Britain and Europe: Past. Present. Future?

On the 18th of July, the Constitution Society and the European Parliament Office held a panel discussion entitled ‘Britain and Europe: Past. Present. Future?’ with four high-profile speakers: Mary Honeyball MEP, Bill Cash  MP, Dr Andrew Blick and Sarah Ludord MEP. The event looked both at the history of Britain’s relationship with the EU and also the future of our constitutional ties to that union. 

James Hallwood, Associate Director of The Constitution Society, opened the event by explaining that ConSoc is an independent, non-party educational foundation that works to promote informed debate about constitutional reform.  He  went on to explain that the night’s event was part of Young People and the Constitution (YPC). This is an initiative from The Constitution Society that aims to educate the politicians, civil servants and lawmakers of the future in the workings of the British constitution. 

Dr Andrew Blick, lecturer in Politics and Contemporary History at King’s College London, began the discussion, looking at Britain’s historical relationship with the EU. An island state with a long tradition of independence from the mainland, Britain unlike Europe, has a tradition of Common rather than Roman law, and as such parliamentary sovereignty can be hard to reconcile with EU legislation. Dr Blick notes however that the British constitution has seen a degree of ‘Europisation’, in particular holding more referendums as a means of decision making (a decidedly more European tradition). Suggesting that such Europisation may be symptomatic of a lack of confidence in parliamentary sovereignty, Dr Blick concluded by suggesting that parliamentary sovereignty is not, in fact, taken seriously in Britain – not even by Eurosceptics.  Read more ›

Young People and the Constitution – EU event on iPlayer

The latest event in the Young People and the Constitution series was a panel discussion on the topic of the EU and its relationship with the British constitution – held on Thursday 18th July. With the title Britain and Europe: Past. Present. Future? the event looked at the history of Britain’s relationship with the EU and also the future of our constitutional ties to the organisation. 

Chaired by our Associate Director, James Hallwood, with a panel of differing opinions but equally high expertise on the matter, the seminar addressed an audience of young people as well as diplomatic staff and journalists. The session was filmed by the BBC and first broadcast on Saturday 20th July. 

Dr Andrew Blick, Mary Honeyball MEP, Bill Cash MP, and Sarah Ludford MEP completed the panel – each offering 10 minute contributions on their thoughts of Britain’s history and future with the European Union. We are indebted to the European Parliament Information Office for hosting this event. 

The discussion avoided polemic and broad brushstrokes in favour of reasoned argument and a sound knowledge of the constitutional history of this complex relationship. 

An abridged film of the event can be found on iPlayer here

22nd July 2013

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Despite the speech a referendum on EU membership seems unlikely

Cameron’s much-delayed and anticipated speech on Britain’s relationship with the rest of the European Union called for a substantial renegotiation of the terms of our membership as well as a repatriation of powers. The renegotiated settlement would then be put to a referendum with the public deciding whether to back his deal or leave the EU completely. 

Many column inches have been devoted to looking at what the terms of renegotiation would be, the likelihood of success, and the internal politics of an increasingly eurosceptic Conservative Party that some claim has led to this move. But while pro and anti European camps prepare to make their cases, the simple fact is that this referendum is unlikely to happen.

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25th January 2013

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Scottish Independence: asking the wrong question?

Following last month’s agreement between David Cameron and Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond,  the Scottish Government has now rubber-stamped the SNP’s proposed question for the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence: ‘Do you agree that Scotland should be an independent country?

The proposed question has yet to be approved by the Electoral Commission. The  Commission’s role in determining the intelligibility of proposed referendum questions is, strictly, merely consultative. However it would be at best embarrassing for the SNP to ignore the Commission’s recommendation. 

 Dr Matt Qvortrup, a member of The Constitution Society’s Working party on Scottish Independence and a leading authority on referendums, said last week that in his view the Electoral Commission are unlikely to endorse the proposed question on the grounds that the word ‘agree’ biaised the question towards an affirmative answer.

 Earlier this year a group of academics including Dr Qvortrup proposed an alternative, neutral, phrasing of the question which is broadly supported by the opposition parties: ‘Scotland should become an independent state: I agree/I do not agree

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Would the Conservatives benefit from Scottish independence?

