Two Years To An EU Referendum

It’s been quite a while since I’ve enjoyed an election like I did last night. There were many highlights; the complete collapse of the unprincipled Lib Dems, Ed Davey losing his seat, Ed Balls losing his, the collapse of Labour in Scotland, that we will lose three party leaders in just one day, and that the pollsters got it completely wrong. For them it’s a rerun of 1992. Against all predictions, bar the exception of a couple of bloggers, the Tories have won an outright majority.

The real significance is with a Tory majority Cameron will have to come good on his promise of an EU referendum in 2017. With a tiny majority which give his backbenchers a lot of power there can be no question of him reneging on this promise.

When I began this blog I never dreamed that the opportunity of actually leaving the EU would happen so soon. Thus among all the recriminations from various parties, including from UKIP who managed to lose a seat despite increasing its share of the vote, this for genuine eurosceptics is the real winner from the election results.

We have two years to prepare, the real hard work starts now.

Polling Day: Spoiling The Ballot Paper

We arrive at polling day after what has to be one of the most lacklustre and uneventful election campaigns in recent memory despite that the result is too close to call. Here we agree with Scribblings From Seaham that it has “felt to be an interminable farce of a general election”.

With a deep reluctance to deal with issues which matter to voters, a lack of policies of any substance and a largely staged television campaign with a reliance on pointless stupid gimmicks is it any wonder that 1 in 4 voters have yet to make up their minds by polling day.

I’m one of those 1 in 4 and when I began to write this blog piece on why, I realised I was repeating many of the points I had made 5 months ago. Here I wrote:

Voting for the Tories – a party that has consistently betrayed its country, its members and its voters – is somewhat nauseating and is something I’ve never done before. This blog has never really forgiven the Tories for Maastricht and particularly the membership of the ERM. To vote for them would take a Herculean effort and the intake of industrial quantities of intoxicating substances.

And

Then there’s UKIP. Yet it has been increasingly this blog’s view that under its current leadership UKIP is detrimental to Eurosceptic cause – a party which has also performed copious u-turns within a very short space of time on the whim of its leader.

More damaging is UKIP remains largely a single issue party but instead of being anti-EU it is now anti-immigrant and is being described as such. By reducing EU membership solely down to an aggressive stance on immigration, toxifies the debate, limits itself to dismissing an exit strategy which could actually win us a referendum and leaves itself very exposed to being outflanked by Cameron on Article 48.  

Perhaps if I lived in a marginal Tory seat then I would have to grit my teeth and vote Tory for the first time to ensure a referendum. But I don’t. I live in a seat where Tory PPC/MP “Lazy Vaizey” has his votes weighed not counted. How I vote won’t make any difference to the outcome, a situation common among many voters.

With UKIP, despite that my local candidate is very good, I cannot endorse a party which is helping us to lose the eurosceptic argument with YouGov now reporting a 12-point lead for the “inners”, up two points since April.

So unable to vote for any of the options available it’s for the first time in a General Election that I have spoiled my ballot paper (see above) and I’m not the only one.

I simply can’t wait for the whole charade to be out of the way to see if the Tories will win an overall majority. If so we get an EU referendum and then the real work starts.

Happy New Year

With 2014 now drawing to a close here at TBF towers we would like to wish all our readers a happy and prosperous 2015.

2015 has the potential of being rather interesting for eurosceptics with the impending general election in May (has it really been nearly five years since the last one…?). For us this may (or may not) prove to be a watershed in terms of the UK’s membership of the EU and a promised referendum by Cameron should he win an overall majority.

Yet for the first time in decades, where the outcome of an election could have been confidently predicted, the 2015 general election is proving, so far, too hard to call. The Tories haven’t yet achieved the 6% lead required just to have a majority, but Labour has its own problems being saddled with a leader who is clearly not a credible Prime Minister in waiting. Then we factor in the possible collapse of the Lib Dems and the rise of the “UKIP effect”.

Perhaps the tight nature of the election reflects a national populace who have a low opinion of politicians overall, are expressing general apathy towards the process and see little difference between the bigger parties.

Eurosceptics though have a dog in the fight, namely Cameron’s promise of a referendum on UK membership. As it currently stands anything less than a Tory overall majority denies us a potential referendum. This position may change in due course given that a week is long time in politics so just under six months is an eternity. Labour may also promise a referendum nearer the time. Anything can happen and this is particularly true of UKIP.

