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.

Why A 2015 EU Referendum Cannot Happen.

As noted in the Independent last Sunday, Nigel Farage has indicated that he will support a minority Conservative Government if Prime Minster David Cameron promises a referendum in 2015:

“The terms of my deal with the Tories would be very precise and simple. I want a full and fair referendum to be held in 2015 to allow Britons to vote on being in or out of the European Union. There would be no wiggle room for ‘renegotiation’ somewhere down the line’.

“The EU is facing an existential crisis and, given that it only takes a few weeks to launch and organise a referendum, it should be held in 2015.”

Although we would largely agree with the sentiments of a “full and fair” referendum, we would take issue with the “very precise and simple” demand that a referendum should be held in 2015 and “given that it only takes a few weeks to launch.” For the very precise and simple reason that it can’t be done. Farage is offering impossible terms on the practicality of timescale.

To support Farage’s demands comparisons are sometimes made with the 1975 referendum where it is claimed that it is possible to have a referendum in a few weeks, the timeline often quoted is as follows:

December 1974: Harold Wilson requests renegotiation of EEC membership terms.

European Council agreed to new terms for UK in Dublin by 11 March 1975 and renegotiation largely ended.

26 February 1975: White Paper announcing referendum to be held after result of renegotiation was known

26 March 1975: Referendum Bill published.

31 March 1975: White Paper setting out the results of the renegotiation of the UK membership of the EC.

9 April 1975: after a three-day debate on the Government’s recommendation to continue Britain’s EC membership, the Commons voted 396 to 170 to continue in Common Market on the new terms. At the same time Government drafts Referendum Bill, to be moved in case of a successful renegotiation.

On 22 April 1975 the House of Lords approved continued membership by 261 votes to 20.

Post-legislative referendum held 5 June 1975. Referendum not directly related to White Paper on renegotiation, but preamble referred to renegotiation. Question much broader: “Do you think the UK should stay in the European Community (Common Market)?” The result was 67 per cent in favour on a 65 per cent turnout.

As we can see in 1975 the passage through Parliament to holding a referendum took circa 10 weeks (26 March – 5 June) from publishing the Bill to holding the Referendum. The 1975 Referendum book though notes (p.66):

“But the real reason for the unexpectedly easy passage of the Bill was political: pro-Marketeers were in an overwhelming majority in the House of Commons and they had belatedly realised that the referendum would go their way.”

Even with an easy passage it still took two and half months to have a referendum. The election in 2015 is in May, then there’s a summer recess so we can expect it to take longer. Especially when we consider that due to the complexity of an EU that has significantly evolved in over 40 years of UK membership and the less certainty of a referendum result, that its passage through Parliament will be more turbulent and difficult.
 
We have noted before regarding trying to win a referendum, 1975 is not 2015. The country has moved on in forty years. Procedures are now different, for example in 1975 the campaign started in January 1975 long before the Referendum Bill had been passed – with self-appointed “umbrella” groups.

However unlike 1975 referendums are now the responsibility of the Electoral Commission, which was established under Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. Thus on that alone the timescale in comparison to 1975 has changed.

With the establishment of the Electoral Commission it means that campaigning groups can’t begin to officially campaign until they submit bids for the official “in” and “out” campaign and have been approved. This process cannot happen until after the referendum bill becomes law.

There has to be a reasonable period to allow the Electoral Commission to invite submissions and make the designation, and then the lead organisations must be given time to organise themselves.

As we can see from the Electoral Commission December 2014 report on the Scottish Independence Referendum held on 18 September 2014, it recommends (my emphasis):

… that in planning for any future referendums, not only in Scotland but also those held across or in other parts of the UK, governments should aim to ensure that legislation (including any secondary legislation) is clear at least six months before it is required to be implemented or complied with by campaigners, the Chief Counting Officer, Counting Officers or Electoral Registration Officers.

Thus “a reasonable period” according the Electoral Commission amounts to six months, as it argues to allow for (again my emphasis):

The benefit of this additional time was passed on to campaigners, EROs and COs in preparing for their respective roles at the referendum:

Campaigners were able to engage constructively with the legislative process and had time to develop an understanding of the relevant guidance and rules, before they came into force. EROs and COs benefitted from sufficient time to put robust plans in place for the delivery of their responsibilities under the legislation, from targeted public awareness activity to the booking of polling places and the training of staff.

