David Cameron’s Myopic and Destructive Vision

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By Mark McNaught

The UK Tories have become even more deeply infected by the Europhobe disease.  Symptoms include proposing mean-spirited anti-immigrant legislation that does not get passed, which merely appeases UKIP supporters for about 5 minutes.

David Cameron announced in a March 25 speech that he would seek to deny the jobseekers allowance to EU nationals deemed insufficiently vigorous in looking for work.  This is part of the broader conservative assault on the illusory ‘something for nothing’ culture.

Like many of his other proposals on Europe, this one has not been adequately thought through.  In the speech he gave on the EU in-out referendum, Cameron did not countenance that it will be virtually impossible to renegotiate a ‘better deal’ for Britain, thus ushering the UK ever closer to the Brixit.

In the March 25 speech, it is the future of UK nationals who live throughout Europe which was overlooked.  If the government starts singling out EU nationals living in the UK for deprivation of benefits, will other EU countries start depriving UK citizens of their benefits they are lawfully entitled to under EU treaties?  If the UK does ultimately pull out of the EU, what will be the status of its citizens residing in the EU?  What rights will they lose?  This would serve as a terrible precedent, and could further destabilize an already unstable EU.

It is difficult to see how this myopic, short-term, and destructive opportunism exercised by the government towards the EU will ever dissipate, even if Labour wins the 2015 election.  As long as euroskeptics continue to constitute roughly half of the UK population, all parties will have to pander to them in one way or another.  Labour has refused to rule out a referendum, so what will happen if they come to power in 2015? Even if one is not held in a next Labour government, the Tories and a stronger UKIP would undoubtedly campaign on a Brixit in 2020.

This uncertainty is further compounded by xenophobic propositions as made by Cameron, and should remind Scots how negligible their influence is over UK policy.  Under the status quo, Scottish relations with the EU is part and parcel with that of the UK.  The policies instituted by the UK government, no matter how unpopular or stridently jingoistic, are also those for Scotland.  Far from being a union of equals that the 1707 Act of Union was supposed to affirm, Scots are powerless to enunciate more humane policies and chart their own political destiny.

Even beyond policy, the UK government no longer reflects Scottish values, especially in the area of social welfare.  Scottish society, along with vast swaths of the rest of the UK, has been dealing with structural long-term unemployment for decades. 

While Labour leaders have also embraced the makers versus takers, strivers versus skivers mentality, people with any understanding know that benefits are not a free gift, but literally a lifeline.  How can the government demand that people get jobs when there are so few prospects, and that it was largely Tory policy that wiped out so many jobs in areas other than the south east of England?

This is perhaps the most compelling argument for independence, that the people who govern Scotland be chosen by Scots and reflect their values.  How much longer will Scots tolerate a government that seeks to make a pariah class out of so many of its citizens, instead of empathizing and making efforts to create more opportunities for all?  How much longer will Scots tolerate an opposition party whose national leaders feel they must buy into this cruel ideology to regain power, jettisoning their proud history of helping families achieve upward mobility.

Upon independence, Scotland will be fully governed by people of their choosing, rather than looking helplessly on in embarrassment while their Prime Minister acts like a bull in a china shop.  

Mark McNaught is a member of the Constitutional Commission and an Associate Professor of US Civilisation at the University of Rennes 2 France. He also teaches US constitutional law at Sciences-Po Paris.