As we approach May, UKIP will inevitably face the traditional two party squeeze but it also faces other internal issues which have been seeping out in recent months. While newspapers have been conducting their usual summary and reflection of the year just past – the ‘rise of UKIP’ being one of them – it has been a very bad couple of months for the party. Bad headlines regarding allegations of unwelcome sexual harassment, racism and other shenanigans have led to a significant drop in poll ratings in recent weeks.

It is also true that what is emerging are internal tensions if not yet outright civil war within the party. The latest example being a leaked document reported by the Daily Mirror:

Ukip chiefs hired a City barrister to keep “bad stuff” hidden from the public, leaked documents show.

National executive committee meeting minutes from June 2013 detail how Matthew Richardson became Ukip secretary.

They state Mr Richardson’s role as party secretary would be deciding “whether to take injunctions out” when Ukip is criticised in the media.

The minutes state: “We need to ensure all of the bad stuff is kept out of the public domain.

“As party secretary (Mr Richardson) would try to ensure that we keep a tight reign on things.”

The revelation is damaging for Ukip chief Nigel Farage, who tries to present his party as a ‘people’s army’ which does not indulge in typical Westminster spin.

With further ‘leaks‘ today, can the party manage to hold itself together before May, only time will tell.

All in all though it leaves us with something of a dilemma. Voting for the Tories – a party that has consistently betrayed its country, its members and its voters – is somewhat nauseating and is something I’ve never done before. This blog has never really forgiven the Tories for Maastricht and particularly the membership of the ERM. To vote for them would take a Herculean effort and the intake of industrial quantities of intoxicating substances. Having checked just to make sure, we discover that voting while inebriated isn’t illegal:

I’ve been in the pub and feel drunk. Can I vote?

Yes. Polling station staff cannot refuse a voter simply because they are drunk or under the influence of drugs. However, if the presiding officer suspects you are incapable of voting you will be asked a series of questions to determine whether you are up to the task of casting your ballot. If the voter cannot answer satisfactorily they will be told to come back when they’ve sobered up.

Then there’s always the risk that Cameron won’t deliver – he certainly doesn’t want one and only promised under political duress. Raw political calculation though suggests he won’t have a choice but to deliver – he would be removed as leader and PM before we could say 1922. And his recent Article 48 proposal gives a very stong hint that he is already preparing for a referendum campaign should he win outright in May. Personally I have an additional advantage in that having access to the full version of Oxfordshire’s electoral roll means I know where he lives should he renege…

Then there’s UKIP. Yet it has been increasingly this blog’s view that under its current leadership UKIP is detrimental to Eurosceptic cause – a party which has also performed copious u-turns within a very short space of time on the whim of its leader. Witterings from Witney notes yet another ‘policy’ inconsistency within UKIP.

More damaging is UKIP remains largely a single issue party but instead of being anti-EU it is now anti-immigrant and is being described as such. By reducing EU membership solely down to an aggressive stance on immigration, toxifies the debate, limits itself to dismissing an exit strategy which could actually win us a referendum and leaves itself very exposed to being outflanked by Cameron on Article 48.

And despite UKIP policy in the last 5 or 6 years, in so much as they have one, on demanding that Cameron promise a referendum, UKIP due to its disproportionate effect on Tory votes will deprive the party of victory which is so far the best chance we’ve got. ‘Vote UKIP and let Labour in’, is more than a soundbite. Although in terms of Prime Ministerial ability preferring Cameron to Miliband as Prime Minister is akin to wishing to be run over by a car doing 29mph instead of 30mph illustrating if one was needed what a mess our current system of governance is in.

But then, like many others, I live in a safe seat – in my case Tory – it matters little what I think…my vote is largely an irrelevance. So a spoiled ballot maybe an option which will have no impact on the outcome whatsoever and saves me from dilemmas.

Thus the UKIP sentiment of ‘sod the lot‘ is understandable, although perhaps a better way maybe of annoying the establishment is for them to lose an in/out referendum. Oh the delights of seeing europhiles such as Howe, Clarke and the ungracious Mandelson (20mins in) weeping quietly into their state-subsidised drinks as a reaction to a successful “out” vote victory persuades me that dislike of the Tories is outweighed much more by the dislike of our EU membership and the lies that have gone with it.
 