In addition the Electoral Commission also recommends (again my emphasis):

2.39 Following the 2011 referendum on additional powers for the National Assembly for Wales and the Parliamentary Voting System for the House of Commons, we recommended that for future referendums the detailed rules should be clear at least 28 weeks in advance of polling day, based on a statutory regulated referendum campaign period of 16 weeks.

Although the Electoral Commission cannot demand, where it recommends will be taken into account should there be a challenge to the Bill and it goes to a Judicial Review as undoubtedly it would should there be any form of corner cutting or fast-tracking.

Yet even with a relatively smooth process by the Electoral Commission’s recommendations there would be a ten month delay between an Act of Parliament and a vote: that obviously takes us well into 2016.

In addition Farage thinks he can determine the referendum question:

 “Do you wish to be a free, independent sovereign democracy?”

Despite the fact that the Electoral Commission has already put forward its proposals for the referendum questionits full report is here, Farage’s suggestion wouldn’t even pass the unambiguity test let alone the neutral one.

At this point I don’t know what to conclude. Either Farage is very poorly briefed which is a reflection on a lack of a decent research department despite having (now) 22 very well paid MEPs or he knows this and is deliberately demanding conditions that Cameron (or indeed anyone else) cannot possibly meet.

The latter of course allows UKIP to put forward the criticism that Cameron cannot be trusted which conveniently helps prop up Farage’s position. If one is to be cynical there’s nothing better than having a perpetual enemy to oppose to justify your own existence, especially in the absence of any party polices.

Either way the eurosceptic movement is being very poorly served by UKIP.

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…

Stamp Duty

 

I’ve made my feelings clear before, in rather robust terms, on the complete lunacy of stamp duty on the housing market. Owen Paterson with the launch of his think-tank, UK2020 a month ago acknowledged the problems inherent with it

Stamp duty completely distorts the housing market by having absurd cliff hangers meaning an extra penny on a house price can cost thousands extra. Trying to sell a house, for example, which is worth just over £250,000 then becomes a nightmare. It means a jump in duty from 1% to 3%, which obviously becomes a deterrent to anyone attempting to try to sell or buy a house within a significant range of the £250,000 bracket. At the very least if we are to retain the tax it has to be altered.

It is welcome therefore that in the Autumn statement that Osborne is attempting to iron out the stamp duty ‘jumps’

The chancellor said that from midnight the current system, where the amount owed jumps at certain price levels, would be replaced by a graduated rate, working in a similar way to income tax.

Clearly with the 2015 election in mind Osbourne’s headline plan has a multitude of benefits; mainly appealing to “middle England” who are attempting to successfully sell their house, the headline of a tax cut and an attempt to outflank Labour on proposals of the mansion tax:

BBC political editor Nick Robinson said the headline announcements were “real electioneering” by the Conservative chancellor, saying the stamp duty proposals were the Tories’ “own version of the mansion tax” proposed by Labour and the Lib Dems.

Thus we can see, along with Article 48 on immigration, Conservative policy is beginning to take shape six months before an election. Policy not aspiration. Contrast this with Ukip whose ‘non-existent’ policies are in a mess, and unlike the Iron Lady whom Farage alleges he admires, he is for turning, often, and with embarrassing consequences.

Whatever we think of either party, what is clear is with the steady rolling out of policy Tory candidates and PPCs will be prepared well in advance, particularly in hustings. However UKIP PPCs will have a manifesto dumped on them just weeks before and any policies contained within liable to be changed on the whim of its leader. We are thus seeing a repeat of what’s gone on many times before. Its grassroot support deserves much better.

That aside we also see the cynicism of the Tories. Osborne could not have been unaware that stamp duty was fundamentally broken, he’s been informed before. Thus it is very interesting that he attempts to address the issue particularly just before an election. He’s allowed a broken system, and all the difficulties it entails for the rest of us, to continue right until an impending election when he makes the necessary amendments purely for political purposes.

