spending seizing up when it needed it the most, thanks to a reliable federal spending commitment. Of course, Ireland did not have anything like this luxury and suffered a brutal recession as a result.

I have described the relationship between EU member states and the European institutions, as a “tension,” but it is important to realise that it is in many ways fundamentally complementary and the moving principle of integration. There has been a need for more Europe, which is why the previously unthinkable act of nation-states voluntarily and gladly surrendering sovereignty became necessary, but simultaneously, the lack of a single European demos necessitated the enduring significance of the member states. Incidentally, this same logic has driven internal quasi-federal and federal arrangements from the UK to Germany and Spain, where there also exist tensions that can explain developments.

While the contradictions that have driven European integration are useful and necessary, those that exist within the Eurosceptic debate are much less useful, and much more logically problematic. Two contradictory arguments run unconstrainedly side by side, that of the impotence and inertia of European Union, while simultaneously bemoaning its alleged relentless undermining of national sovereignty.

A recent manifestation of this contradiction can be seen with the anti-Juncker campaign. It is alleged that nobody knew who Juncker even was, or what the competences of his post are, so his appointment is an undemocratic farce. Yet it is simultaneously argued that the UK can no longer guarantee its membership of the EU as a result of his appointment, since presumably voters at a referendum would be thoroughly traumatised and influenced by the appointment of a man they don’t know, to a post they don’t care about. This evidently thoroughly rotten ideology sadly dominates the British debate on Europe.

Britain was Western Europe’s sole clear victor in the Second World War, and still possessed the world’s largest empire as a result of its prolonged stint as global hegemon. This has instilled a particular character in Britain, that has guided our behaviour towards European integration ever since. However, if Britain is to have a real say in the world of the future, it will have to do so as a member of the European Union. Germany, despite being the largest member state, and contrary to popular opinion, most often finds itself outmanoeuvred by Qualified Majority Voting on EU legislation, (in the tiny minority of cases in which QMV is used instead of unanimity.)

When Britain is not adopting the obtuse stance exemplified by the recent Juncker debacle, it generally does fantastically well at negotiating–as highlighted by the Conservatives’ recent outmanoeuvring of UKIP in the European Parliament. Historically, Britain has been at its best when cleverly negotiating within Europe; it has never succeeded through isolationism.

We cannot predict the nature of the crises that will drive future European integration by their very nature, but future trends all suggest more Europe will become necessary.

The growth in use of the English language across Europe, global warming and its effects on Africa in particular, rapid population growth (again particularly in Africa,) and increased multipolarity with the rise of the BRICS and Asia are all examples of future trends that suggest more Europe would be logical. The basis for future geopolitical multipolarity and uncertainty is already being laid by Europe’s relative economic decline. This decline could be put down to simple convergence between the west and the rest, but America and other Western states have not experienced this relative decline.

This point is made all the more significant when considering that the US has fairly consistently had a GDP per capita around 50% higher than even the West European average, which should in theory make it relatively easy for the EU to catch up.

Despite the huge implicit defence-spending subsidy gifted to us by the US through NATO since the failing of the European Defence Community in 1954, we have been unable to maintain our competitiveness. It would be a mistake to assume this is entirely unrelated to the fact that despite constituting just 7% of the world’s population, the EU accounts for around half of its welfare spending.

Data from USDA website

Across the political spectrum, people are quick to find excuses for our continent’s steady decay. And although in the UK we may think ourselves immune and separate from any European malaise, Britain is actually leading this European march towards global insignificance.

The EU has the potential to mitigate the effects of this insidious decline, and eventually (if we vest enough trust in European Union) we could halt and reverse this trend. The EU offers European states the best way of adapting to the new post-war paradigm in international relations. Daniel J Elazar effectively described the essence of this paradigm shift:

Whereas before, every state strove for self-sufficiency, homogeneity, and, with a few exceptions, concentration of authority and power in a single center, under the new paradigm, all states have to recognize as well their interdependence, heterogeneity, and the fact that their centers, if they ever existed, are no longer single centers but parts of a multi-centred network that is increasingly noncentralized, and that all of this is necessary in order to survive in the new world.

The EU is clearly best equipped to deal with this new reality than any other existent arrangement. Under this new paradigm, and with our economic decline, federalism will become necessary precisely to save the sovereignty of our nation-states. What would sovereignty stand for in a world in which European states each comprised a tiny and insignificant fraction of the global economy, surrounded by self-interested powers on this small corner of the Eurasian continent?

