Labour’s decision to support an EU membership referendum leaves English voters who oppose holding an in-out vote virtually voiceless in parliament.
It is true that we are certain to have a referendum but to offer support at this stage is to acquiesce to the outcome whatever it may be. There is an argument that if it is to be done it is best done quickly.
There seems to be an almost arrogant assumption on the part of David Cameron and Harriet Harman that some sort of deal will be sorted out and the popular vote will be to stay in Europe. That is a very high-risk strategy.
Harman makes much of Labour’s intention to campaign for a vote to remain in the EU, saying:
The Labour Party doesn’t want to see the UK stumble inadvertently towards EU exit. We will make the case for our continued membership.
The notion that Britain’s future and prosperity and security lies shutting itself off from this market and a world that is increasingly interdependent makes no sense.
And in an age of powerful trade blocs, with the growing economies or Asia and Africa, we have more power by being in the EU than we could ever hope to have by acting alone.
That is the argument we will make in this referendum, as the British people make their decision.
Her party could do that at least as effectively if it had unsuccessfully campaigned against the referendum. We have yet to see the bill which will be put before parliament but there is silence from Labour on ways in which it might seek to amend legislation.
The SNP is clear on this. It does not want the referendum but if it takes place it wants votes for 17-year-olds and that all four constituent nations of the UK would have to support a decision to leave.
The Conservatives will win on these points but it will leave in the air the question of whether a vote for Brexit would also be a vote to dissolve the UK. The SNP is already into the tactics of opposition while Labour remains in its slough of despond