The Scottish referendum is over and we can turn our attention to other political matters among which Britain's membership of the European Union is one of the most important ones.
In connection with that we have to note that, unexpectedly, UKIP now has two MPs (as well as three peers). The two are Douglas Carswell, MP for Clacton and Mark Reckless, MP for Rochester and Strood. Neither of those seats is exactly a UKIP victory as both MPs were incumbents as Conservatives and fought the by-elections under a different flag. Mr Carswell, majority in this by-election was even more handsome than it had been in previous elections when he had stood as a Tory, even allowing for that fall in electoral turn-out. Mr Reckless, on the other hand, reduced his majority quite considerably.
Or, in other words, we have no idea how this will play in next year's General Election. It is reasonable to assume that Clacton will stay UKIP but that is less likely for Rochester and Strood and to this day we have not had a single UKIP victory for the Commons, which matters considerably more than the European Parliament.
Still, they are there in the House and will stay there till next May at least. Will this make any difference? This is what nobody can predict. Two MPs cannot make too much difference in either voting or debating matters though it is fair to say that Messrs Carswell and Reckless will have some support among members of other parties, especially the Conservative one.
There is also the possibility that one or two other MPs might decide to defect to UKIP and call a by-election with unpredictable results. So far, nobody is moving in that direction and Mr Reckless's result is not encouraging to anyone who might be thinking in those terms.
The problem is that UKIP has become a little unpredictable as well. The party whose purpose was campaigning for British withdrawal from the European Union (and, incidentally, from the pernicious Common Fisheries Policy) now prefers not to refer to that subject. Instead they concentrate on subsidiary subjects like immigration and focus their campaign on demands for a speedy IN/OUT referendum.
There are two problems with that. One is that the result of that referendum is moot. In fact, going by opinion polls, one would have to say that the likelihood of an IN vote is very high. It would, therefore, be inadvisable from our point of view to have a referendum too early, before we have organized our troops and, above all, marshalled our arguments that would have to include explanations of how we would exit and what would we do in the country afterwards. How would we organize fisheries in this country once out of the CFP? There are many ideas around and we need to have some clear arguments.
Secondly, if it is a referendum one wants then a Conservative government is a better bet than a Labour one and if the Conservative lose too many seats to or because of UKIP then we shall have Ed Miliband as Prime Minister and he has already made it clear that he is not interested in calling a referendum.
The two UKIP MPs have not been back in the Commons for very long and have not, therefore, had a chance to speak about many matters, including fishing. We must assume that they oppose the CFP but we do not know what they think should be put in its place. In fact, we do not even know how they envisage Britain's exit (known in some circles as Brexit) and what they think should be done afterwards. What sort of agreements will have to be negotiated, for example? We must wait and see what they will say.
On the other hand we do not have to wait for another MP, one who has made it clear that he has not the slightest intention of leaving the Conservatives for UKIP and that is, former Cabinet Minister for the Environment, Owen Paterson.
Readers of this blog know Mr Paterson and his ideas as he was spokesman for fisheries before the 2010 election and is responsible for a detailed plan for the British fishing industry outside the EU and the CFP. (It seems not to be available any longer on the Conservative website so we shall have to find another link for it.) The policy was produced in 2005 and was accepted as such but was discarded when David Cameron became leaders. Its details may well be out of date slightly but it is a strong set of ideas that one can build on.
Mr Paterson has made a speech to a reasonably eurosceptic think-tank, Business for Britain and he called on the Prime Minister to invoke Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon that lays down the procedure for a member state to leave the European Union before any renegotiation. (As a matter of fact, this is considerably stronger and more outspoken than the usual mealy-mouthed pronouncements by Business for Britain and its various spokespersons.)
The prime minister's promise last year to hold a vote on Europe in 2017 if the Conservatives win the next election was seen as an attempt to halt the rise of UKIP, which senior Tories feared could prevent them from winning an overall majority at next May's general election.
But four days after UKIP defeated the Tories in the Rochester and Strood by-election, Mr Paterson suggested to Mr Cameron he had to be prepared to leave the EU if he wants negotiations on a new relationship with Brussels to succeed.
He urged him to give a manifesto commitment to invoking article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.
This would give formal notice of Britain's intention to quit the EU and would spark two years of negotiations ahead of a 2017 referendum.
Unlike calls for a referendum and chatter about immigration (important or otherwise) this goes to the heart of the problem: Britain's membership of the EU, the need to leave and to negotiate a different arrangement. So far there has not been a response from Downing Street, which indicates that Mr Cameron and his advisers take this development very seriously. At least, we hope that is what it indicates. Because this is, indeed, a serious development. A senior Conservative MP with a great deal of experience and with every intention of staying in the party and fighting the battle has stated the need for a real policy on the subject.
James Delingpole puts it all much more forcefully on Breitbart-London, adding for good measure that UKIP is keeping out of the spat because they do not have a real EU exit strategy. This from a man who has been seen for a while as little more than a spokesman for UKIP is quite a strong statement.