Strong economies such as Germany and Japan do not have strong coercive powers in the international system to match their economic might, for obvious historical-political reasons. And while Europe is described as an “economic giant, political dwarf,” the opposite could be said of Russia. Nonetheless, our relative economic share of global GDP broadly underpins our potential influence, and is particularly important when considering that the EU’s primary bargaining tool is currently economics and soft power based.

In short, we should care about this fundamental secular trend and stop automatically finding excuses that justify complacency in the face of catastrophe. The brief blip in human history during which life has been tolerable for average citizens in at least some of the world is a very recent and unique phenomena, induced by the spread and dominance of European ideas. We ought to do more than shrug as we witness the basis of this miracle wither and die.

The British debate on Europe needs some fire in its belly, since the only way to truly witness the British lion roar once more is by being within a strong and united Europe. We should mould it in our image as far as is possible, which would be not only to our own benefit, but also in the benefit of all its member states and humanity. If we fail to do so as the opportunities begin to present themselves, Europe may behave as the frog slowly heated on the stove.

Britain could steer a united Europe towards a brighter future, helping to countervail the numerous global problems that are certain to present themselves, perhaps on a scale unimaginable in our current complacent state. (For example, if global temperatures rise by above 4 degrees Sub-Saharan African agriculture will collapse, which coupled with Africa’s population quadrupling over the coming decades provides an explosive mix on Europe’s doorstep.)

If we fail to play our part, and if Europe were to fail, far from it being a time for handwringing, we shall witness European global influence, culture, and ideas as they rot and decay in the face of fundamental shifts in the international landscape.

Europe will not be built all at once, but in response to the crises that will inexorably confront it. In the face of these calamities we must make a choice, to federalise or to die.


Permanent link to this article:

Gove’s education reforms are giving hope to young people

David Lewis writes that we have a lot to be positive about when it comes to the future of English state education, with the success of Free Schools playing a crucial part

Education Secretary, Michael Gove, is widening opportunity for young people

Education Secretary, Michael Gove, is widening opportunity for young people

English state education is no longer ‘bog standard’ – but getting better and better.

Our tough and decisive approach to sorting out the public finances has for now been the driving factor in shaping perceptions of this government, but, as the economic recovery continues, surely our revolution in how we approach social policy to deliver meaningful social justice will take centre stage.

Social justice – enabling people to be the best they can be – is at the heart of the modern Conservative agenda. The last government let down our generation. They dumbed down the curriculum and inflated grades, they increased tax on hard-working people, making many better off on benefits than in work, and trapping a generation on benefits with schemes that failed to equip struggling people to get into work.

Under Labour, our education system plummeted down the international league tables: from 4th to 16th place in science; from 7th to 25th place in literacy; and from 8th to 28th in maths. We declined while, comparatively, others improved.

The Department of Education has set out to tackle the causes of our decline, while also learning from where our competitors in the OECD have got it right.

We are reversing these trends and setting up the next generation to prosper at home and in the global race. This positive approach is most evident in Michael Gove’s Free School movement.

High-performing education systems in Singapore and in Sweden we given greater freedom to deliver a better education. OECD research has shown that more autonomy for individual schools helps raise standards. Greater autonomy enables diversification which better reflects the differing needs of communities across the country.

Gove’s Free Schools are funded by government but aren’t run by local authorities. They are run by diverse groups of parents, teachers, and by charities.

More than 60% have been opened by groups led by teachers, existing successful schools, academy chains or existing providers. They are run by local people who understand the needs of young people better than politicians and are better placed and more qualified to deliver the best education experience for young people.

It’s early days yet, but 75% of Free Schools that opened in 2011 were judged either ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted. This compares to 64% of local authority-controlled schools. Of schools opened in 2011, around half of new local authority schools were rated as either ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’, compared to three quarters of new Free Schools.

Gove’s Free Schools are comfortably out-performing state-controlled counterparts.

Schools should be vehicles for social mobility and opportunity. These ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ Free Schools are not succeeding by cherry-picking the brightest students or responding to the pushiest of parents, they are increasing the chances of the most disadvantaged young people in the most disadvantaged of locations.

