Following the letter to the Lords European Union committee from the European Commission confirming an independent Scotland would have to apply to rejoin the EU, James Hallwood looks at the pitfalls that lie ahead for Alex Salmond
The letter flies in the face of the SNP’s long held position Scotland would automatically remain a member and also brings into question, once more, the reason for their apparent lack of legal advice on this critical issue. While the letter awaits formal ratification it is in line with previous advice that seceding from the UK would make Scotland a ‘third country’ outside of the EU.
This would mean having to re-apply for membership via the criteria of Article 49 of the Lisbon Treaty - i.e. with the unanimous support of the member states. Given Spain, amongst others, has already voiced concerns about the precedent this would set, there can be no guarantee Scotland would be admitted back into the European Union.
As the framer of this referendum, the Scottish government has a duty to provide the pros, cons, knowns and unknowns of Scottish independence - wishful thinking is simply not enough; the Scottish people deserve the facts.
An independent Scotland could in theory re-join the EU but would not automatically be a member - therefore the details of a potential settlement are crucial to the decision of the Scottish electorate. The European Commission has stated the remnants of the UK would maintain EU membership and thus all of the opt-outs, redlines and rebate successive British governments have secured over the years.
Assuming Scotland is accepted into the EU, in line with other new accession countries, she would not have any of these and would therefore be expected to join Schengen and the euro - again contrary to what the SNP has set out.
Furthermore, the Council of the European Union weights votes of member states by their population size. Britain currently joins France and Germany at the top with 29 votes - but an independent Scotland would likely join other countries with a comparative population, like Slovakia, with 7 votes. It would not just be losing the seat at the UN Security Council that would lessen Scotland’s voice in the world.
There is, of course, another scenario - Scotland is not admitted into the European Union.
This isn’t as unlikely as it sounds, as accession requires unanimous support from all current members. When one considers the numerous secession movements in Europe one can easily see how the precedent of independence followed by EU membership and investment would worry some countries - it takes only one member to veto Scotland’s application - or at least negotiate a very unattractive package to an acceding Scotland.
Even now, five EU countries continue to refuse recognition of an independent Kosovo. Four years on, Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Spain remain opposed. They present a multitude of reasons but all share the common factor of separatist movements in their own territory. Indeed the very issue of the precedent it would set to Catalonia or the Basque regions was raised in the Spanish parliament in argument against recognition.
Last year, Catalonian voters gave a majority to separatist parties. These parties seek a referendum on independence from Spain followed by EU membership. The similarities to Scotland are obvious, so much so that Salmond refused to comment on Catalan independence, well aware Spain could likely be the stumbling block to his plans.
The SNP is also a member of the European Free Alliance grouping in the European Parliament - with separatist parties from 14 other states. These represent just some of the many nationalist movements from across Europe that look to Scotland as a model to follow. A model that states as diverse as Belgium and Bulgaria have an interest in preventing succeed.
Time and time again the SNP has made statements on EU membership that are contradicted by the British government, international law experts, member states and now the EU itself. Salmond has a responsibility to make clear the price of Scottish independence; the onus is on him to present the risks so the Scottish people can make an informed decision.
The principles of unionism and separatism should outweigh the benefits of EU membership. But presenting a false future for Scotland does the ‘yes’ campaign no credit. An unfavourable settlement or no EU membership at all torpedoes Salmond’s vision for Scotland. Scots should know that leaving the UK could mean they are, quite literally, going it alone.
• Another blow for Salmond – Scottish businesses say No to Independence – December 7th, 2012
• It’s official: Independent Scotland would have to reapply for EU membership – December 7th, 2012
• David Miliband: Scotland can’t just “leave the UK on Friday, join the EU on Monday” – November 24th, 2012
• Legal ding-dong on EU advice as Clegg wades in to Holyrood scrap – November 2nd, 2012
• Advice? What advice? Salmond finds himself in more hot water over EU ‘lies’ – October 29th, 2012