By Michael Everett, Researcher, The Constitution Society

A few weeks ago David Cameron attempted to seize the initiative over the question of Scottish independence by suggesting that the SNP should hold a referendum on this question sooner rather than later. Several reasons have been offered for Cameron’s actions, including the argument that the political and economic uncertainty surrounding Scotland’s place in the Union is bad for business and foreign investment.[1] Perhaps the most intriguing rumour doing the rounds at Westminster, however, is that several senior Tories, including George Osborne, favour an early referendum because they believe it offers the Conservatives a ‘win-win’ situation.

Behind this argument lies a belief that an early referendum is likely to favour the unionists. Polls suggest that support for independence in Scotland is currently low.[2] A referendum held in the near future would therefore probably result in a ‘no’ to Scottish independence. Read more ›

Now We’re Talking: About The Scottish Referendum

By Aidan O'Neill QC

In an article originally posted on the UK Supreme Court Blog this month, Aidan O’Neill QC discussed the legal issues surrounding a referendum on Scottish Independence:

In a post on the UKSC blog in November of last year I suggested that it would be worthwhile talking about the proposed referendum on Scottish independence which Scotland’s First Minister has pledged to hold sometime in the lifetime of the current Scottish Parliament, most recently suggesting that it may be held in Autumn 2014.

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Independence boost for Alex Salmond as new poll shows rise in support

Independence boost for Alex Salmond as new poll shows rise in support

Support for independence has increased but still falls short of a majority, according to a poll today. The Ipsos MORI survey suggests 38% of people would vote to take Scotland out of the UK, up three points from a poll in August. Voters appear to want an early say in the future of the constitution, rather than stick to First Minister Alex Salmond’s preferred timetable.

The SNP leader has said the referendum is likely to take place towards the end of this five-year parliamentary session, meaning it could be held in or after 2014. But 33% of people in the survey want it held as soon as possible, while a further 31% want it within the next two years.

Read it at the Daily Record ›

21st November 2011

A summary of this week’s constitutional affairs: bringing together debates and questions in Parliament, Select Committee activity and online comment.

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ARCHIVE: Government hits referendum target

[First Published on Thursday 17th February 2011]

The following post was first published on ConSoc’s previous site. It is recorded here as a window onto issues as they were at the time. For more up to date news on the Constitution and Constitutional reform, make sure to follow the ConSoc blog.

A binding referendum will be held on May 5th to decide whether to change the voting system to the Alternative Vote.

The Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill received royal assent last night, in time for the programmed referendum date.

While the Lords voted twice to require a minimum 40% turnout in order for the referendum result to be binding, the amendment was overturned by a Commons majority of 68.

Also removed from the final Bill was Lord Pannick’s amendment increasing the amount by which constituencies will be permitted to vary from the national quota.

The most significant government concessions are the special consideration given to the Isle of Wight and the provision for public hearings on boundary review proposals, both of which made it onto the statute book.

The asymmetrical nature of the Bill means that the provisions relating to the reduction in the number of MPs and the redrawing of constituency boundaries will take effect in 2015 regardless of the result of the referendum on AV.  A ‘yes’ vote in the referendum, however, will only lead to a change in the voting system once boundary changes have been implemented.

ARCHIVE: The Politics of Electoral Reform

[First Published on Friday 30th July 2010]

The following post was first published on ConSoc’s previous site. It is recorded here as a window onto issues as they were at the time. For more up to date news on the Constitution and Constitutional reform, make sure to follow the ConSoc blog.

On 22nd July 2010 a bill was introduced in Parliament providing for a referendum on the voting system used to elect MPs to the House of Commons and a reduction in the number of MPs, together with an equalisation of the sizes of constituencies.  The Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill provides for an asymmetrical linkage between these two sets of proposals:

  • Assuming the Bill is passed, the boundary changes take effect at the time of the next general election whatever the result of the referendum
  • Even if there is a ‘yes’ vote in the referendum, Alternative Voting will not be introduced unless the boundary changes have been made. Alternative Voting is explained in more detail here.

Is a referendum even necessary?

There is no constitutional precedent which suggests that a referendum is required to change the voting system for the House of Commons. In the first half of the 20th century there were two separate attempts (in 1917-18 and 1929-30) at legislation to introduce a form of AV. Both attempts ultimately failed, but neither the supporters nor the opponents of these measures believed that a referendum was required.

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