This is of course further evidence that the only mechanism which concentrates politicians’ minds is the threat of being removed from office before an impending election. Thus the current representative system of being “lied to on Thursday and ignored on Friday for another five years” does not work. Above all else we need another way.

Owen Paterson On EU Exit

It says something of Cameron’s lack of political judgement that his cabinet reshuffle in July as a token gesture to promoting women removed Owen Paterson from collective cabinet responsibility which had kept him largely silent. Now removed from such responsibility Paterson is now able to express his views much to the discomfort of Cameron.

A long time criticism of UKIP is that they do not, despite 20 years in existence, have a credible plan to exit the EU. A criticism which they still fail to address. The very same accusation of course can be leveled at David Cameron. He reiterates if he can’t get the reforms he wants he will campaign for exit.

However not only are Cameron’s many promises of renegotiating our membership by his 2017 referendum promise unworkable –  and cannot be delivered in time even if they were – like Nigel Farage Cameron does not have a workable roadmap for EU exit in the event of inevitable failure. On a hook he very much is.

Enter Owen Paterson who today gave a speech on the UK’s relationship with the EU. The essential content of his speech, which will be very familiar to regular readers of EUreferendum – with the conclusion that “Cameron should cut to the chase and commit to invoking Article 50 the moment a Conservative government takes office after the election (page 16).

Once the decision to invoke Article 50 has been made, agreement should be concluded as rapidly as possible. But speedy negotiations impose certain constraints. We should remember that the Swiss bilateral agreements with the EU took 16 years to negotiate. The much-vaunted EU – South Korea FTA took almost 18 years to come to fruition – in the form of a 1,336 – page trading agreement. 31 We need, therefore, to pick a proven, off – the – shelf plan.

However, our participation in the Single Market is fundamental to protecting the UK’s economic position. This brings us to the only realistic option, which is to stay within the EEA agreement. The EEA is tailor made for this purpose and can be adopted by joining EFTA first. This becomes the “Norway option”. We have already seen that Norway has more influence in international decision – making than we do as an EU Member State. Using the EEA ensures full access to the Single Market and provides immediate cover for leaving the political arrangements of the EU. To ensure continuity and avoid any disruption to the Single Market, would also repatriate the entire Acquis and make it domestic law, giving us time to conduct a full review in good order.

With an electoral mandate at a general election, there is no need for a referendum to invoke Article 50, but instead have one after exit negotiations have been concluded. 

Using the Norway option / Flexcit as a ‘stepping stone out’ any referendum would then be a straight choice between the deal done or re-applying to join the EU which would include joining the Eurozone minus also all the lost opt outs involved in previous Treaty negotiations. As a consequence the status quo effect would then very significantly shift to the “outers”. This strategy would be similar to our entry in the early ’70s but for obviously opposite intentions.

Of course it’s unlikely that Cameron will adopt Paterson’s arguments, although it’s not unknown for Cameron to change his mind on EU matters. The key point though is we now have a major politician discussing Article 50 and the Norway option publicly in a way which has rarely, if at all, been done before. That in itself is huge progress.

Paterson’s arguments are also a way of allowing Cameron to remove himself from the hook on which he’s impaled himself. Article 50 has the two year clause which fits in neatly with a promise of a 2017 referendum, Cameron’s desire to repatriate powers and Cameron’s to remove the UK from “ever closer Union.

Whether Cameron listens is another matter – we obviously remain sceptical, but the debate regarding Article 50 and Norway is now out in the wider public domain. And that is progress, no wonder the Europhile Mats Persson looked miserable on the BBC’s Daily Politics show (10:40 mins in)

Black Spots, Not Spots And Shadows

There’s an interesting piece in the Telegraph from Monday regarding mobile phone coverage in the UK. Despite that during the 1980’s the UK, along with other European nations, were leading the way in GSM standardization, rollout of subsequent technologies such as 3G, since telecoms has become an EU competence, has been less than satisfactory:

There is little more debilitating in a supposedly digital world than the mobile black spots that still plague so many parts of the UK. These are the areas where mobile phones don’t have a signal, and where it is therefore impossible to make voice calls or send texts. Almost as bad are the even larger areas with no 3G reception (let alone 4G, of course) and where it is therefore impossible to access the internet from smartphones or tablets on the move.

