Threatening to leave EU will weaken negotiation
It comes as no surprise that the EU did not strike a deal at the November budget summit. With several countries, including the UK, seeking a cut, several wanting a real terms freeze and others wanting an increase, there was never going to be an agreement at the first attempt.
The UK is on strong ground arguing that at a time of austerity when every country is having to cut back public spending, the EU budget should be reined in. That is why Nick Clegg and David Cameron were hitting the phones to explain the British case – in Nick’s case usually fluently in the language of the person he was talking to.
I do not believe that Mr Cameron’s rhetoric at home counted for much and indeed the UK should not overplay its hand over threats of the veto or an in-out referendum. We have already used the veto over the financial reform proposals.
If the UK is perceived to be on its way out or into the semi detached lane then other members will simply not take us seriously.
It was therefore no surprise to me that Boris Johnson’s conversion to a less stridently anti-EU stance – even on a referendum - came when he was visiting India. I know from my own meetings in India and indeed in Japan and elsewhere that their interest in trading with or investing in the UK depends on our membership and they become very anxious at any perceived threat that we are likely to leave.
The Tories are obsessed with the loss of their vote to UKIP but Nigel Farage has amply demonstrated that his ego will drive him to ever more extravagant positions.
The idea that there is some nirvana over the horizon just waiting for the UK to cut loose from the European Union and lead some mythical freedom zone is a fantasy. More practically, if we think that getting what we want out of our EU partners is difficult, we underplay our negotiating skills and delude ourselves that the Indians, let alone the Chinese, Brazilians or Russians or Americans, will offer us more favourable terms of trade.
Canadian Bank appointment is welcome
The appointment of Mark Carney, currently Governor of the Bank of Canada, to be the new Governor of the Bank of England, seems to have taken most commentators by surprise. Maybe I haven’t been following events closely enough but I always thought he was a possibility.
It is well known that his performance in Canada has helped keep Canada out of the worst effects of the global financial crisis. Unlike the UK where Ed Balls famous light-touch banking regulation and profligate management of the public finances, have plunged us into a debt nightmare, Canada has kept close to financial prudence – suffering only the indirect effects of the downturn among its trading partners, in which it is considerably less dependent than the UK.
Whether these qualities will be enough to enable Mr Carney to steer Britain out of its morass remains to be seen. It is the first time a foreigner has been appointed to this prestigious post. Some may see this as a sign of desperation but I believe most will acknowledge that it is a sign of the UK’s importance as a financial centre and our openness to talent and ideas. In any case, Mr Carney has a British born wife he met when they were both at Oxford and he will become a British citizen in short order. This is a good choice and I wish him well.
Catalonia and Scotland do not compare
Events in Catalonia will have reverberations in Scotland and vice-versa, no doubt. Parties supporting a referendum on Catalan independence from Spain have won a majority in recent elections.
However, the situation is more complicated and less clear-cut than here in Scotland. For a start, the largest party, the CiE, has only recently swung into support for outright independence and lost support. Two other pro independence parties gained ground. However, although they may agree on an independence referendum they agree on almost nothing else.
It is also not clear whether the politicians of Catalonia really want independence or just to use the threat of it to secure a better financial deal from the Spanish Government with whom they have run up a substantial deficit.
The Spanish Government has also declared any referendum illegal and indicated that they will block any move to independence by Catalonia.
This is in marked contrast to the UK Government which has negotiated constructively with the Scottish Government to transfer the power to hold a legally binding independence referendum.
Scotland should be glad that we have a Liberal Democrat Secretary of State who, therefore, has a deep understanding of the issues of Scottish self Government who comes from a party that has given the issue deep thought and high priority for decades.
Of course, both he and I will argue the case for Scotland to remain in the United Kingdom. I detect that is where the centre of gravity of the people of Scotland is settling.
It used to be thought that the nationalists would make a stronger emotional case but I sense a real emotional commitment to what we share with the rest of the United Kingdom. People can have a deep sense of pride in their Scottish nationhood alongside the equally strongly held shared values and experience of being British.
There is far, far more that we share than divides us and that, I believe, will tell in the end.