In a few years we may well look back and identify this week as when the United Kingdom started to collapse and when England began its departure from the European Union. This could be the moment when the lackadaisical Conservative prime minister forgot his party’s unionist history and became the “Little Englander” of caricature.
David Cameron failed completely to embrace the massive upswell of Scottish emotion over the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn when the heroic King Robert the Bruce of Scotland riding his small palfrey, totally outmanoeuvred the incompetent English King Edward II and won Scotland back its independence.
By refusing to mark the celebrations, Cameron has allowed the Scottish nationalists to claim Bannockburn for their cause of separating from the United Kingdom, and simply reinforced Scottish perceptions of him as narrowly English, rather than more inclusively British.
What may now happen is that the momentum will pass to the Scottish nationalists, who will work on their electorate, which they have deliberately expanded to include 16 and 17-year-olds whose more emotional decisions may be influenced by tartan dreams. The unionists have put up a second rate team of politicians who have failed to have the same impact as the showman Salmond and the September vote could well drift into supporting Scottish independence.
If Cameron appears to not care about anything north of Chipping Norton, he certainly does care about what is happening to the south and has deliberately picked a heated quarrel with his allies in the European Union. He has quarrelled with Germany and Italy, both of whose leaders support economic reform in the EU, and he has offended almost everyone else with the sole exception of the Hungarians. As a result he has made himself (and Britain) irrelevant in the debate over the future of the EU.
If one tries to find rationality in Cameron’s folly, it is that he is seeking to reinforce his party’s position for the next general election against a wildly successful protect vote for the anti-European Ukip. But to do this he promised a referendum on Britain’s staying in the EU if Jean Claude Juncker was appointed President of the European Commission, and so trapped himself into a very uncertain future.
He would have done better to welcome more democracy in the EU. Cameron has overlooked that the Lisbon Treaty was all about making the European institutions more accountable to the people, and insisted that the President of the Commission should come from the majority party in the European Parliament, rather than being appointed in smoke-filled rooms at 3am by the exhausted heads of state trying to reach yet another miserable compromise. True to form, Cameron has failed to grasp the point, and instead of standing up for more democracy and reform, he has ended up defending the deal-making he pretends to despise.
So what will happen if the Scots vote for independence, and England votes to leave the European Union?
First, Northern Ireland and Wales will probably quickly take their own votes and abandon England to its isolationist fate. They have seen the advantages of the European Union and have seen how their neighours have done well out of being fully engaged members of the Euro and European Union. Cameron will not be able to deny them a vote since he has already set the precedent with Scotland.
Second, if they can break away from the Union, maybe other parts of England far from Cameron’s beloved home counties will want to do the same. For example the North sees little benefit or understanding coming its way from London, and there is a new regional feeling in the south-west. Britain even has its first Earl of Wessex since William of Normandy won the Battle of Hastings in 1066.
Third, Cameron will have to face a lonely future as prime minister of the English rump, which will have no voice in European affairs and therefore be of no interest to Washington, which will disown its former Special Relationship, which for decades has only been of any use if the British were able to bring the rest of the European Union along with them into whatever American plot was afoot at the time.
Lastly, it is be hard to understand why the rest of the world should give England (without its United Kingdom) any right to a seat in the UN Security Council. So what is left of the United Kingdom may then lose that remnant of its global influence, which was due to its being one of the victors in the Second World War almost 70 years ago.
It is ironic that all this English hubris might come from a prime minister with a famous Scottish surname. Cameron is a distinguished Highland clan, whose chief, Cameron of Lochiel, was one of the first to recognise Bonnie Prince Charlie as his rightful king when he landed in Moidart in 1745 and started a previous attempt to reorder the United Kingdom by removing its German monarchy and replacing it with the native-born Stuart line.