It’s certainly no secret that UK mobile phone 3G coverage is poor in many areas of the country, particularly in comparison with other countries. Cornwall for example which is a popular tourist destination has long suffered with sub-standard coverage – Orange (now part of EE) being one of the only operators for some time to attempt to provide a decent mobile signal. An article in Tech Advisor from May this year expressed a view that in general 3G coverage in the UK was “embarrassing”.

OFCOM, under The Wireless Telegraphy Act 2006 required that by June 2013 the four mobile phone license holders meet and maintain a 90% population 3G coverage, three providers met the target with only Vodafone missing its target by 1.4% by the deadline – only to meet it this year.

Yet despite the 90% coverage claim there are reasons why 90% coverage doesn’t really mean that at all. To achieve coverage of 90% of the population the networks only really need to cover the most populated areas of the country, leaving rural areas scorned. As the Guardian noted in December 2013:

Today, 80% of the population can get a signal from all of the four operators – EE, O2, 3 and Vodafone – but geographically it remains very patchy, with just 21% of the landmass being served by all four. Nearly 23% of the UK has no 3G at all, and in nearly 13% of the country making any kind of mobile call is impossible.

The lack of 3G coverage begins to matter when we consider that with the growth of smartphones, data and the demand for broadband is far outstripping voice as the main means of communication on the move. The graph below (click to enlarge) from the Ericsson Mobility Report, released in June 2013 illustrates this acutely:

At this point we could be mischievous and, using the criteria set in terms of coverage based on population by OFCOM, compare the UK with North Korea which since 2011 has had a 3G coverage of 94% in terms of population served. On this basis it could be argued that North Korean mobile coverage is better than the UK’s. The North Korean network (Koryolink) is provided by the Egyptian international telecommunications company Orascom, with officially 10% of North Koreans (2 million) being subscribers, though the figure may be much higher due to the practice common in poorer countries of renting phones out to family and friends to share the costs.

With poor coverage in the UK it is understandably that the government is keen to improve 3G coverage at the very least. This though has prompted what appears to be a dispute in government between Sajid_Javid of the Department for Culture, Media & Sport arguing for better UK coverage

I’m determined to ensure the UK has world-class mobile phone coverage as investment in infrastructure will help drive this government’s long-term economic plan.

It can’t be right that in a fifth of the UK, people cannot use their phones to make a call. The government isn’t prepared to let that situation continue.

…and the Home Secretary, Teresa May, who seems to be unwilling to reveal “not spots” as reported by the Times (£):

A confidential letter from the home secretary, seen by The Times, advises that plans by Sajid Javid to make mobile phone companies improve their coverage threaten to damage the ability of intelligence agencies to thwart plots.

With this in mind we probably for security reasons shouldn’t mention that a notable “not-spot” is RAF Menwith Hill with its oversized golf balls in North Yorkshire:

Here, and in surrounding areas, mobile phone coverage drops off the end of a cliff. No mobile phone signal is usually possible when close by.

One of the proposals by the government to counter the lack of 3G coverage, (and not unsurprisingly a top down ‘solution’) is new legislation to force “providers to introduce network roaming across Britain, ensuring that customers automatically switch networks when they have no signal from their usual provider”:

National roaming – phones would roam onto another network’s signal when theirs was not available. This is similar to what happens when you’re abroad.

Infrastructure sharing – mobile networks would be able to put transmitters on each other’s masts.

But again this demonstrates that technology is simply marching on far ahead of regulators and government. Not only costing the sharing of private mobile networks will be a nightmare, by the time any kind of legislation is invoked technology will have moved on.

With the release of the new Apple’s iPad Air 2, is the emergence of a programmable SIM card (backed by standards set by the ETSI) which will allow users to switch mobile network providers and plans at the touch of the button which could be the first step towards freeing mobile devices from restrictive mobile contracts, allowing users to switch carrier just by selecting an option in settings.

Thus government legislation may prove to be unnecessary…

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?