So decisions, decisions decisions.

And with that thought in mind happy new year to you all…

England Flags And Other Matters

“I took her to a supermarket…I said pretend you’ve got no money, she just laughed and said oh you’re so funny. I said yeah? Well I can’t see anyone else smiling in here.” Jarvis Cocker, Common People.

Without being presumptuous it must have been a rather surreal week for Dan Ware. There he is going about his daily business, his only “crime” being that his house is draped in England flags with a white van parked in his driveway and he becomes, through no fault of his own, the centre of a political scandal and resignations.

It’s rather ironic for a chap who himself admits he does not vote that he has created more political waves by hanging up an England flag than casting a vote via the ballot box. How very revealing…

Labour MP Emily Thornberry, who tweeted a picture of the house, then compounded the feeling that Labour et al are out of touch by attempted to excuse her faux-pas by claiming that it was an “amazing image”. The phrase “you should get out more” springs to mind here. Not unsurprisingly Ed Miliband does not come out of the episode well either as Labour, run by a metropolitan elite, comes under ever increasing scrutiny that it is losing its core working class support.

It’s also interestingly symbolic that the flags on Mr Ware’s house were of England, not of the UK, which he had flown to celebrate the World Cup:

The father of four said he had simply put up the three St George flags to celebrate the World Cup, and that it was ‘not political’.

Here we see an example of this unappreciated and largely unnoticed change in recent years of the increasing tendency of England football fans no longer universally flying the Union flag of the nation team but instead waving the flag of St George. As a national sport, national tensions and issues tends to spill out onto “the terraces” thus it can be a good indication of the nation’s woes – a canary down the mine.

Local rivalries are a classic example – the bitterness surrounding Chesterfield against Mansfield is a reflection of the 1984 miners strike and the reasons behind the intense rivalry of Liverpool and Manchester Untied is laid bare by the reference to the Manchester Ship Canal on United’s badge.

Thus if we look back to the 1966 World Cup final, it is curious from a modern perspective (aside from England actually winning a trophy) to see the number of Union flags being waved among the crowd in support of England:

A practice that continued into the 1970 World Cup in Mexico – here England against Brazil…

…right up to the 1990s. Here are England fans in Italia 1990:

And against Germany in the World Cup 1990 semi-final:
Yet fast forward on 10 or 15 years and we see a complete change, hardly a Union flag in sight. The contrast couldn’t be clearer.

The World Cup in Japan 2002:

…in 2006:

…and in 2010 in South Africa:

The year of change is relatively easy to pinpoint, it happened almost overnight – 1996, or more specifically the Euro ’96 UEFA tournament which was held in England and they played all their games at Wembley.
Euro ’96 was a watershed moment where very significant numbers of England fans took to waving the St. George flag and widely ditching the Union flag (below):
 
The reasons why are less easy to pinpoint. It appears to have been a combination of a reasonably successful football tournament for England where it had a very good chance to win it, the success of the song “three lions“, the changing dynamics of football fans with the establishment of the Premier League four years earlier and the embarrassment of the Union flag being tarnished with hooliganism a year earlier. All of which was topped off with an added dash of free England flags and hats handed out by The Sun newspaper.

In addition in 1996 there was also the context that the obviously incoming Labour government, against the loser Major, was openingly advocating devolution, particularly to Scotland as promised by Blair’s speech in Blackpool 1996:

I vow that, with the consent of the people, we will have devolved power to Scotland, Wales and the regions of England…

Devolution was always a Pandora’s Box – give politicians power (in this case SNP) and they want more. Labour is now reaping the “rewards” for unleashing consequences that they didn’t understand nor anticipated. In Scotland it has lead to the independence referendum, which despite the “yes” camp losing has not settled the issue. Labour is also now under pressure from the SNP at the next election. And in England it has lead to a rise of Englishness which even Miliband acknowledged awkwardly in 2012. He put Euro ’96 down to…

Since Euro 96, English football fans have helped to reclaim the flag of St George from the BNP.

That may have been the unintended consequences, but Miliband overlooks that instead of reclaiming the flag of St George from the BNP, it is a demonstration of the Union fragmenting and England reasserting themselves.

In this respect Labour has an “England problem” where Miliband’s “long-term problems will come from south of the border, and in particular how he deals with the question of Englishness.” And this brings us back to the real issue of Emily Thornberry’s misguided tweet.

