David Cameron’s biographer Sir Anthony Seldon aptly described him as an “essay crisis” Prime Minister. Like a student doing last minute cramming ahead of an assessment, it’s always an almighty gamble; sometimes the risk pays off and you pass with flying colours, sometimes it does not. However, David Cameron failed his EU exam as the United Kingdom voted 52%-48% to exit the European Union. The luck of the essay crisis PM has come to an end.
The decision to leave the EU will not only be regarded as one of the great British historical epochs but will have profound global political and economic ramifications. The future of the EU is at stake, as well as the future of the UK. Demands for similar referenda on the EU will be pushed by anti-establishment and Eurosceptic forces throughout the continent. But closer to home, what are the immediate political consequences for the UK and Scotland?
Brexit: A Defining Moment for UK Politics
Even prior to promising a referendum on the EU, David Cameron had to try and accommodate anti-EU elements within his party. His victory in the Conservative leadership contest in 2005 was, in part, due to his promise to withdraw from the European People’s Party. Five years later, he pledged a “referendum lock” on a further transfer of powers to Brussels. At the 2015 General Election, Cameron promised an EU referendum. However, just like his Tory predecessors John Major and Margaret Thatcher, Europe has proved to be his downfall.
In a dignified and emotional address this morning, the Prime Minister announced he would stand down by October: “I will do everything I can as Prime Minister to steady the ship over the coming weeks and months but I do not think it would be right for me to try to be the captain that steers our country to its next destination.” The contest for the new captain will begin in earnest, partially due to the internal mechanics of the party. Who can steady the Conservative ship and steer the UK through troubled economic and political waters? It’s likely to be a contest between Boris and a stop-Boris candidate.
Brexit and Scotland: From One Referendum To Another
As expected, Scotland voted overwhelmingly for Remain. The First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon stated that the “unequivocal” result showed that Scots regarded their future as being part of the EU: “Scotland has spoken and it has spoken decisively.” Echoing the language used in the 2016 SNP manifesto, the First Minister said that Scotland being removed from the EU against its democratically expressed wishes represented a “significant and material” change in the circumstances that prevailed in 2014. It was now “a statement of the obvious” that a second independence referendum was “now on the table and it is on the table.”
The Scottish Cabinet will meet tomorrow to discuss the next steps forward and Nicola Sturgeon will formally address MSPs on the implications of the EU referendum for Scotland on Tuesday. As stated by the First Minister, preparations will begin for legislation to enable a new referendum on Scottish independence if and when the Scottish Parliament so decides. With the presence of six pro-independence Scottish Greens at Holyrood, the Scottish Government possesses the necessary majority to pass any legislation.
All Changed, Changed Utterly
Over the next few years, the UK will be convulsed by constitutional wrangling as the country negotiates its exit from the EU and demands for another referendum for Scotland to leave the UK intensify. Ultimately, will the historical legacy of David Cameron be of a Prime Minister responsible for the destruction of two unions? We shall see.
We live in tumultuous political times: the UK has voted to end its 43-year membership of the EU; the Prime Minister has announced his resignation; and we may have General Election, as well as the prospect of a second Scottish independence referendum, in due course. Today Britain has changed, changed utterly.