Alex Massie

Do English Tories care more about the EU than the UK?

Do English Tories care more about the EU than the UK?
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This morning Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist party, outlined the extent to which she agrees with Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the Scottish National Party. Both wish Scotland, and indeed the United Kingdom, to remain a member of the European Union.

It is true, as Ms Davidson noted, that the SNP oppose even holding a referendum on the terms of British membership but it is also the case that, at least notionally, each wish, or are on record as desiring, a broadly comparable set of EU-wide reforms.

Now, as Mark Wallace rightly observes, Davidson's case for continued EU membership is a purely practical one. The emotional and historical arguments for maintaining the integrity of the British union do not apply to continuing membership of the EU. It is, like another part of the pro-UK argument,  case built on rational self-interest.

I dare say many people, especially within the Conservative party, will disagree with it.

And part of Davidson's argument certainly rests on the sure knowledge that, though roughly one in three Scots tell pollsters they back an Out vote, the majority of Scottish voters, at least for now, are firmly within the In camp.

Moreover, if Scotland voted to stay in but the rest of the UK voted to leave, it is undoubtedly the case that the SNP would consider this grounds for calling another independence referendum. Immediately. One many people think they might, if it were held in those circumstances, win. I don't believe the Scottish Tory leader wishes to see this put to the test.

(Granted, there are imponderables here: if England, or rather the rump UK, were Out, how would that effect Scotland? Voters' calculations might shift too. Still, the uncertainty would be real and not necessarily to Unionism's benefit.)

Now I also know that many people in Westminster and, indeed, all across England, are bored with people like me banging on about Scotland and the Union all the time. The London political class was almost criminally negligent last year and shows every sign of forgetting about these matters all over again. I understand that; I understand there are plenty of other things to concern Westminster.

Nevertheless, one would like to think that the future integrity of the United Kingdom ought to be one of those things. Much of the time, however and quite plainly, it is not. The SNP thinks about these things every day; the UK government appears to do so twice a year.

So this is the question for English Tories: what's the more important issue? The UK or the EU?

That is, if the cost of leaving the EU was paid in the break-up of the UK would you think that a price worth paying?

Of course this is a hypothetical question. The EU referendum is kinda imminent and Britain may very well - indeed probably will - vote to remain In. And even if it did not, a second Scottish referendum might not happen and might not be won by the nationalists even if it did.

But, you know, still...

The question remains: which do you care about most? The EU or the UK? And how much are you willing to risk (or put up with) one to help preserve the other? Does considering the future of the UK impact your thinking on the EU question at all? It's a question of priorities and sympathies and one whose answer, in the end, reveals something telling about those asked it.

I think I know the answer to this; I rather wish it were a different answer.


The Spectator is hosting an evening discussion ‘Is the EU bad for business?’ at 7pm on Tuesday 20 October at The Royal College of Surgeons, WC2. Speakers include: Dominic Cummings, director of the ‘No’ campaign and Will Straw, executive director of the ‘Yes to Europe’ campaign and is chaired by Andrew Neil. For tickets and further information, click here.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.