EU Referendum: How We Can Win

My previous piece reflected on the free bet that is the offer of a referendum in 2017. It maybe that Cameron doesn’t deliver, and that is of course a risk, but it’s the only offer currently on the table. We should remember that extracting this promise from Cameron has long been UKIP policy. For example in 2011 (2 years after “cast iron”) Farage had this to say:

…Ukip could form an electoral pact with the Conservatives at the next election if David Cameron were to promise a referendum on membership of the European Union. There was “every chance of forcing David Cameron into giving us a referendum”, he said. Whether or not to propose an electoral pact with the Conservatives in 2015 would be a “huge decision” for the party, he said. But he had offered the Tories a pact before the 2010 election, he said.

Given Cameron’s track record it’s reasonable not to trust him, though that would imply that other politicians can be trusted. However in my view the question of trust doesn’t come into it. If Cameron wins in 2015, albeit with a small majority, he won’t have any choice but to deliver lest the party give him an offer he can’t refuse. Less a case of trust, more a case of pure political calculation.

If there is to be a referendum in 2017 then another obvious concern is that it will be loaded in favour of staying in. It’s worth noting at this point that exit is very unlikely to ever occur without a referendum being offered and won. The precedent for constitutional change has now been set with the referendum in 1975, Scottish & Welsh devolution, the AV vote and the Scottish independence vote. Nor indeed can we expect ‘perfect conditions’ for one being held.

It’s certainly going to be a challenge to overturn the message of the establishment, media and FUD all of which will be heavily funded. An example of this was during our entry into the then EEC where pro market lobby groups were co-ordinated under the umbrella of the European Movement part funded by the EU Commission to act as an integral part of the government campaign. Efforts were made to bring the media on board particularly the BBC where eurosceptic presenters were dismissed in favour of more sympathetic ones.

However this is not 1975, the world has moved on in 40 years and as a consequence we do have a number of potential advantages over that campaign which can help nullify if not overcome the challenges.

The EU: 
The first advantage is that the EU is no longer just the EEC or a ‘Common Market’. In some 40 years since UK membership the EU has taken ever larger strides towards political union such that its ultimate goal has become much more obvious.

Now it is a ‘European Union’ rather than a ‘Market’. By calling it a “Common Market” meant the 1975 referendum was defined by the terms pro-marketeers and anti-marketeers – membership argued in simple economic terms. Thus in this context Wilson was able to get away with his sham negotiations by reducing it down to the level of import quotas on New Zealand butter and cheese.

40 years on, Cameron could not get away with anything so lightweight. It’s no longer a Market but a Union. Thus there would be demands for a far more substantial return of powers – none of which can be achieved without Treaty change. And that leads us neatly onto the next advantage…

David Cameron:
As has been well documented Cameron did not want a referendum nor does he want to leave the EU. That he has offered a referendum against his wishes is a reflection of his political weakness not his view that he thinks he can win it. We know this because he has made a political mistake. His offer was due to being under pressure from backbenchers who in turn are under pressure from UKIP in the belief that such a promise would win him the next election, and it is an offer made regardless of what concessions Cameron thinks he can spin from Brussels. It is very likely he chose the date as the UK takes over the Presidency of the Council of the EU rather than any other consideration.

The reform option has always been dangerous as it splits the “out” vote to the benefit of those who wish to remain EU members. However Cameron’s promise largely negates the reform option as he can’t possibly hope to have any substantial concessions which he can put to the electorate by 2017. The changes needed to the founding Treaties simply cannot be achieved in time. Thus all he can rely on is what will be unconvincing spin without substance.

And this is where his track record of ‘PR man’, ‘cast iron’ and ‘lack of trust’ becomes an asset to the out campaign. Without Treaty change it will be spin few will believe and it is a mistake we can capitalise on. A mistake that Clegg appears to appreciate very acutely during the Lib Dem conference:

The Lib Dem leader said he was committed to a vote when there was EU treaty reform, but criticised the “arbitrary date” of 2017 set by the Conservatives.

It’s worth noting that the Scottish referendum also had superficial promises of the reform option announced by, among others, Gordon Brown who tried to rewrite the UK constitution on the back of a fag packet in an impassioned speech by offering essentially devo-max to the Scots. Yet the pledge of reform made little difference to the final results which were in line with months of predictions by the polls. Other core substantive issues instead decided the referendum which we will explore later in this piece.

