By a Newsnet reporter
Alistair Darling’s Better Together campaign is “in tatters” and has been “impaled by its own arguments” the SNP has claimed after UK Prime Minister David Cameron bowed to pressure from within his own party and promised a referendum on the UK’s EU membership.
In a speech yesterday the Prime Minister pledged that the Conservatives, if returned to government at the next UK general election, will offer the electorate the opportunity to take the UK out of Europe in a straight Yes/No referendum.
The pledge by one of the main partners in the anti-independence Better Together campaign undermines a key plank in the No campaign’s strategy after its head, Labour MP Alistair Darling, claimed Scotland’s EU membership was safe only if Scots remain in the UK.
Giving the John P Mackintosh memorial Lecture on 10 November last year, Mr Darling said:
“And that leads me onto my second key strand of the Better Together argument – and that is the influence we wield as part of the UK. Over the past few weeks the debate has focused on whether an independent Scotland would remain in the European Union.
“I’m in no doubt it is in Scotland’s interest to be in the European Union – just as it is in the interests of the whole of the UK to be a member…/ … We can and should have influence in its counsels…/ …Our relationship with the European Union is critical…/ … a relationship with the European Union is of critical importance to us…”
The Better Together website states: “Scotland enjoys membership of the EU because of our membership of the UK and if we no longer are members of the UK then it follows that we are no longer are part of the EU… “
Mr Cameron’s decision to wait until after the next UK general election before holding the EU ballot has also led to claims that he is introducing the same ‘uncertainty’ that Unionists have long argued the independence referendum timetable is causing.
Yesterday at Prime Minister’s Questions, SNP MP Mike Weir pressed Mr Cameron to explain the apparent contradiction:
“Why is it the prime minister thinks Scotland’s two year referendum process is too long but he thinks his five year Euro marathon is just fine?”
An unconvincing David Cameron replied:
“There is a very easy answer, the Scottish Nationalists in my view misguidedly want to leave the United Kingdom as it is. I will be arguing, and I think across the House will be arguing, Scotland should stay in the United Kingdom. What I want is to see in Europe, is a changed Europe – and then we ask the people.”
Angus Robertson, the SNP’s Westminster Leader, said:
“After months of scaremongering about Scotland’s relationship with the EU, the anti-independence campaign has now been impaled by its own arguments.
“Alistair Darling – rightly – has stressed the importance of being a part of the single market, but today’s speech from David Cameron is final proof that it is in fact the anti-independence campaign and a No vote which would put this under threat.
“By allying himself with a right-wing Eurosceptic party in the anti-independence campaign, Mr Darling wants to take Scotland down a path which will lead to it becoming isolated in the UK, when what we need is a strong voice in Europe with independence.
“Only a Yes vote in 2014 can secure Scotland’s successful future as an independent country and a guaranteed member of the EU.”
Speaking after David Cameron’s statement of intent on Europe today, SNP MEP Alyn Smith claimed it had reinforced the case for Scottish Independence. He said:
“This wasn’t a speech made to defend Scotland’s or the UK’s position in Europe. It was aimed purely at appeasing the fantasyland Europhobes who now make up a depressingly large and growing part of the Conservative Party.
“In reality, the Prime Minister is offering a choice which he can never deliver, as the other members of the EU won’t wear it. If you join a club, you can’t then single-handedly rewrite the rule book and expect everyone else to accept it. In that sense, Emperor Cameron has no clothes.
“Of course the EU needs reform – I would be the first to admit that. But by making these shrill, unconvincing and utterly vacuous threats, the Prime Minister is seeking to throw the baby out with the bathwater and will create years of uncertainty as a result.
“The critical thing here is that David Cameron and the Tories cannot and do not speak for Scotland or for Scotland’s interests. As part of the UK, we don’t do as well as we should in Europe and we are incapable of making a full contribution.
“Never has it been clearer that Scotland needs independence. Our interests lie firmly at the heart of Europe, and it becoming more obvious by the day that it is the Tories who are the true separatists.
“There is now only one way for Scotland to guarantee its future as a valued member of the European Union – by voting yes in next year’s referendum on independence.”
The PM’s speech came on the same day that the Office of EC Commissioner Jose Manuel Barroso responded to a request from Scottish Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon for talks on EU membership.
Despite declining the request for talks, the Commission confirmed that it had not and would not comment on a specific situation on any member state.
The letter made it clear that it would only discuss a “precise scenario” upon a request from a member state. Currently, as the member state, only the UK government can request such specific clarification from the European Commission.
However, with Westminster already signalling it has no plans to seek clarification, further discussions appear unlikely at this point.