David Cameron holds a press conference at the end of the two-day European Council summit at the EU headquarters in Brussels on 21 March 2014. Photograph: Getty Images.
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PMQs review: Cameron should be wary of playing to the eurosceptic gallery

The PM's blast against Jean-Claude Juncker delighted his MPs - but he'll let them down in the end.

Today's PMQs was one of those statesmanlike occasions that could be summarised as "Does the prime minister agree with me that the world is a dangerous place?" Ed Miliband devoted all six of his questions to the crisis in Iraq, with no hint of disagreement with Cameron. The PM used the session to announce that humanitarian aid to the country would be increased from £3m to £5m and hit back at the isolationists in his party and others by insisting that Britain would be "playing its role". While declaring that "it would be a mistake to believe that the only answer to these problems is the hard attack of direct intervention", he added: "I'd also disagree with those people who think this is nothing to do with us and if they want to have some sort of extreme Islamist regime in the middle of Iraq, that won't affect us. It will."

In response to Miliband's question on Iran, in which he supported the reopening of the British embassy but warned that the country "does not support a vision for a democratic and inclusive state in Iraq", Cameron replied that the rapprochement with Iran should be done on "a step-by-step basis" and "with a very clear eye and a very hard head" due to the "appalling things" that happened to the British embassy in 2011.

It was an appropriately serious-minded and sober exchange, later unwisely attacked by the Tory Treasury Twitter account, which tweeted: "Another week with no question from Ed Miliband on the economy. No credibility and no #longtermeconomicplan"

The most politically notable moment of the session, aside from Peter Tapsell's quixotic call for parliament to impeach Tony Blair for war crimes, came when Cameron was asked about Jean-Claude Juncker's bid to become EU commission president. After Labour's Ben Bradshaw mockingly asked how his campaign to stop Juncker was going, Cameron seized the opportunity to deliver a eurosceptic blast against the arch-federalist. He declared:

I don't mind how many people on the European Council disagree with me: I will fight this right to the very end. And what I would say to my colleagues on the European Council, many of whom have expressed interesting views about both this principle and this person, if you want reform in Europe you've got to stand up for it. If you want a change in Europe, you've got to vote for it. That is the message I will take and that is the right message for this country.

The Tory backbenches lapped it up, crying "more, more!", but Cameron should be wary of playing to the eurosceptic gallery. If he fails in his bid to block Juncker's candidacy, a significant number of them will view that as a good reason to leave the EU altogether, but he will not. The gap between Cameron, who ultimately believes that EU membership is a positive good for Britain, and the anti-EU fanatics on the Tory benches remains as wide as ever. He should not fall into the trap of trying to appease the unappeasable.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Winning Scottish independence will be even harder than before - but it may be the only choice

Independence campaigners will have to find answers on borders, currency and more. 

The Brexit mutiny has taken not just the UK economy and its relationship with Europe into uncharted waters. it has also imperilled the union between Scotland and England. From Sir John Major to the First Minister, both Unionists and Nationalists had warned of it. The outcome, though, has made this certain. The Leave vote in England and Wales contrasted with an overwhelming Remain vote north of the border.

That every region in Scotland voted to stay In was quite remarkable. Historically, fishing and industrial communities have blamed the European Union for their woes. That antagonism was probably reflected in lower turnout - an abstention rather than a rejection. 

The talk now is of a second referendum on independence. This is understandable given the current mood. Opinion polls in the Sunday Times and Sunday Post showed a Yes vote now at 52 per cent and 59 per cent respectively. Moreover, anecdotal evidence suggests even arch No vote campaigners, from JK Rowling to the Daily Record, are considering the option.

The First Minister was therefore correct to say that a second referendum is now “back on the table”. Her core supporters expects no less. However, as with the economy and Europe, the constitutional relationship between Scotland and England is now in uncharted seas. Potential support for independence may be higher, but the challenges are arguably bigger than before. The difficulties are practical, political and geographic.

Of course the Little Englanders likely to take the helm may choose a velvet divorce. However, given their desire for the return of the Glories of Britannia that’s improbable. They’re as likely to wish to see Caledonia depart, as cede Gibraltar to Spain, even though that territory voted even more overwhelmingly In.

Ticking the legal boxes

Practically, there’s the obstacle of obtaining a legal and binding referendum. The past vote was based on the Edinburgh Agreement and legislation in Westminster and Holyrood. The First Minister has indicated the democratic arguments of the rights of the Scots. However, that’s unlikely to hold much sway. A right-wing centralist Spanish government has been willing to face down demands for autonomy in Catalonia. Would the newly-emboldened Great Britain be any different?

There are no doubt ways in which democratic public support can be sought. The Scottish Government may win backing in Holyrood from the Greens. However, consent for such action would need to be obtained from the Presiding Officer and the Lord Advocate, both of whom have a key role in legislation. These office holders have changed since the first referendum, where they were both more sympathetic and the legal basis clearer. 

Getting the EU on side

The political hurdles are, also, greater this time than before. Previously the arguments were over how and when Scotland could join the EU, although all accepted ultimately she could remain or become a member. This time the demand is that Scotland should remain and the rest of the UK can depart. But will that be possible? The political earthquake that erupted south of the Border has set tectonic plates shifting, not just in the British isles but across the European continent. The fear that a Brexit would empower dark forces in the EU may come to pass. Will the EU that the UK is about to leave be there for an independent Scotland to join? We cannot know, whatever European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker may be saying at the moment. The First Minister is right to start engaging with Europe directly. But events such as elections in France and the Netherlands are outwith her control. 

Moreover, currency was the Achilles heel in the last referendum, and hasn’t yet been addressed. George Osborne was adamant in his rejection of a currency union. The options this time round, whether a separate Scottish currency or joining the euro, have yet to be properly explored. A worsened financial situation in the 27 remaining EU members hampers the latter and the former remains politically problematic. 

The problem of borders

Geography is also an obstacle  that will be even harder to address now than before. Scotland can change its constitution, but it cannot alter its location on a shared island. In 2014, the independence argument was simply about changing the political union. Other unions, whether monarchy or social, would remain untouched. The island would remain seamless, without border posts. An independent Scotland, whether in or out of the EU, would almost certainly have to face these issues. That is a significant change from before, and the effect on public opinion unknown.

The risk that's worth it

Ultimately, the bar for a Yes vote may be higher, but the Scots may still be prepared to jump it. As with Ireland in 1920, facing any risk may be better than remaining in the British realm. Boris Johnson as Prime Minister would certainly encourage that. 

David Cameron's lack of sensitivity after the independence referendum fuelled the Scottish National Party surge. But perhaps this time, the new Government will be magnanimous towards Scotland and move to federalism. The Nordic Union offers an example to be explored. Left-wing commentators have called for a progressive alliance to remove the Tories and offer a multi-option referendum on Scotland’s constitution. But that is dependent on SNP and Labour being prepared to work together, and win the debate in England and Wales.

So, Indy Ref The Sequel is on the table. It won’t be the same as the first, and it will be more challenging. But, if there is no plausible alternative, Scots may consider it the only option.

Kenny MacAskill served as a Scottish National MSP between 2007 and 2016, and as Cabinet Secretary for Justice between 2007 and 2014.