Ambitious new Free School. Asiyah Ravat, head of the new Eden Girls School in Coventry said "We want to get pupils into Russell Group universities and leadership positions in FTSE 100 companies.”

Asiyah Ravat, head of the new Eden Girls School in Coventry, an ambitious Free School, said: “We want to get pupils into Russell Group universities and leadership positions in FTSE 100 companies.”

Nearly half of all 44% Free Schools opened so far are in the 30% most deprived parts of the country. Three quarters of Free Schools that opened in 2013 did so in areas with a places shortage. They are run by people passionate about bridging the gap between state and private schools, and setting their pupils up for successful lives and careers.

The facts show that English state education is starting to show a sustained and significant improvement–even as GCSE’s have become more rigorous.

In 2010, 407 secondary schools failed to achieve current the government target of at least 40% of school students getting at least five good GCSEs including English and Maths. In 2013 this number fell by more than half and this year it has again fallen to 154 schools.

This is a 66% improvement in target delivery across state schools in just a four year period.

Our generation was jilted under a Labour government that failed to get to grips with education and deliver a curriculum fitting for young people of Britain in the 21st century. Thanks to our education reforms, our next generation promises to be better and more diversely-educated, have better access to opportunity, and be rewarded with more social mobility.


Permanent link to this article:

European Elections showed the SNP is losing momentum

John Lindberg says that last month’s European Parliament elections provided a serious blow to the SNP and a boost for the Scottish Conservatives

Alec Salmond saw hi

Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond saw his SNP lose the race for a third MEP seat that they were chasing. (Photo: PA)

If anything, the recent European Parliament elections were a significant wake-up call for the political establishment.

With a wave of scepticism about the European Union sweeping Europe, the Brussels elite has been presented with the clearest possible sign that the fantasy of ‘ever-closer union’ first articulated in the Treaty of Rome is not shared by a great many EU citizens.

Such scepticism is also evident in Scotland.

In the midst of the Scottish independence debate, the First Minister Alex Salmond, as well as the Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs, have both tried to argue that Scots’ views on the EU are somehow substantially different from those of English people.

However, they are wrong. Recent polls show that the Scots are becoming increasingly sceptical about the power-grabbing tendencies shown by the EU.

The biggest indicator of this change was the election of David Coburn as UKIP’s first Scottish MEP, who unseated George Lyon (Liberal Democrats).

The trend is clear—the pro-EU Liberal Democrats are being punished across the country, giving way for the EU scepticism expressed by UKIP.

Scotland now returns the same amounts of UKIP MEP’s as London, Wales and the North East.

This shows that the difference between the Scottish and the English is after all not that large, despite Salmond’s best attempts of portraying it that way.

Fiona Hyslop said, when giving evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s European and External Affairs committee,  ‘[w]hy on Earth would we have a [EU] referendum on something that we don’t agree with?’ and seen in the light of recent events, this is a concerning view expressed by the SNP.

One could well argue that unless the SNP agrees with the general public, the public would not be allowed a say.

This, however, was not the only painful blow suffered by the SNP.

By characterising their campaign as the SNP v UKIP, it seems likely that they singlehandedly lost the third seat to the European Parliament that they so desperately wanted, as anti-nationalist votes that otherwise might not have voted, decided to do so in order to stop the SNP.

This failure by the SNP also sends a second clear message, this time relating to the independence referendum. The momentum that the SNP are so desperate for in the campaign simply does not exist.

Dr Ian Duncan with David Cameron and Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservatives

Dr Ian Duncan with Ruth Davidson MSP and David Cameron (Photo:

It was a good night to be a Scottish Conservative, however. In fact, in Scotland the Conservatives actually increased their vote share–the only region of the UK where this occurred. Dr Ian Duncan was comfortably elected to succeed Struan Stevenson MEP as the Conservative champion for Scotland.

Ahead of both the independence referendum and the 2015 general election, the result of these European Parliament elections bodes well for both the Scottish Conservatives and unionist parties generally.

The Conservative message is getting through and can prove to bring interesting changes with it for the political landscape for the years to come.

All views expressed in this article are John’s own, and were contributed in a personal capacity.


Permanent link to this article:

Students for Britain: for jobs, for growth, for a better deal

Michael Dowsett of new group ‘Students for Britain’ says that young people are beginning to seriously question the European Union and pursue a better deal

Julian Huppert and Matthew Elliott at a recent Students for Britain event at Cambridge University

Julian Huppert MP and Matthew Elliott, founder of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, at a recent Students for Britain event at Cambridge University

The ‘Europe question’ has always bubbled under the surface in the Conservative Party, but now that question is at the forefront of the national debate.

