Scotland wants to leave the UK and there will be referendum on membership of the EU. Britain must decide what kind of country it wants to beby Bill Emmott / May 21, 2015 / Leave a comment
Published in June 2015 issue of Prospect Magazine
Before the 2010 general election, David Cameron lamented what he called “broken Britain,” but quickly dropped the idea once he got into office. Now that he has won office again, such words promise to come back to haunt him. His legacy, when he stands down in 2020 if not before, could be to leave Britain truly broken.
It is universally accepted—for it could hardly be more obvious—that the triumphant and probably somewhat surprised Prime Minister faces two huge tasks: he has to craft a new constitutional settlement to satisfy not just the roaring lions of the Scottish National Party (SNP) but also the English, the Welsh and the Northern Irish; and he has to sort out Britain’s relationship with the European Union sufficiently to be able to campaign for the country to stay in the EU when he holds the referendum he has pledged.
Yet these are merely aspects of a larger task: to restore Britain’s confidence in itself, in its future and in the strategic choices it has made over the past half century about how best to protect the country and to project its influence around the world. That choice has been to do so through our ties both with the United States and the EU, through the use of our armed forces inside and outside Nato, through our support for international organisations, through our openness to all the forces of globalisation, and through the soft power of entities such as the BBC. All that now stands in doubt.
Or think of it another way. Anyone who has travelled through airports abroad, especially in Asia, may have seen posters from the “GREAT Britain” campaign, launched by Cameron in 2011, bragging about how we are culturally GREAT, creatively GREAT, entrepreneurially GREAT and all the rest. Cameron’s task is to prove that this advertising campaign has not just been phony or a big mistake. Whether he succeeds in this will depend essentially on how much he really cares about these issues, and on how much we do, too.
“The UK is at stake, and with it the country’s place in the world. Both have been withering in recent years”