Experience: 
The 1975 referendum was the first ever in the UK, thus there was no real direct experience to draw upon. As a result many mistakes by both sides were made, not least in the failure of establishing a coherent message particularly from the anti-marketeers – with the word ‘anti’ portraying negative connotations, In contrast we have the opportunity to learn not only from the referendum of 1975 but subsequent ones over AV and Scottish independence, and we can endeavour to try not to repeat mistakes made there.

The Internet:
In 1975 the media and all the newspapers bar one – the communist Morning Star – supported EEC membership. Such support would be similar today, including from the likes of the Daily Mail which in editorials has made it clear it supports EU membership.

However unlike 1975 we now have the internet and everything that comes with it; smartphones, Twitter, Facebook and forums. The establishment no longer has a monopoly on information. Scotland revealed the significance of this development. The independence campaign was a dry run of how an EU referendum would be conducted and it showed comprehensively that unofficial campaigns centered on social media was very powerful.

Indeed the Scottish referendum has revealed that social networking via Twitter and Facebook played a very significant part in the vigorous and intellectual debate to the extent that the “yes” vote remained strong in the final outcome:

The 2008 US election showed how politicians could use it as a campaigning tool, but it wasn’t until the Scottish referendum that Britain really caught up.

According to Facebook, more than 10 million interactions were made about the fight in a month. So who won the social media wars – and what can we learn from it? The simple answer is: the Yes campaign was victorious.

The official Twitter account of the Yes campaign has an impressive 103,000 followers compared to 42,000 for Better Together. Alex Salmond boasts 95,000 Twitter followers and Nicola Sturgeon has 66,000 – while Alistair Darling has just 21,000. On Facebook, the Yes campaign page attracted more than 320,000 likes compared to 218,000 for the No.

But debate was not only held on the most well known outlets, there was much passionate debate on forums such as Celtic Football Club’s which ran to an impressive 1674 pages.

It’s also worth noting that during any campaign the URL address http://www.eureferendum.com/ would be much sought after – and this is already registered by Richard North. Typing the words “EU Referendum” into a search engine and links to the country’s premier eurosceptic blog comes top of the search results.

Thus with the internet we can bypass the mainstream media. This is a tactic that was used by Farage in UKIP’s early days. Comprehensively ignored at the time by the media, Farage went under the radar by taking the message direct to people by travelling the country and addressing local meetings. He was to replicate this method in 2013 with the Common Sense tour.

As UKIP proved, such methods can be very effective in getting the message across despite the bias of the legacy media and so it can prove with a referendum in 2017.

There’s a strong anti-establishment vote: 
Unlike 1975 where there was more deference to the political system, we now have the obvious decadence of Westminster politics. A decadence which reveals itself by the increasingly lack of quality in MPs, hopeless leadership, the lack of relevance of political parties with membership plummeting, and the electorate itself being treated with contempt and their anger in return.

Revulsion at this decadence and alienation from Westminster is common to both England and Scotland. In England it expresses itself partly in UKIP; in Scotland it helps power the SNP.

Thus unlike 1975, the parties of Westminster campaigning as one in 2017 to stay in the EU could actually prove to be useful as part of an effective anti-establishment campaign which when based around sound exit answers can win over a lot of people, as was shown in Scotland.

The establishment is not always united:
The Scottish referendum illustrated that the establishment campaign epitomised by Better Together was not always united. Although they shared the same aims of keeping the union together the fundamental differences between parties and between themselves could not help coming to the fore. Gordon Brown was sidelined until the last minute, Darling was consistently criticised for running a poor campaign, for example in May 2014:

Alistair Darling has effectively been dumped as head of the campaign to keep Scotland in the UK following crisis cross-party talks.

And naturally there were tensions between the Tories and Labour:

A Labour MSP has criticised his party’s decision to “hold hands” with the Tories in the ‘Better Together’ alliance against Scottish independence and has claimed that the No campaign is now unable to “outline a coherent vision”.

Then arguments over “reform

The Better Together campaign has been accused of “spiralling into self-destruction” after UK cabinet ministers appeared at odds over enhanced devolution proposals.