The EU is moving increasingly towards a two-tier Europe, largely because of the Eurozone crisis and the actions taken to stop the Euro going belly-up.

This, combined with the growing concerns about the imbalance between the EU political class and national electorates, means a serious renegotiation of Britain’s relationship with the European Union is becoming more and more likely by the day.

Some of the more enthusiastic supporters of an unchanged relationship are often keen to portray the EU debate as a struggle between different generations.

According to their view of the world, in one corner you have the traditionally minded, older and socially conservative Eurosceptics who wish for the UK to immediately withdraw from the EU.

In the other corner are the pluralist, outward-looking younger voting bloc who see the EU as a fact of modern life and enthusiastically support British membership.

As always though, it is not quite as simple as that. There are a growing number of younger voters who are beginning to seriously question the status quo.

Inevitably they are starting to wonder: ‘what other options are there?’, and the evidence reflects this.

For example, polling conducted by ComRes has found that 38% of 18-24 year olds were in favour of David Cameron’s policy of renegotiation followed by a referendum – 33% of those polled opposed this position.

Earlier polling from YouGov demonstrated that this was not just a one-off and that there is genuine support for the ‘renegotiation plus referendum strategy’, with 40% of 18-24 year olds polled agreeing with it.

In comparison, just 19% supported a referendum without a renegotiation while 22% opposed any kind of referendum on Europe.

Perhaps most tellingly, over half of the 18-24 year olds polled thought that it was important to have a proper debate over Britain’s relationship with the EU and that now was the right time to deal with this issue.

The Students for Britain team at the 2014 Liberty League Freedom Forum in London

The Students for Britain team at the 2014 Liberty League Freedom Forum in London

This is why Students for Britain, the new cross-party campaign which looks to bring the EU debate to universities across the country, was launched last month.

For too long, students have not been presented with a balanced debate on the pros and cons of Britain’s membership of the European Union; for too long they have not heard the range of opinions on what Britain’s future relationship with Brussels could or should look like.

Our new campaign will help to change that; by defining what is needed for a reformed, outward-looking and economically successful Europe, while arguing why this is only achievable through a referendum.

Many supporters of the status quo wish to skip this process of renegotiation and avoid holding a referendum.

Likewise, there are those who are so determined to withdraw from the EU they demand a referendum immediately without any attempt of renegotiating our position.

However, both camps are blinding themselves to the huge opportunities for economic and political reform in the EU which a genuine renegotiation offers.

They are missing the clear message from students and young people across the country: let’s get a better deal.

Join Students for Britain today to help fight for a better deal from the EU and to get involved in the EU debate.

You can also like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for the latest updates from the campaign and for information about future events.

Michael Dowsett is Chairman of Students for Britain

Permanent link to this article:

Britain should stop setting itself apart from the EU

Daniel Matthews-Ferrero says that instead of leaving the European Union we should be an active contributor to it and help to steer its direction.

Making a Victory Sign“We are in Europe but not of it.” These words appear to epitomise the British stance on Europe ever since they were first uttered by Britain’s great Conservative wartime Prime Minister, Winston Churchill.

Churchill called for a “United States of Europe,” and is consequently said to be the only Briton among the European Union’s “Founding Fathers.” But this attitude stemmed from a bygone era of pre-war British supremacy, and caused us to refuse to join the community as a founding member, only to belatedly plead entry thrice before finally being accepted under MacMillan’s (Conservative) government.

By this point, it was too late to shape the foundational structure of the union.

It is from here that we can trace the true origin of the contemporary British stance on Europe: that of bemoaning an exaggerated bureaucratic entrenchment that we had no part in devising, which Eurosceptic elements claim we could not possibly hope to reform.

As evidence of the irreparability of Brussels politics, misinformed allegations about the nature of European bureaucracy are typically trotted out for another encore.

Of course, like all earthly things, the EU is far from perfect–but we would never call for the dissolution of the United Kingdom because of some faults with its administration.

In fact, around twice as many civil servants work for the British Department for Work and Pensions alone, as do for the entire alleged bureaucratic behemoth that is the European Union.

