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Scotland and the risks of independence to EU membership

union flag melts away from scotlandThe referendum process for possible Scottish independence reveals some of the best and worst aspects of Britain’s political culture.

The potential withdrawal of Scotland from the UK would bring to an end a constitutional settlement that has endured for more than 300 years, and yet the commitment towards constitutionality has meant not only that the issue is being decided via democratic debate and voting, but the UK government avoided any legal complications by passing the necessary legislation to give effect to the wishes of the Scottish parliament to hold a binding referendum.

This means that the people of Scotland are being given the opportunity to decide whether or not a new independent state is established in a process governed by law. We only need to look to the forthcoming referendum in Catalonia, and the hostile response to that from the Madrid government to see that such an approach was far from inevitable.

However, the passions invoked in the debate have also revealed the worst, as YES campaigners have seemingly sought to hoodwink the electorate about the potential risks; and thus inhibit people from making an informed decision.

The half-truths about currency and expected North Sea Oil revenue reveal a tendency to adopt the most optimistic outcome as not only likely, but almost inevitable.

The issue of EU membership is another area where the Scottish government, the SNP, and the official YES campaign are seeking to pour sand in the eyes of the electorate.

Scotland has been a member of the EU, and its predecessor organizations, for 40 years; but it has been so as a member of the United Kingdom, and should Scotland become independent, then it will be rUk that is the successor state that inherits the existing membership, and terms of membership, including the opt-outs negotiated by previous UK governments, over, for example, rebates, and Schengen.

There is no provision in the existing law and treaties for deciding whether Scotland will be permitted to continue with EU membership without interruption, and on the same terms as the UK.

The YES campaign takes a very bullish approach to this:

As explained in its “independence roadmap” and in its white paper “Scotland’s Future: Your Guide to an Independent Scotland”, the Scottish Government proposes to agree the terms of Scotland’s continued membership of the EU between the date of the referendum, and the proposed date of independence on 24th March 2016.

In that way questions relating to our ongoing EU membership can be settled before we become independent. Scotland already is part of the EU – so there is no doubt that we meet all the requirements for membership, and with our energy and fishing resources it is clearly common sense, and in the interests of the EU, that Scotland’s place in the EU continues seamlessly.

Even the UK government’s expert European legal adviser has accepted that this timetable is “realistic”. So Scotland’s EU membership will be secure by the time we are independent.

They might be right, and I am sure that in the event of Scotland becoming independent, then the UK government will seek to acheive such an outcome, in the interests of business stability.

However, they may not be right. In a letter from Viviane Reding, Vice-President of the European Commission sent to Christina McKelvie, Convener of the Scottish Parliament’s European and External Relations Committee this March, her official view spelt out that:

The Treaties apply to the Member States. When part of the territory of a Member State ceases to be a part of that State, e.g. because that territory becomes an independent state, the treaties will no longer apply to that territory. In other words, a new independent region would, by the fact of its independence, become a third country with respect to the Union and the Treaties would, from the day of its independence, not apply anymore on its territory.

Under Article 49 of the Treaty on European Union, any European state which respects the principles set out in Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union may apply to become a member of the EU. If the application is accepted by the Council acting unanimously after consulting the Commission and after receiving the consent of the European Parliament, an agreement is then negotiated between the applicant state and the Member States on the conditions of admission and the adjustments to the Treaties which such admission entails.

This agreement is subject to ratification by all Member States and the applicant state.

The Scottish government would therefore need to negotiate, and seek agreement from all 28 existing members. Many of these member countries may favour the approach advocated by the Scottish Government, but it is reasonable to suppose, as Ruairi Quinn, former president of EU’s finance council has predicted, that, for example, Spain and Belgium might ‘veto an independent Scotland’s EU membership’

Certainly, the continuity of Scotland’s EU membership cannot be guaranteed, and the terms of its future accession would need to be negotiated. Any negotiations may well also reveal that Scotland, divorced from the UK, does not have a strong bargaining position; and some areas might be highly problematic, and – for example – commitments to keep an open border with England may conflict with requirements that other EU states might seek relating to Scotland joining the Schengen area.

Of course for those committed to independence, any risk, and almost any cost, will be justifiable. But it is immoral to seek to hide the risks from the electorate.


  1. Dear Andy Newman

    I shall try to put myself in the shoes of a person who has a vote in the Independence Referendum and really wants Scotland to be a member of the EU. Do I think that the UK leaving the EU is more or less likely than Scotland rejoining on its own ? 50/50 I’d say !

    1. Andy Newman says:

      The issue I am highlighting is the lack of integrity from the SNP and YES campaign in presenting to the electorate a position as risk free, when it is actualy not risk free at all

  2. David Ellis says:

    The YES campaign, or its largely socialist majority, should be calling for the renegotiation of the founding treaties of the EU that would ditch the neo-liberal principles on which it is currently based for socialist ones such as an EU-wide living wage and full-employment in each member state.

  3. David Melvin says:

    Why is the Labour party so afraid of an independent Scotland? Most of the “Yes” campaign is to the left of Labour. The “Yes” campaign is not only the SNP. The Labour party promotes austerity and neoliberal economics. With independence there is a chance that Scotland can moved beyond that. In the UK there is no chance with the Con-Dems or Labour. It now appears almost 40% of Labour voters in Scotland are likely to vote for independence. Labour appears increasingly irrelevant throughout the British Isles.

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