And after the vote:

Ed Miliband today publicly snubbed Gordon Brown after thanking every Labour MP who campaigned against Scottish independence – apart from the former Labour leader.

The ‘in’ campaign is likely to be as split as the ‘out’ one.

Having a major party on board is not always necessary:
As the SNP found out to its cost, a major party with an official position does not always mean party supporters and members follow suit  – voters in Salmond’s own ‘backyard’ of Aberdeenshire gave independence the thumbs down. Official positions of Labour and the Tories in an EU referendum are likely to be very different to its members when deciding on an EU referendum and there are likely to be splits within.

The question has already been decided:
Should Cameron endeavour to progress with a referendum then it’s out of the question that he can manipulate the question. The Electoral Commission has already given its advice to Parliament – the full details of its advice can be found here. In summary it advises:

If Parliament wants to retain the use of ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ as response options to the referendum question, then the Commission has recommended that that the question should be amended to:

‘Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?’

If Parliament decides not to retain a ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ question, the Commission has recommended the following referendum question:

‘Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?’

The European Economic Area (EEA):
Unlike in 1975 we have an off-shelf economic model in form of the EEA which can successfully nullify the FUD which will undoubtedly be deployed to portray by fear that leaving would be economically disastrous. The EEA was designed as a ‘stepping stone in’ for reluctant countries such as Norway and this can very easily be used as a ‘stepping stone out’. The economic arguments of 1975 would be made redundant:

Let us be clear about one thing: In or out of the Common Market, it will be tough going for Britain over the next few years.

In or out, we would still have been hit by the oil crisis, by rocketing world prices for food and raw materials.

But we will be in a much stronger position to face the future if we stay inside the Market than if we try to go it alone.

Inside, we can count on more secure supplies of food if world harvests turn out to be bad. And we can help to hold down Market food prices – as we have done since we joined in 1973.

The EEA therefore allows us to sideline the economic arguments effectively and so use the referendum to concentrate on the political aspects of the EU which prove to be so unpalatable for the British people (my emphasis):

Public opinion is divided on the detail of Britain’s role in Europe, however. Around three in ten each would prefer to see ‘Britain’s relationship with Europe remaining broadly the same as at present’ (32%) and ‘Britain returning to being part of an economic community, without political links’ (30%). One in five would like to see ‘Britain leaving the European Union altogether’ (20%), with ‘closer political and economic integration’ with other EU member states the least favoured option (13%).”

The 1970’s pessimism has gone:
It’s not unreasonable to suggest that the early 1970s provided probably the only window of opportunity to have joined the EEC. The UK was beset by a national lack of self confidence not long after “Great Britain had lost an Empire and had not yet found a role“, the Suez crisis, devaluation in the 1960’s, a global recession, spiralling inflation, collapse of Britain’s traditional manufacturing industries and rising unemployment and industrial unrest.

With this in mind it’s easy to understand why the UK sought refuge in the EEC. Yet largely as the result of the Thatcher reforms of the 1980s, the UK escaped from the inward straightjacket of its past. Rather than pessimism overshadowing the next referendum a confident UK will now be able to take advantage, outside the EU, of the dominating factor of trade…

Globalisation:
Nothing illustrates the ever decreasing need for single market access for the UK than the rise of globalisation. This is the EU’s redundancy notice, its P45. The EU is a relic of the 20th century, a time when the cold war dominated, when memories of war on the continent were still painfully fresh. Yet during the late 1970s and 1980s we had the emergence of other markets such as Japan.

Fueled by the evolution of technology, improved transport (Containerisation) and the growth of multinational companies and trading blocks globalisation is now the dominating factor. With the growth of China and India, the United States for example is increasingly looking east rather than to the EU in terms of importance of trade.

With globalisation has come the increasing importance of global bodies setting international standards. The Single Market, is a collection of regulation which drives the harmonisation of standards, with a view to not only facilitate trade throughout the Communities but to lead to increasing “political union” in the EU. It has primarily a political objective not an economic one.

However the EU acquis of harmonisation is gradually being replaced by international regulation which does not have the same political overtones. As such the EU loses its European distinctiveness and simply becomes a property shared by all members of the WTO, which they will all use as the basis for international trade. The EU’s Single Market thus will become redundant. Gradually it is being replaced by the globalised market.

As it stands, as long as we are in the EU, we have a subordinate position, (only 8% of the vote within the EU) on international bodies and the agreements on international standards are negotiated and approved by the EU on our behalf. 