As Conservatives, if British politics were to veer in a direction we disagreed with, would we try with all our might to reform what we have, or would we call for a revolutionary upheaval, or the dissolution of our union?

There is no reason why this logic should not be extended to our role in the politics of the continent that, whether we like it or not, we form an integral part of.


An electoral map by the Economist, showing political trends across the EU

Notions of British exceptionalism have been fundamental to Eurosceptic confidence in Britain’s ability to re-forge ties with the former colonies that have in many cases been severed (by us.)

They dream of an English-speaking Commonwealth, dotted around the world, that would rekindle former glories.

In reality we would find that after our decades-long euro romp, far from gleefully falling into our arms like a long-suffering housewife, countries such as Australia and New Zealand have moved on, and have irreversibly geared their trade towards the awesome economies of Asia on their very doorstep.

As great as our islands may be, we cannot offer much to entice these countries back to us and away from Asia in any meaningful way.

Indeed, we left many of these countries with bitter memories of us, as is the case of New Zealand, whose produce we slapped a common European tariff on, favouring French products and devastating their economy in the process. They have not forgotten, but it seems we have.

For centuries, Britain masterfully managed a European balance of power in her own favour, and could continue to do so. It is precisely the political isolationism advocated by Eurosceptics that has been the antithesis to successful British foreign policy throughout history.

We recognised this in 1975 when circumstances had changed since the immediate post-war era and Britain needed to share in more than the simple free trade organisation we already formed a part of.

It is naïve to imagine that Britons were totally unaware of the federal spirit contained within the European Economic Community’s foundational treaty, with its commitment to an “ever-closer union,” and whose terms we chose to accept in the 1975 referendum.

From its inception, federalism has been at the heart of the European project, and it is no accident that the Schuman Declaration that brought us the forerunner to the European Union was closely followed by the Pleven Plan that came within a whisker of bringing us a European Defence Community (continental army) and a federal European Political Community.

Britain leant her support to the idea of a defence community, and although the scheme failed, it led to Britain committing a permanent military presence on the continent for the first time since the sixteenth century.

This was all fresh in Britain’s memory during the 1960s when we applied twice for membership to the European Economic Community, and was not too far in the past when we finally voted to accede in 1975.

In short, we had realised that we were of Europe.

Britain is not alien to Europe, but by labouring under this assumption we have often chosen to set ourselves apart in self-destructive ways.

For instance, after the 2009 elections we decided to split away from the conservative grouping that has dominated the European Parliament since the start of this century.

And more recently our new European Conservatives and Reformists Group (ECR) has, in all its wisdom, decided not to field a candidate for the European Commission.

Yet we are now busily kicking up a fuss about the conservative grouping’s first-choice candidate, Jean-Claude Juncker, after having denied ourselves a say in his selection in the first place!

This forms part of an all too familiar trend in post-war British relations with Europe.

If we do decide to leave Europe, we should prepare ourselves to reapply for membership at some point in the future, but for membership to a totally unrecognisable entity, which we have once again denied ourselves any part in creating.

This would be not only to our own detriment, but also to the detriment of all of Europe. Our input is desired and our presence appreciated, but we can hardly expect to steer the future of our continent with one foot out the door.

Permanent link to this article:

We need to have faith in Scotland–and our United Kingdom

John Lindberg argues that ‘Better Together’ needs to shift to a more positive view of Scotland in the UK.

better together scotlandThere is an inherent danger in running a logics-based campaign against the strong emotions that Scottish independence creates. The Better Together campaign must keep this clearly in mind. As has already been seen, although our message is clearer, it is seen as negative, as conveying a lack of faith in Scotland.

We are not arguing that Scotland would not survive as an independent nation. We believe in Scotland and we have the interests of Scotland at heart, not a narrow agenda of independence regardless of the costs or consequences for the nation or its citizens.

Many large businesses, such as BAE and Standard Life, have expressed great concern about independence and the uncertainty that it would bring with it. Some companies have already hinted that on independence they would move their businesses down to England.

A prime example of this would be BAE. The remaining BAE shipyards in Scotland are fully dependent on orders placed by the MoD and it is unlikely that if Scotland were to become independent that this would continue, as British warships are in general built in Britain. This would shatter the remainder of the shipbuilding communities that exist in this country.

Another key issue surrounding the debate is membership of the European Union.

