Both the UK and Scottish governments have turned down an offer from the European Commission to provide its legal advice over the status of an independent Scotland within the European Union.
Following what has been a torrid few weeks for Alex Salmond – after it was revealed ministers at Holyrood had not yet sought such legal advice despite mounting a legal challenge to block its publication – and contrary to remarks made by the first minister, the European Commission offered to provide its own advice. This, however, has been rejected by Westminster and Holyrood.
In declaring ministers in Westminster are not prepared to get into the details of pre-negotiating the status of an independent Scotland before the referendum, a spokesperson for the Scotland Office explained:
“We are clear we are not pre-negotiating the terms of separation from the UK ahead of the referendum.
“It is the Scottish government’s policy on independence which is causing this uncertainty and they should be prepared to deal with the many questions it raises. This government has confirmed it does hold legal advice on this issue.”
The spokesman continued, however, by explaining the legal opinion provided from the UK government’s own lawyers suggests Scotland would not, as Alex Salmond has previously declared, be automatically included as an EU member.
“Based on the overwhelming weight of international precedent it is the government’s view that the remainder of the UK would continue to exercise the UK’s existing international rights and obligations and Scotland would form a new state.”
In what was a neutrally-worded statement that did nothing to encourage Westminster to accept the offer of legal advice from Brussels, a spokesman for the Scottish government responded:
“This is a matter for the UK government. We will consider our options in this matter as we move forward.
“The European Commission have offered to provide legal opinion on an independent Scotland’s continuing membership of the EU to the UK government, as the relevant member state - an offer it has so far declined to take up.”
The developments came following a First Minister’s Question Time in which questions of legal advice once again reared their head, with Scottish Labour leader, Johann Lamont, accusing Salmond of treating people like “fools”.
She explained with reference to a debate on Tuesday on the EU issue:
“It is about time that the first minister got serious about the future of Scotland. The first minister thinks that he can treat the people of Scotland like fools and that we will believe everything that he says when, after last week, no one trusts a word that he says.
“I understand why the first minister did not turn up to Tuesday’s debate to defend his reputation. It was because even he knows that he no longer has a reputation to defend.
“What is it that the first minister is so scared of that he cannot ask the Bank of England about the pound and cannot ask other EU members about Europe? Is it just that he cannot face the truth when he is presented with it?”
The first minister’s response? To turn the tables, not answer the question and instead focus on Scottish Labour.
Meanwhile, speaking at the Royal United Services Institute yesterday, Nick Clegg sought to enter into the fray, declaring the first minister’s assertion tha an independent Scotland would automatically join the EU “has no basis in fact”.
And turning his attention to the SNP, he said they:
“…don’t want to face what might happen to Scotland’s influence on fishing quotas, or agricultural policy, or the regulation of the banks. They don’t want reality to bite. So they’ve gone into denial, preferring political assertion to legal advice.”