Cameron panders to minor party as he promises legislation on EU referendum

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   By a Newsnet reporter

The SNP have accused Prime Minister David Cameron of pandering to a peripheral party after he promised to publish a draft bill on an in-out referendum on EU membership in an attempt to court UKIP voters and the Eurosceptic wing of the Conservatives.

The SNP made the accusation as a new opinion poll showed that UKIP has failed to make any impact in Scottish voting intentions, with only 2% of Scots saying they’d vote for UKIP compared to 23% in England and 6% in Wales.

The draft bill promised by the Prime Minister will see a referendum on UK membership of the EU before 2017.  The commitment means that Scots will vote in 2014’s independence referendum without any guarantees that a No vote will ensure that Scotland remains a part of the EU, a key claim of the anti-independence campaign.

The draft bill specifies that the referendum must be held before the end of 2017, and proposes the following question:  “Do you think that the UK should remain a member of the European Union?”

The draft bill is being published by the Conservatives in order to allow one of the party’s backbench MPs to bring it to the Commons for debate in the form of a private member’s bill, rather than government legislation.  The Conservatives’ coalition partners the Lib Dems would block any attempt by the UK Government to bring the bill forward as part of their legislative programme.

Speaking to the BBC, Foreign Secretary William Hague said that publishing the draft bill was a “demonstration of our commitment to a referendum”.

Two Conservative ministers, Education Secretary Michael Gove and Defence Secretary Philip Hammond, have said that they would vote to leave the EU if a referendum were to be held tomorrow.

MPs are due to vote tomorrow on an amendment to the Queen’s Speech bill which expresses “regret” that the government did not mention an EU referendum in the Queen’s speech.  The amendment was put forward by eurosceptic backbench Conservative MPs, who are growing increasingly restless as the party haemorrhages votes to UKIP.

However Mr Cameron’s announcement that a referendum bill was to be published has failed to satisfy the rebel MPs.  John Baron MP, who led the move to vote for an amendment condemning the government’s legislative programme, dismissed the last minute concession from the Prime Minister as “second best”.

Recent opinion polls, such as that published by the Guardian on Monday, show that UKIP is failing to make the same electoral impact in Scotland as it has in England.  UKIP is tipped to do well in England the European elections due to be held in May next year, just 4 months before the Scottish referendum.

The English electoral success of a party widely described as “unreconstructed Thatcherites” means that UKIP is making the political weather for the UK as a whole, ensuring that Scottish voters will see the imposition of UKIP inspired policies despite the party’s insignificant support in Scotland.

UKIP promises the effective abolition of the Scottish Parliament, replacing it with a “super-committee” made up of Scottish MPs.  The party also wants to abolish distinctively Scottish approaches to education and health policy, bringing the Scottish education system and NHS Scotland under the direct control of UK government ministers.

Commenting, Westminster SNP leader Angus Robertson MP said:

“This is yet another example of the overwhelming democratic case for a Yes vote in next year’s referendum for an independent Scotland.

“It underlines the divergent politics in the UK – The Westminster parties are dictating policy on the basis of right wing opinions that barely resonate in Scotland.

“With support for UKIP in Scotland barely touching 2%, less than a 10th of its support in England, it is evident just how far the politics of Westminster has diverged from Scotland. Instead of policies that suit Scotland’s needs we are at risk of politics being dictated by Tory voices who want to cut us out of Europe and the single market of half-a-billion people.

“The decisions of the Westminster system are seeing us moving further and further away from the economic and social interests of the people of Scotland.

“The No campaign’s impossible position is that decisions about immigration, welfare and European policy in Scotland should all be taken in Westminster by these same Tories – who are being dragged to the right by their fear of UKIP, and doing so much damage to Scotland’s interests.

“It is only a Yes vote on September 18th, 2014, that will ensure the people of Scotland can decide on these issues for ourselves, with a government that we vote for.”