The majority of experts on European law and the functioning of the European Union agree that an independent Scotland would have to leave the EU, before reapplying. The effects of such an event could be detrimental for the Scottish economy, as the bulk of its exports are to other European countries.

In an unprecedented move of unity, the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats joined forces and dismissed the claim made by the Yes campaign that a currency union would be put in place between an independent Scotland and the remainder of the UK.

On independence, Scotland would either have to create its own new currency, with the great risk of market scepticism that comes with it, or having to ‘informally’ use the pound.

Unless Scotland would be given an opt-out from the treaties of the EU, they would be forced to join the Euro. They would also lose out on the UK’s EU rebate that Margaret Thatcher secured in 1984. This would not only mean that Scotland would have to pay more. It would also be left in a situation where it would be bound by a duty, if forced into the Euro, to support the ailing economies of other member states such as Greece: hardly an ideal situation for a newly independent state.

It is ironic that the SNP wishes to leave the UK on the grounds that it would constrict Scotland, even though joining the EU would increase the influence of Brussels and afford domestic legislators far fewer powers than they enjoy today, especially regarding our currency and economic matters. The Scotland Act 2012 gives more tax-raising powers, and with that more responsibilities. This important move, however, is barely spoken about by the Better Together campaign. This should not be the case.

By 2015, when the Act comes into force, Scotland will control 60% of its tax-raising affairs, giving more powers and responsibilities to the Scottish Parliament. This allows Scotland to have a greater say on its own affairs, whilst still benefiting from being a part of the UK.

We now have less than six months to go until the referendum is upon us. As a part of the No-side, we must be wary of complacency, as it only requires 50% plus one vote to once and for all destroy this most successful and durable of unions union. If we lose, that union would be lost forever, and we would go down in history as the generation that let the UK down.

It is time to shift focus. We have exposed the SNP’s and the Yes campaign’s lies and wild, naïve assumptions. We should instead focus on what is so great about the UK, such as the pound, and our influence on the world stage. We have a long and proud history together and we are stronger together.

If we join up and spread our message, we will win the referendum on the 18th September 2014. Let’s keep our United Kingdom united.

All views expressed in this article are John’s own, and were contributed in a personal capacity.

Permanent link to this article:

Conservatives need to share a more positive vision of the EU

The Conservative Party has the best arguments in the EU debate, writes George Hopkin–and it should start using them more often.

David Cameron speaking after the historic EU budget deal in 2013

David Cameron speaking after the historic EU budget deal in 2013. (Reuters)

The leader for EU reform, David Cameron, kicked off 2013 with a speech that laid out the Conservative vision for a reformed European Union.

He promised renegotiation of important EU treaties, a tough stance on issues that strongly affect Britain, and the willingness to stand up for nation states—an attitude we need, that beats the submission of Labour and the Liberal Democrats, and the rabid, unattractive Euro-scepticism of political fringe groups and parties.

Cameron’s argument (click here for the full text) ended with this firm statement: “Britain’s national interest is best served in a flexible, adaptable and open European Union and that such a European Union is best with Britain in it.”

This is the vision that motivates me as a Conservative. It’s the vision that gets me out onto the streets to campaign ahead of May 22, and to tell people that we are best represented within the EU by Conservative MEPs who are part of the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) Group.

But this is not the vision that we’re seeing in campaigning at the moment.

At a time when we need a positive, productive attitude when it comes to the much-talked about, and much-misunderstood, European Union, all we’re getting is divisive talk about national issues, whether we’re “In” or “Out”, and when we’re going to have THAT referendum.

Something we also hear about, is that Conservatives want reform. The truth is, that positive reform is happening already, and when our Prime Minister went to the EU commission, and sat with other EU leaders, he managed to exceed all expectations and secure a budget cut, which kept the EU in line with public spending from around Europe and also reflective of tough economic times.

Away from David Cameron, the ECR has dozens of MEPs working to secure a better settlement for nation states, and for individuals, with sensible politics at its heart. It describes itself as:

Conscious of the urgent need to reform the EU on the basis of Eurorealism, Openness, Accountability and Democracy, in a way that respects the sovereignty of our nations and concentrates on economic recovery, growth and competitiveness.

In the last year, it has cut unnecessary red tape, holding back growth across the EU; it has fought against the unjust Financial Transactions Tax proposal, which could damage the City of London as a thriving hub of business, finance, and general economic growth; and it has constantly brought reason to EU debates, such as ones on fisheries, online piracy, or long distance travel.



