Britain and Referenda
Published Postimees 20 February 2013
Normally I write only about Estonian issues, when I a write about my country there is something important needs covering.
Which bring me to the UK relationship with Europe. It effects us all so I hope you will bear with me.
As readers will know, the British Prime Minister, David Cameron announced last month that if he wins the next election in 2015, he will renegotiate existing treaties with Europe and then hold a referendum on Britain's membership of the EU.
There has been a ton analyse on TV and in the Estonian press about this. It could lead to a breakup of Europe. It isn't helping things, that's for sure.
There isn't go to be any referendum. The referendum is contingent on the conservatives winning the next election. By caving into the ardent Eurosceptics in his own party, Cameron has just guaranteed that he, and his party, will lose. The reasons are complex and I will set them out here.
Eurosceptics, also known as little Englanders, are a very old English character type. These people believe that there is a qualitative difference between England and the rest of Europe.
The little Englanders believe Europe has always been ruled by despots, petty dictators, socialist collectives and other such unsavoury types, whereas England, an island nation, has enjoyed human right, or “the rights of Englishmen” that have evolved over centuries through, from Magna Carta, Parliament, common law and the Monarch's coronation speech.
According to this view, the American colonies rebelled in 1776 and set up a new country to preserve these rights which America's founding fathers did indeed refer to as “the rights of Englishmen” which they said the then King, George III, was seeking to abuse.
This is why Eurosceptics are as unstintingly pro-American as they are anti-European.
Little Englanders are a strange bunch. They are not overtly racist but they are xenophobic. They are cultural imperialists. Euroscepticism/Little Englander-mentality is the cousin of American exceptionalism, they both come from the same root source.
England is the “sceptred isle” and America is “the city on the hill.”
And though American exceptionalists can push for an robust American foreign policy, they can, and have in the past, pushed for the same thing the Eurosceptics are pushing for now, isolation, “Splendid isolation”.
Little Englander mentality is the reason why Britain didn't join the EU, or the European Community when it was founded.
It is the reason why Britain didn't sign up to the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) for decades, despite being a founder member of the Council of Europe, which first placed the convention into effect in 1953.
And it is the reason why Britain failed to come to the rescue of Estonia in 1944-5. Britain wartime leaders, Churchill and Anthony Eden, just could not conceive of a Britain taking political and military leadership of Europe, despite having won the war. Britain is an island apart, it was different from the rest of Europe.
Keen readers will notice that I described the Eurosceptics as little Englanders not little Britons. This is the correct definition.
This mindset doesn't apply to Scotland. In the middle ages the Scots were forever allied with the French against the English. It's called the Auld alliance (old alliance) and it is something that the Scots have never forgotten.
The Scottish National Party (SNP), the party of independence, the separatist party, was a fringe party until they started to campaign for an independent Scotland within Europe. Scotland is similar to Estonia, as a nation it recognises that in order to prosper they need to trade within a wider union.
So it is referendum on Scotland that actually matters and will decide future outcomes.
The independence referendum will be held some time next year probably in the autumn. It has crept up on us stealthily. The SNP won the Scottish election by a landslide by convincing everybody that they were not really serious about independence.
Now we can see that they are serious, deadly serious.
Before Cameron's speech, things were not going well for the SNP and other separatists. Polls have shown that support for independence has been stuck at under 30 percent for years. Moreover the SNP has deluded itself the young want independence more than the old do. They even wanted to lower the voting age to 16.
The separatists do not want to accept the painful truth, young Scots are more patriotically British than their elders.
It is people in their 30s or 40s who are driving the separatist agenda, Scots have long memories and haven't forgiven ugly stuff that went on in the 80s, that I won't go into here, and that dumb movie Braveheart. A movie that was shown in every screen in every cinema in Scotland.
Young voters don't remember this, though I am sure they have seen Braveheart on TV. They remember Blair and Brown, both of whom were Scots. Come to think of it, even Cameron is a Scottish name.
But if the Scots do not want to be separated from the United Kingdom their also do not want to be separated from the European Union. With one deft move Cameron has handed the separatist a slogan which they can rally around. It's the same slogan as before, an independent Scotland within Europe. It might work.
Patriotic Brits like myself won't forgive Cameron if Scots vote for independence, ever. Patriotic Britons like myself, will be so angry at Cameron for breaking up our dear country that we would rather lock him in the tower, than vote for him, or his party.
Even people who don't care about the Union will not vote for Cameron. Defeat makes Cameron look like a loser and nobody likes a loser.
But here is the thing, if the Scots vote no to independence which I believe and hope that they will, Cameron will still lose the next election.
The main Unionist party in Scotland is the labour Party, The labour party is far more popular than the conservatives in Scotland who have become an “English Party”. The labour party has traditionally been led by Scots and the labour movement begun in Scotland anyway. Under the former chancellor of the exchequer (Finance Minister) Alistair Darling it is labour not the government that are leading the campaign to save the United Kingdom.
If Scotland vote no they can go into the next election saying to the people: “look! we delivered this victory”. Moreover they can roll out the referendum campaign nationwide.
The British have long memories. We tend to change government roughly only once every generation. 1979, 1997, 2010. British people didn't forgive governments for economic disaster of the day. This time round it is different. There is a real possibility that the labour party could win. The last labour government do not do anything which was so outrageous that people are still bitter about it.
And we Brits are not Anti-European. The Little Englanders represent a vocal minority, that is all. British parties that fight elections on an anti-European message always, always, lose. The labour party wanted to pull Britain out of Europe in 1984. They lost by a landslide. The conservatives fought the 2001 election on the issue on Europe, they lost. When Cameron fights an election with a promise to renegotiate existing treaties and hold a referendum, with or without Scotland, he will lose.
And then we will have a government more friendly to Europe and by default, if not by design, more friendly to Estonia.