Seems that the Coalition Government is moving remorselessly to its 'date with destiny' confrontation about the future of the UK's relationship with the EU. I would much prefer if we could avoid it, but cannot see how this defining debate can be put off for much longer. Later this month, the Prime Minister will deliver a much vaunted speech on the issue. Rather him than me. How does it work when a significant chunk of his own party want a change in the relationship, tantamount to withdrawal, while his Coalition partners will not tolerate such a position. We are about to find out. There are Conservative MPs at every point on the spectrum. I very much hope not, but things could become a bit turbulent.
Very difficult to establish with certainty what my own position is on this. But I feel a need to use my blog to indulge in some thinking aloud. So here goes with a 'first step'. In 1975, when Harold Wilson's Gov't held a referendum, I was fiercely opposed to remaining a member of the European Economic Community that Edward Heath's Gov't had taken us into the year before. I was a teenage firebrand who thought this creature would develop into all-powerful bureaucracy that would devour democracy and expand until it collapsed under its own weight. Allowing for the hyperbole of youth, I'm not sure I was that far wrong - except that we don't see much sign of the 'collapse' bit yet.
During the 80s and early 90s I spent a fair bit of time on EU matters, promoting regional development and as part of Wales' bid for regional aid. When trying to secure best deals for Wales, it was easy to become too involved in the system to ask fundamental questions about the UK/EU relationship. But two things struck me which I remember well. Firstly, the massive building programmes and glass palaces in Brussels creating office space for the new European bureaucracy, and the impotence of MEPs. All they ever did was secure access to the officials who were the real decision makers.
My next brush with EU integration was the creation of the Euro - which I was totally opposed to. It always looked like a completely mad project to me. I could never see how a group of states could share the same currency without becoming a single political entity. Always thought those who wanted the UK to adopt the Euro, also wanted to end the UK as an independent political entity in any meaningful sense. I still think this outcome is inevitable. The Euro countries will become, in effect, one state, with the richer countries subsidising the poorer countries via a sort of Barnett Formula. Its this inevitable integrationist change that's driving us to confront the UK/EU relationship today.
It has to change. It cannot go on as it is. There must be a renegotiation - and meaningful. And it seems that there will have to be a referendum to agree the change. Many will want the alternative to approval of the newly agreed relationship to be complete withdrawal. If the PM has negotiated a new relationship he finds acceptable, I cannot see the point of the status quo being considered any further. Too soon to say which option I'd vote for at this stage. But like others, I do not rule out voting for withdrawal, but we would need to be sure that the economic and political disbenefit were not too high. The withdrawn UK would become a different type of country, perhaps no longer dining at the top table. A century ago, Gt Britain was the dominant power on earth, days which are long gone. Over the next few years we are going to have to make some big decisions about where we want to sit, and how big a role we want to play in the future.