What a difference a year and two weeks makes. Downing Street once had very strong opinions about the terrible consequences of announcing a referendum but not holding it immediately.
A referendum should be held on Scottish independence “sooner rather than later” to avoid damaging the economy, Downing Street said today. Major companies were putting off making large investments or taking their money elsewhere because of the lack of clarity. The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said that the uncertainty caused by the unsure future of the union between England and Scotland “can have a detrimental impact on the economy”.
That contrasts strongly with David Cameron's announcement today that if the conservatives are re-elected, if they win a majority, if they manage to negotiate a new relationship with the EU, then they will have a referendum. At some point in the two and a half years that follow. In his words :
The next Conservative Manifesto in 2015 will ask for a mandate from the British people for a Conservative Government to negotiate a new settlement with our European partners in the next Parliament. It will be a relationship with the Single Market at its heart.
And when we have negotiated that new settlement, we will give the British people a referendum with a very simple in or out choice. To stay in the EU on these new terms; or come out altogether.
It will be an in-out referendum. Legislation will be drafted before the next election. And if a Conservative Government is elected we will introduce the enabling legislation immediately and pass it by the end of that year. And we will complete this negotiation and hold this referendum within the first half of the next parliament.
One rule for Scotland, another for the EU.