To be frank, we’re running out of options. Labour plainly isn’t going to concede the referendum it promised, and the nauseating U-turn by the LibDems gives Gordon Brown a clear majority in both Houses of Parliament.
In the past, the sight of other countries voting on our future galvanised the British. But this time, the 27 EU leaders have entered into an anti-democratic pact. They know that a referendum in one country would lead to demands for a vote in others, and so have promised each other to hold no polls at all. Only in the two states where a referendum is constitutionally obligatory, Ireland and Denmark, will there be a vote; and the Danish one looks like being on the abolition of one of the Maastricht opt-outs rather than on the constitution tout entière. Besides, both campaigns will come after British ratification.
So, is there any hope at all? Well, if there is, it lies in the devolved parliaments. Pro-referendum parties are in power in Edinburgh and Belfast. At Holyrood, the SNP, the Greens and the Tories command a bare majority, and all three parties promised a plebiscite in their manifestoes (as, of course, did Labour and the LibDems; the difference is that the rest of us haven’t yet reneged). At Stormont, where both Unionist parties and Sinn Fein campaigned on an anti-constitution ticket, pro-referendum Assemblymen constitute 82 per cent of the chamber.
Both Alex Salmond and Ian Paisley have reiterated their support for a referendum, the SNP making great play out of the fact that, unlike Labour, it plans to honour its word. The question is whether either leader will do the one thing that Labour really fears, namely to hold a referendum within his jurisdiction.
True, such votes would have no legal force. But so what? Neither did Gibraltar’s informal referendum on sharing sovereignty with Spain in 2002. Official or not, it killed the issue. Similarly, a “No” vote in Scotland or Northern Ireland – and Ulstermen, after all, are good at saying “No” – would make it politically impossible for the Broon to proceed with ratification. In any event, the mere sight of their countrymen voting might stir the English from their sleep.
Will it happen? Sadly, I doubt it. The truth, as I have mournfully noted before, is that parties are only ever Euro-sceptic in opposition; once in power, they promptly become pro-Brussels, in deed if not in word.
Alex Salmond is happy to denounce the constitution in speeches, but shows no sign of actually wanting to stop it. He has brilliantly stirred up secessionist feeling south of the border by taunting the English with the freebies that their taxes supposedly subsidise. He knows very well that all this work would be wiped out by the surge of pro-Scottish gratitude in England that would fallow a “Naw”. In any case, he still hopes for “an independent Scotland within the EU” – a contradiction in terms, of course, but never mind: he won’t want to prejudice the putative negotiations by making himself the most hated man in Brussels.
As for Paisley, his position is even more reprehensible. Having dedicated his entire career to opposing the settlement from which he is now benefiting, he is determined to keep it going at almost any price, even overlooking evidence of IRA misbehaviour so as to keep the Republicans in government. He won’t want to endanger his position by annoying the London Establishment.
The list of guilty men grows and grows. The split is not so much between the parties, now, as between the political caste and everyone else. Burns had it right: a parcel of rogues in a nation.
For more information read Daniel’s blog on:
Why Lefties support Sir Ian Blair…, 2 November 2007
…even when they can see they’re being hypocritical, 11 November 2007
How the EU pays to have itself lobbied, 8 November 2007
Ankara is more democratic than Brussels, 7 November 2007