However EFTA/EEA countries such as Norway are able to negotiate for themselves at the top international table and only after they have agreed them are they then processed into actionable law and passed down to regional trading areas such as the EU. The following graph illustrates how this works:

The early ’70’s demonstrated the UK’s lack of ambition and self-confidence by tying itself to an inward-looking customs union based on the European continent.  A 2017 referendum will give the opportunity to argue instead for a vision which was not available in 1975 – a vision that embraces the globalisation one which the UK can fully participate in.

An Exit Plan:
With the above in mind it is essential then that there is a detailed, workable and credible exit plan. Nothing illustrates this better than what has been very apparent from the Scottish independence referendum. The ‘yes’ campaign was not undermined by FUD, nor by the closing of ranks by the establishment, nor by a loaded referendum question nor by the lack of funds. Instead what the polls clearly showed is Salmond lost primarily due to not answering the currency question:

Meanwhile so far as the issues are concerned, if the Yes side does lose it will probably have done so not least because it never managed to persuade a majority of Scots that the country would be more prosperous under independence. YouGov find in their latest poll that only 35% think Scotland will be economically better off under independence while as any as 47% reckon it would be worse off.

 And:

Of course, describing the patterns of the kinds of people who were more or less likely to vote Yes or No does no more than give us clues as to why people voted they way they did. What we can note at this stage is that women, older people, those in ABC1 occupations and those born elsewhere in the UK were all, according to YouGov’s final poll for The Times and The Sun, relatively pessimistic about the economic consequences of independence. And as we have repeatedly noted on this site, nothing seemed to matter more to voters in deciding whether to vote Yes or No than their perceptions of the economic consequences of leaving the UK.

In other words Salmond did not have a well thought out exit plan to deal with the basics. And failure to address the core problem of currency if Scotland left the Union then plants further doubts in voters’ mind about other issues such as; defence, NHS,oil, immigration, EU membership, the Monarchy, pensions and so on. If Salmond had provided answers to these then it is very likely we would be looking at an independent Scotland.

One of the fatal flaws of the 1975 campaign was its inability to come up with a credible alternative to then EEC membership, a situation replicated by Salmond. With a fully workable exit plan we can avoid that flaw and crucially win…

Eurozone:
This is the joker in the pack. Without yet a resolution to the inherent problems of the Eurozone namely it’s still only an economic union without the political union necessary its problems are far from resolved. Given that a referendum is likely to take place in September of 2017 (during the UK Presidency of the Council of the EU) it will be at a time that is traditionally one of market turbulence. We could see a Eurozone crisis right in the middle of a referendum campaign.

In many ways therefore we can see that winning a referendum in 2017 is perfectly possible. Reluctance to take a calculated risk until conditions are just ‘perfect’ obviously begs the question if not in 2017, then when?

Labour’s Referendum Promise

Last Saturday I raised the possibility that Labour’s promise to use an ‘in-out’ referendum to try to ratify a new EU Treaty would not be looked upon favourably by the Electoral Commission. With that in mind I wrote to them seeking clarification, and this is the response I received:

Dear TBF

Thank you for your email to the Electoral Commission.

If a referendum were called the Commission would comment on the intelligibility of the question. In addition under PPERA we would formally nominate ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ organisations. We would also ensure that the public had information to enable them to make an informed choice.

Unfortunately we cannot comment on the nature of the question, that would be for parliament to decide and frame the question. We would only comment on the wording.

Kind regards

Mark Nyack             
Public Information Officer
The Electoral Commission

To me that answer is unsatisfactory. While Parliament can decide and frame the question, the Electoral Commission has to decide whether the question is unambiguous. To frame the question in such a way that it poses 2 questions in 1 is far from unambiguous and thus comes under the EC’s remit. The EC is being deliberately elusive here – therefore I have written back to them seeking further and more specific clarification. Again their response will be posted here.

EU: Another Empty Referendum Promise?

It’s rather symbolic when in a week where we lose two eurosceptics of “Labour past”, that their successors in the form of Miliband et al reveal their intentions to try to rig a future referendum ensuring we stay as EU members.

This blog and Richard North expressed our deep concerns that with Labour changing the dynamics of a future referendum by shifting the status quo effect in its favour we would inevitably lose an in/out referendum under Labour. This shift was expressed with this promise: “[Labour] guarantees that there will be no transfer of powers from Britain to the European Union without an in/out referendum”.

