The unexpected results of last week’s United Kingdom election have led to speculation about the chance of Scotland leaving the country, and of the country leaving the European Union.
Re-elected Prime Minister David Cameron has promised to hold a referendum on British membership in the EU by 2017, a pledge that may have helped him steal voters from the “Euroskeptic” U.K. Independence Party. Meanwhile, the separatist Scottish National Party’s sweep of Parliament is a much-needed boost after losing a vote last fall on Scottish independence from the U.K. (RELATED: Scots Win Big, UKIP Collapses In Test Of British Voting System)
Nicholas Dungan, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, said in an interview with The Daily Caller News Foundation that with almost no more Scottish seats to claim, the SNP’s ascendant leaders are simultaneously “at their most powerful but also their most harmless.” At most, the party is likely to secure yet another round of the independence referendum which it lost — understanding that a constitutionally binding separation from Britain would have to be on Parliament’s terms.
After securing victory Friday, Cameron announced that he would help to “create the strongest devolved government anywhere in the world” in Scotland. Dungan says this language echoes the European Union principle of “subsidiarity,” by which as much authority as possible is held locally.
The U.K.’s constituent countries of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland already have their own legislatures which set local policies. Since, according to Dungan, “Britain has one of the most centralized governments in the world,” further conceding power to the local level “goes in the direction of where other countries already are.”
Philippe Le Corre, a European politics expert at the Brookings Institution, is less optimistic about Cameron’s Scottish balancing act. He told TheDCNF he fears the country is “not a United Kingdom anymore, but a disunited kingdom. One place, called England, just reelected a Euroskeptic English prime minister, while Scotland just elected Scottish politicians in favor of cutting themselves off from England.” (RELATED: 20-Year-Old Scottish Student Beats Top Leftist Official)
Scottish complaints with rule by Parliament include central control of Scottish oil, English Conservatives’ budgetary minimalism, and the forced installation of Britain’s Trident nuclear missile system in Scotland. In some ways, the resentment on interference from outside resembles English grievances with the EU, seen as a source of onerous agricultural and commercial regulations passed by a cumbersome foreign bureaucracy.
As Cameron’s promise of a poll on EU membership looms, Le Corre told TheDCNF that “this debate will pollute the environment for the next few years.” According to Le Corre, Cameron has deliberately alienated himself from European leaders in Brussels for the sake of gaining political capital, with the consequence that “nobody listens to him in Brussels.” Moreover, Le Corre claims, “England by itself will not go very far… it’ll just be a sort of Australia in Europe.”
But others understand Cameron’s calculus. Dungan told TheDCNF that a newly strengthened Cameron is now able to go to Brussels and ask European leaders for “a declaration of federal principles that will allow him to stay in the EU.” The EU, Dungan said, specializes in solutions “that don’t disturb the structures of the EU but can be very satisfying to an important member state.”
Such a solution fulfills Cameron’s true political intent: not to leave Europe, but to show strength in Britain by telling the EU how it needed to be fixed on Britain’s terms. He can then bring the result of his negotiations to a public vote under his careful control. After last week’s election, the only resistance he would encounter would be from skeptics within his own party, whom he can easily sway.
This way, Cameron can come back to Britain and safely say, as Dungan put it, that “we’re going to focus more on subsidiarity. And we’re not going to tell you what shape your sausages have to be.”
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