There seems to be increasing confusion on the part of Unionists when it comes to an independent Scotland’s membership of the EU. Despite the interventions of the Spanish Prime Minister and now it seems the Belgian government, I am still no wiser as to what exactly it is that the No campaign are saying will happen if Scotland becomes independent. Things have perhaps moved on a little, in that it now seems to be accepted that no-one will actually veto Scotland’s membership. Even Spain, the shock troopers of the No campaign, has made it clear that it would not veto Scottish membership. Some progress at last!
So if there is to be no veto, then what is the problem? From what various Unionists have written it seems that there are two possible hurdles for Scotland to overcome. The first is that Scotland would have to go to the back of the queue in applying for membership. The other line of attack is that the negotiations will be very difficult and most importantly lengthy, and unlikely to be completed in time for actual independence in March 2016. How realistic are these assertions. For at the moment, assertions are all they are.
The first hurdle to overcome is the claim that Scotland would have to join the same queue as everyone else when it comes to EU accession. The clear implication from this is that there is no way that negotiations can even start before independence in March 2016. Thus at that moment Scotland is not longer part of the EU and any negotiations would be from the outside. Is this in any way a credible claim?
I would suggest not. For the simple reason that there will have to be negotiations between the EU and rest of the UK(rUK). These negotiations will have to take place during the period between the referendum and Scottish independence in March 2016. Why? Because the rUK needs EU agreement to its change in status. Now I have no doubt that this agreement will prove pretty simple and easy to achieve. The UK is the current member state and the rest of the EU want rUK to remain in the EU. So I do not foresee any difficulties in these negotiations. But, the point here is not the outcome of the negotiations, but simply that negotiations will have to take place. Now, I ask any passing Unionist to explain how the EU could agree to negotiate with rUK, but refuse to negotiate with Scotland? On what grounds would they provide for agreeing to one, but not the other. Are we to assume that countries such as Ireland, Denmark, Sweden, not to mention all the newly independent members would just accept such blatant double standards? What would such a decision say about the values of the EU? While in theory anything can happen, one usually has to produce some evidence to support that something is likely to happen. I can see none for this scenario.
The second line of attack for Unionist is to claim that the key will be the terms and conditions of an agreement. Under this scenario Scottish membership is welcomed, but the negotiations prove difficult and lengthy. So lengthy that they are unfinished by the date of Scottish independence in March 2016. Now this is clearly a real possibility. Not a likely one I would contend, but nevertheless a genuine possibility. No-one can tell in advance exactly how negotiations will go. So, does this meant that in this scenario come March 2016 Scotland is no longer in the EU?
Once again I think not. In this case we need to look at the consequences of such a decision. Not for Scotland, for it is obvious that this would be very bad for Scotland and its economy. However it would also be very bad for the rest of the EU. Just think about it for a moment. Scotland is no longer bound by any of the myriad of EU regulations. The Common Fisheries Policy no longer applies to Scotland. So Spanish and other fishing fleets would have to cease fishing in Scottish waters. What about all these EU students at Scottish universities, studying without having to pay any tuition fees. Suddenly they would be faced with quite substantial fees. What about the thousands of EU citizens from other countries working in Scotland. If Scotland is no longer part of the EU, they would cease to have a legal right to work and live here. Then there is the position of all those Scottish citizens who work in other EU countries. The vast majority will be highly skilled workers, fulfilling key roles in their companies or organizations. What becomes of their status. Perhaps though the biggest upheaval would come through having to change all the EU treaties and all the EU directives and regulations, to exclude Scotland from their application. What a nightmare for the EU. Presumably every member state would have to change their own laws and regulations to exclude Scotland.
A bit of mess to put it mildly. And all for what? After all let us remind ourselves, this is in the scenario when the EU wants and welcomes Scottish membership. Let us also remember that Scotland would be a net contributor to EU funds. No doubt not a huge amount of money, but in times of straightened budgets any net loss would be unwelcome in Brussels. Finally let us remember that the only difficulty is that the negotiations have not been concluded by March 2016. How much longer would be needed – six months, one year? Is it seriously suggested that the EU and all its member states would even contemplate going through all this bureaucratic change only to have to reverse it all in the space of a few months? I know the EU can be a bit quirky at times, but really! Is this even remotely a realistic scenario?
Now I do not claim to know what would actually happen in such a scenario. I merely note that the EU has a long history of last minute avoidance of calamity. And who knows, the prospect of failing to reach an agreement by March 2016, and what that would entail, might be just the political imperative that focusses minds wonderfully and ensures that the deadline is met to the satisfaction of both parties.