Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Euro-electioneering

The day after tomorrow the whole country will be electing new MEPs and the only question on everyone's lips is: will UKIP win by a landslide or will they do better than that?

A small number of clued-up nationalists will also be wondering how the BNP will do and whether Nick Griffin will lose his seat in Brussels. However the media blackout on the BNP means that the average voter thinks they went out of business ages ago. (They will be second from top on your ballot paper, someone having started An Independence From Europe party just to grab the top slot and mop up votes from UKIP supporters who get confused and don't bother reading all the way to the bottom.)

Then later this year the Scots will be voting on independence. So we could end up with England voting itself out of the EU while the Scots vote themselves out of the UK but remain desperate to be in the EU. Then in 2015 we have a UK general election and provided the Tories return to government in 2017 we get the oft-promised never-yet-delivered actual referendum on EU membership. Before that, in May 2016 the Scots have a general election of their own.

When one asks: what would be the effect of a yes or no outcome of any particular vote, it really has to be considered in the context of the outcome of all the other votes.

If Thursday sees a heavy endorsement for quiting the EU the immediate political response will be 1) the main Westminster parties will claim it doesn't really count because it was just the public expressing a general dislike for them, and 2) they will shift to a more Eurosceptic stance in order to pick up more votes in 2015.

In the Conservative party there is a strong grassroots urge to make a formal pact with UKIP, to avoid splitting the vote and letting the others, mainly Labour, in via the back door. One big decider of Thursday's vote will be whether the result is strong enough to force the Tory leadership into the arms of UKIP. If it's clear the Cons stand to lose just about all their seats at the general election expect to see a truce and joint Con-UKIP candidates in constituencies where that would tip the balance. A UKIP-Tory coalition would not be an awkward joining of mutual loathing like the current Tory-Lib Dem situation. UKIP and the Tories will love each other with a passion. The only fly in the ointment is the enduring tendency of the Tory leadership to be quite a bit more pro-EU than the membership (at least since the days of Thatcher.)

So Thursday's vote will change nothing immediately but could shift the big picture.

Then in September the Scots vote on independence. A "yes" outcome would concentrate minds. It remains the opinion of this blog that Scotland will vote "no", but a yes vote would throw lots of spanners in works. Unbundling Scotland from the UK is likely to take a few years so the current SNP government may have lost office before the deed is actually done. At the moment they only have a 4 member majority; so 2 constituencies flipping over to Labour would change the government. Labour, it should be noted, would be the main loser party if Scotland left the Union - it would be much harder for them to become the government in Westminster. They might even try to drag their heels past the 2020 UK general election or even re-run the independence referendum with a "no" recommended vote. We could see a situation after 2015 where there is a Labour government in Westminster which would lose office as soon as Scotland became independent and a Labour government in Edinburgh keen to ensure that does not happen.

We should also consider the rest of Europe. The UK is not the only country with an "out" faction. The French Front National is Eurosceptic and riding high at the moment. The Dutch Freedom party is actually keeping the minority government in office and the Germans have Die Freiheit (Freedom). Greece's Golden Dawn needs no introduction. All the other member states have "get out" parties with varying degrees of support. A formal British vote to leave the EU followed by the UK government triggering the exit clauses in the Lisbon Treaty (the first EU treaty which actually has exit clauses) would throw a cat among the pigeons not so much because of the prospect of the UK departure but because we might turn out not to be first in the stampede to the gate. By the time we were ready to quit there might not be an EU to get out of.

One can envisage a proposed UK exit triggering such an extensive reconfiguring of the EU that the resulting body would not be unacceptable to Eurosceptics, most of whom want a residual degree of free trade and some free movement of people, but are virulently opposed to foreigners making the laws we must obey, opposed to large scale immigration, opposed to immigrants being entitled to benefits and opposed to any form of common foreign policy and common defence policy. If the EU morphed into an a la carte loose association of nations with every member state free to select what to sign up to and what to opt out of and free to change its mind at any time (for example: common fishing grounds - no; free movement of manufactured goods - yes; metric measurements - no; common food hygiene standards - yes) then nationalists could be pacified but the EU departure never really take effect.

It is worth remembering that a number of countries only joined the EU in 1973 because the UK joined; notably Ireland and Denmark. They could not envisage being out while the UK was in. The Norwegian government was also keen to join but the people said no in a referendum (which caused the government to fall.)

That all said, Thursday will only be the start of a long series of plebiscites. This blog of course urges you to vote BNP but quite understands if you prefer UKIP. A vote for the LibLabCon is a wasted vote.

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