Economic circumstances clearly dictate that the budget of the European Union is cut in real terms given the reality of constraint in most member states. David Cameron wants to show he can throw his weight around and get results.
In fact, as he well knows, the UK has allies – not least in Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands - and this is precisely how the UK needs to operate within the EU to achieve change.
Indeed, the Prime Minister’s long awaited speech on Europe included a good analysis on how Europe needs to reform to ensure it is competitive with the rest of the world.
David Cameron himself clearly suggests that he wants the UK to stay within the UK yet he gives encouragement to those who want to leave.
Europe needs to trade with itself and compete in and with the rest of the world.
Nevertheless, the EU is more than a trading bloc. It is a political undertaking designed to prevent conflict and promote democracy. The fact that it has expanded from its 6 founder members to 27 today with more applying to join is testimony to its value even with its imperfections.
The UK will not get all it wants from the EU; nor will any other member state, but as an active member we have substantial influence. If we disengage we will probably achieve less but still be bound by the decisions - even if we were to take the radical decision to leave.
My instincts are that the majority of people know this and it is only a minority of euro sceptics who are obsessed.
The crisis over the importation of processed products containing horsemeat has sent a shudder through our society which is so dependent on supermarkets and processed food transported over larger distances. It has certainly given a boost to local butchers and farmers’ markets.
The tanker drivers strike a few years ago showed how vulnerable we are to any disruption in our food distribution.
Nearly all the food stored in the UK is in trucks on our motorways heading for just in time delivery. Serious disruption of this could leave is facing a severe food crisis.
The International Development Committee is currently carrying out an enquiry into global food security. Although the world produces enough food for today’s global population more than a billion people are hungry – many of them severely malnourished. We are trying to find out how we can end hunger and malnutrition in the short run and whether we can feed a potential 9 billion people in the longer term.
Two things emerge. The first is that smallholders have a crucial role to play in feeding the population, firstly their own families and then their own urban population. The second is that the inefficient and expensive methods of production in developed countries cannot be replicated to feed the whole world population on the same basis.
That doesn’t mean we must all go vegetarian, just that diverting so much of our cereal crops to feed animals cannot be sustained as food demand grows. Livestock are part of mixed and balanced agriculture but rearing needs to be sustainable.
There is also contention about land rights and land grabs for large scale agriculture.
This has to be addressed. In Europe in the 18th century enclosures led to an agrarian revolution that increased the quality and quantity of food production but it also created displacement and hardship and drove urbanisation.
So the issues are complicated and the unintended consequences of change could be far reaching. The evidence we collect will I hope be interesting and informative.
After the turmoil over medical and pharmacy provision for the Tarves, Pitmedden and Methlick communities I follow with interest the work of the team setting up the B999 Trust aiming to secure the future of a pharmacy in Pitmedden and a GP surgery in Tarves.
The idea is to base a pharmacy in the Pitmedden surgery and commit the proceeds to supporting surgery provision in Tarves. It is an innovative project which deserves to succeed so that we can secure the status quo of both Tarves and Pitmeddedn having adequate GP surgery and pharmacy provision.
This week the UK Government published a paper setting out the constitutional implications of the break up of the UK. It is a positive document setting out the benefits to both Scotland and the rest of the UK of being together.
It also sets out the complexities, uncertainties and difficulties which would arise from breaking up the UK – and sets out the legal case that would mean the UK continuing to be the member of all the institutions to which we currently belong and maintaining all the obligations and benefits of UK treaties with other countries, leaving Scotland to negotiate its future responsibilities.
It says; “The UK Parliament would remain sovereign in the continuing UK, but would have no jurisdiction in an independent Scottish state in the event of independence. So the UK’s key national institutions – for example, the Bank of England and the security and intelligence agencies – would operate on behalf of the remainder of the UK as before, but would have no power or obligation to act in or on behalf of an independent Scottish state.”
This is the first of a series of papers explaining the implications of independence and by inference setting out the case for retaining the United Kingdom. It cannot lightly be dismissed.
More to the point, such a momentous decision cannot be reduced to base party politics such as suggesting we should vote for independence to avoid the reform of the benefits system or to get rid of the coalition government. Short term disaffection is no basis for an irreversible historic change.
Scotland in or out of the UK faces an unsustainable deficit which requires a rebalancing of the economy.
We also face the same demography of an ageing population which requires pension reform. There is, of course, room to debate the priorities and offer alternative policies – but to suggest that an independent Scotland would have no need to pursue any of the austerity measures now in place is not credible.
We need a UK wide debate to solve the UK’s problems and get us back on the road to growth and prosperity. Scotland is and should be part of that.