This scenario was most likely given that Labour is very much expected to win the General Election in 2015. Even the Tories are now apparently giving up.

There can be no doubt that Labour knew what it was trying to do. It has been alleged that privately Ed Balls has been arguing that Ed Millband goes for a referendum precisely for the very reasons Richard North urges caution. The out camp is likely to lose and it will settle the question for a generation at least.

Labour cannot be unaware of the status quo effect. Peter Kellner President of the pollster YouGov has written about the status quo effect inherent in referendums in the Guardian:

As in so many referendums round the world, when there is no settled national consensus, the status quo will prevail.

Kellner is also married to the unelected EU representative Baroness Ashton, so we can safely assume that that the issues of the status quo and the impending EU Treaty has been well-discussed domestically thus helping to influence Labour’s latest referendum position.

However one problem has emerged with Labour’s position – the Electoral Commission.

As it notes itself the Electoral Commission is required under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 to comment on the “intelligibility of referendum questions”. This it did most recently with this 81 page report in response to “The European Union (Referendum) Bill” – a private Members’ Bill introduced by James Wharton MP, which passed its second reading on 5th July 2013.

Thus the Electoral Commission had to initiate their standard question assessment process. And as per page 49, and here, the Electoral Commission question confirms that its assessment guidelines are as follows, the question should:

  • Be easy to understand
  • Be to the point
  • Be unambiguous
  • Avoid encouraging voters to consider one response more favourably than another
  • Avoid misleading voters

And here Labour’s promise clearly fails the Electoral Commission guidelines. By throwing in the prospect of leaving the EU in a referendum on whether to answer a simple question on a new treaty Labour’s proposal effectively becomes two questions in one. For example those who may wish to oppose a new EU treaty but support EU membership will be forced to vote for a Treaty they oppose or vote against the Treaty and so consequently for exit which they don’t agree with.

Unambiguous Labour’s proposals are not, and nor can it be said it “avoids encouraging voters to consider one response more favourably than another”. The prospect of the “nuclear option” does precisely that.

Regarding misleading voters, one considers that even on the basics of a simple ‘in or out’ question still left voters’ confused, as per page 24:

“If you ask me to leave the Tory party, you first have to find out if I’m a member before you ask me to leave.”
(Male, aged 55, mini-depth, London, English as second language)

“Not everyone understands that we are in Europe already?”
(Focus group participant, aged 25-44, C2DE, Colwyn Bay)

“I don’t think we are a member – I’ve never heard of it [European Union].”
(Female, aged 63, mini-depth, Nottingham)

Labour’s two questions in one clearly breaches those guidelines. By reading the report in full one can see that the Electoral Commission is nothing if not pedantic. We have similiar examples on the AV referendum and the Scottish referendum (page 12):

  • Completion: participants were asked to answer a proposed question as if for real and identify any words or phrases they found clear, or more difficult to understand .
  • Understanding: participants discussed what they thought the question was asking and any difficulties they had with the question, and the reasons for this.
  • Neutrality: participants were asked to consider whether they felt the question was encouraging people to vote in a particular way, and if so, why they felt that.
  • Improvements: participants considered what improvements they would make to the question wording and discussed their suggestions
  • Comparing alternatives: participants were shown alternative question wording and asked to compare it to the original, and consider whether or not the changes improved the question

Which led to this:

The Scottish government has agreed to change the wording of its independence referendum question, after concerns it may lead people to vote ‘Yes’.

SNP ministers wanted to ask voters the yes/no question: “Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?” in autumn 2014.

The wording of the question will now be altered to: “Should Scotland be an independent country?” The change was suggested by the Electoral Commission watchdog.

With this in mind this blogger will be contacting the Electoral Commission asking them to clarify their position on Miliband’s promise. I will update readers on any response I receive.

What is becoming very clear is the Tories can’t deliver on a referendum by 2017 as Cameron as promised and now Labour almost certainly can’t deliver on a referendum promise because it contradicts electoral law. Again we see our political parties desperate to appear in touch with a domestic audience while actually being completely and hopelessly out of touch with political reality.

One would expect the UK’s most prominent Eurosceptic party to point this out, but I guess its leader has trouble multi-tasking