The Queen’s Speech this afternoon has shown us which elements of the Conservative Manifesto were their intended red-line policies and which were intended as bargaining chips for any putative Coalition partner.
The EU Referendum is a definite red-line policy, but it is not so much a red-line as a tightrope. And David Cameron is walking it whilst trying to appear nonchalant and sure footed. He must know that there is every risk that he is going to take a tumble and even if he doesn’t slip, then someone may well give him a hefty shove.
Mr Cameron has announced who will be included in the electorate for the referendum and it is effectively those who can vote in a General Election in the UK, plus UK residents of Gibraltar and the members of the House of Lords. It all seems straightforward, until you consider who has voted in the most recent referendum in the UK.
In September last year, the Scottish electorate voted to remain part of the United Kingdom. It was, like the General Election of earlier this month, an apparently close run race which ended by not being as close as it appeared or anyone expected. David Cameron was clearly concerned from the start of the process by the prospect of Scotland voting for any degree of independence from the rest of the United Kingdom. When he negotiated the referendum agreement with Alex Salmond, Mr Cameron refused to allow Mr Salmond’s preferred choice of question which included an option to vote for the so called Devo Max option. Mr Cameron clearly believed that the compromise Devo Max option would if allowed on the ballot paper succeed; so he ruled it out as an option. He also arranged for the electorate to include simply voters on the electoral register in Scotland. As a quid pro quo, he agreed to Salmond’s demand that 16 and 17 year olds should be given a vote in the referendum. Limiting the franchise to those on the register had the effect of excluding any Scottish voters registered in any other part of the United Kingdom. It also extended the franchise those non Scots living in Scotland, most notably English voters and European migrant workers.
Scare stories about an independent Scotland not being allowed to join the EU, were designed to scare the migrant vote into the Unionist camp. Even so, Mr Cameron with the assistance of Gordon Brown was forced into conceding most of the Devo Max options to Scotland in order to prevent the feared vote for Independence.
But now we are faced with the EU referendum and Mr Cameron will has restricted the franchise to prevent EU migrants from participating in the vote. So Scot living in Walsall could not vote on Scottish Independence, but a Scot living in Warsaw can vote in the in/out referendum. But a Pole living in Arbroath was encouraged to vote for Scotland to remain in the Union to prevent any chance of it leaving the EU, but is not allowed to vote on whether the UK should the UK or not.
This apparent contradiction in position is not one that helps Mr Cameron’s professed aim of keeping the UK in a reformed EU. It removes perhaps a million voters, who could be expected to vote to remain in the EU from the franchise. However it comes at a time when Mr Cameron has started his tour of European capitals, but has already found one very large door slammed shut against him. President Hollande and Chancellor Merkel are in the process of negotiating for closer links between their countries. It was expected that the result of these negotiations would require a renegotiation of the Lisbon Treaty. The expected renegotiation would have been a boon for Mr Cameron as it would have given him the opportunity to include his suggested reforms in a major treaty. But yesterday the Franco-Prussian Alliance agreed that they could adopt the closer links without the need for amendments to the Treaty. This makes Mr Cameron’s task much harder.
At the same time Mr Cameron has suggested that once the negotiations with the EU are complete, he will expect every member of the Cabinet to publicly support the campaign to remain in the EU. It remains to be seen whether Iain Duncan Smith, erstwhile Party Leader and one of John Major’s Euro Bastards, will toe the Party Line.
The decision to restrict the franchise is simply a fob to the Eurosceptics within the Conservative Party. It prevents Mr Cameron having to fight a battle with them over this issue before the debate has even begun. Mr Cameron is already giving away his bullets in pretty much the same way that he did in the Scottish Referendum. And he’s doing it in order to keep the peace for a little while longer in the Conservative Party.
He is clearly putting his and his party’s interest before those of the nation.