So why are we not hearing more about this? Why, in a time of great apathy towards the EU, is the party not actually putting out a message that encourages citizens to be more informed, and know more about what our MEPs are doing?

It’s almost as if we’re wanting people to stay out of the loop, and vote for us at the same time.

Now I understand that the problem with EU politics is that it’s not exactly the most exciting. It can seem a bit abstract.

In fact, reader, you might be bored stiff reading this article. But we need a proper conversation about the benefits of the EU, such as the possibility of great trade treaties with the USA, and economic fluidity between ourselves and other European nations—especially so in a year of European Parliament elections.

The ECR, with MEPs including the South East’s Daniel Hannan, and London’s Syed Kamall, is leading the conversation on those topics, and it is keeping the EU relatively in touch with people it is supposed to be supporting. That is what we should be saying to voters on the doorstop, as we look to convince them that Conservatives are the best for a realistic and reasonable approach to European politics. That is the information that we should be putting through letterboxes, and out through other communication channels.

And now, as Euro-sceptic parties across Europe, such as UKIP here in Britain, Le Front National of Marine le Pen in France, and the fascist Golden Dawn in Greece, fight irrationally against the EU, I believe that the reformists in Britain and across the EU are much the worthier side to support.

And yes, Conservatives and reformists are also pushing to Let Britain Decide on membership of the EU, with a referendum proposed for 2017.

This means that for the first time in decades Britons would get a proper say on whether we should be involved in the EU as it is now, rather than as it was in the time of the ‘European Communities Membership’ referendum of 1975.

It would settle the issue in terms of people’s choice to be in the EU, and though I would campaign for us to stay involved, and recognise the advantages of an EU with strong British Influence, it is only right that people get a fair chance to decide.

So we should bear in mind the principles of economic competitiveness, flexibility for nation states, and democratic accountability, and remember them when we consider the EU—because if we let the EU federalists and the Europhobes dominate the agenda, then we’ll all be worse off for it.

In any campaigning, Conservatives should remember this, and it’s something that the electorate should know more about.

If we were to commit to this challenge, I dare say that we would win the EU debate, and we would win votes as well.


Permanent link to this article:

Misleading party campaigns are letting the British public down

European elections being fought as second-order national contests demeans the great work our MEPs do in Europe, writes David Lewis.

The European Parliament in Strasbourg is where the 2014 intake will sit for 5 years

The European Parliament in Strasbourg is where the 2014 intake will sit for 5 years

The European elections campaign is well underway now. The parties have released political broadcasts, outlining their respective visions for 2014 and asking for our votes.

These are elections for Britsh members of European Parliament yet you wouldn’t necessarily know it from the incredible lack of mentioning Strasbourg and the European agenda in the campaigns.

All the main parties have focused on domestic issues, and on the broader question of British membership in the European Union. They are neglecting to talk about the Parliament and why these elections really matter.

This very important round of elections has been treated as a dress rehearsal for next years General Election. This may well prove enlightening for the party pollsters and Westminster, but will do nothing for voter turnout or to inform the British public who are woefully underexposed to European politics.

Every indication points to dire levels of public understanding over who their European representatives are, let alone what they do. One study revealed that only 11% of the public would be confident of naming one of their MEPs, let alone what is going on in Europe. It is no wonder why less than half of the electorate turned out to vote in 2009.

The current campaign from all the main parties has misled the public as to what the elections are really about, duping millions into voting over national issues and the future of our membership.

The truth is the European Parliament has been given more and more power with every passing Treaty. For the first time this year, European parties in the Parliament have nominated their candidate for the next Commission Presidency. This means for the first time we are indirectly electing the leader of Europe’s executive body. The agenda of the next five years will be determined by these elections.

While it may be amusing using Farage and Le Pen to give two fingers to national governments, the repercussions of such voting will be enormous.

People don’t trust the British National Party or UKIP in general elections. Would they put trust in them to deliver knowing similarly how much is riding on the outcome of European Parliament elections?

The current campaign has done nothing to inform the public about European issues or to promote the work of their party MEP’s.

It is a shame this trend has continued-even with a referendum on EU membership looming (given we are back in government next year). This is especially true when our MEPs have excellent records in European Parliament.

This is where the Conservatives are missing a trick.

While Labour are focusing their campaign of class warfare on domestic issues, we should be stepping up to the challenge of outlining what the European Parliament can do for ordinary people, instead of testing material for the general election.

We should be proud of the positive work our MEPs are doing in Europe. Whether it is Timothy Kirkhope’s fight against human trafficking, Vicky Ford campaign for greater gender equality, Ashley Fox’s efforts to cut needless travel expense waste, or Richard Ashworth’s leadership to ensure an EU budget cut, saving squeezed British taxpayers money.

The election campaigns should be centred around our record in European Parliament, and bringing the Strasbourg agenda to the British electorate.

But instead, the campaigns across all the main parties, is being contested along national issues.

Whatever the outcome of these elections, they will have no impact over the future of our membership. That comes in 2015, where only the Conservatives want the public to have a say and can deliver a referendum.

David Cameron has been very clear already that a Conservative-led government under his leadership will give the British public a referendum on membership in 2017.

David Cameron will deliver an EU referendum in 2017

David Cameron will deliver an EU referendum in 2017

It is right we have a say on our membership, but until the political class actually showcase their MEPs’ contribution to the Parliament – the institution we are actually electing members to (and indeed pay them generously to represent British interests) – we the public will be none the wiser to challenge the ‘enlightened autocracy’ in Brussels.

Sadly it is the political class in Britain who are the primary obstacle to democracy in Europe, not Brussels bureaucrats.


Permanent link to this article:

We love the Royal Family but should respect its privacy

It is a well known fact that the general public and the media love the Royal Family. They always have and always will. They love their somewhat idyllic lifestyle, written and pictured in magazines, and can’t help but idolise them—especially so with the likes of Hello! and OK Magazine. 

prince george and duchess of cambridgeIn this day and age royalty cannot escape the camera gaze or the flurry of photographers. In some cases this can also mean that because of this love for the Royal Family the media believe that they have a right to invade the lives of the royalty. This can be down to a range of aspects such as finding out about someone’s character and how it can affect their character. The media can also examine the lives of the royalty with responsibility for public funds.

In my opinion, to avoid disruption to their personal lives public figures should still have the right to privacy but allow the public to get a glimpse of the Royal Family, in a similar fashion to the photography in the days of Queen Victoria.

A particular member of the Royal Family that seems to be idolised is the little Prince George of Cambridge, born on 22nd July 2013.

I remember the day that all the footage of the Duchess of Cambridge coming from the palace with the little prince in her arms and Prince William by her side. At the time I was spending part of the summer with my boyfriend and his family and his parents remarked “haven’t we seen enough footage of the little prince”, as the 24 rolling news was on every channel.

Most recently, the Royal Family went on a royal tour of New Zealand and little Prince George was central to the photographs; the little prince was pictured smiling, feeling tired and grumpy and enthusiastic in front of the camera for the delight of the public.

And then it gives them a chance through the photographs taken to remind them how much he resembles his father as a child.

Instead of lapping up the idealisation of little Prince George shouldn’t people leave the little prince in peace? I know that royalty have to be in the limelight a lot but surely he doesn’t need to be photographed every second; he probably wanted to take a nap and all he has is photographers taking pictures of his cheruby face.

But nevertheless he takes it well and seems to enjoy all this extra attention.

Another member of the Royal Family that has faced a constant battle with the limelight is the Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton herself. Having met Prince William whilst at University at St Andrews their relationship seemed like a fairytale romance. The rather cheesy 2011 film ‘William and Kate’ made around the time of the royal wedding charts the couple’s relationship and their battle with constantly being in the public eye.

The press at one point in her relationship nicknamed her “Waity Katie” because she and William were in a relationship for eight years and the press were waiting around for him to propose to her.

The term “Waity Katie” also highlighted that women, particularly women in the limelight such as Kate, who follows in the footsteps of the legendary Princess Diana, are being polarised because of how they look and what size they are, and they are expected to look perfect.

This is especially true during the Cambridges’ visit to New Zealand as Kate’s clothes and hair were always commented on, mirroring the media’s fascination and hounding of her during the royal couple’s relationship.

Of course the public and the media have a fascination with the Royal Family, and so they must be cautious in the public eye about what they wear and how they present themselves, but we should leave them in peace sometimes as well.


Permanent link to this article:

Older posts «