Where would an independent Scotland stand with the European Union in the event of a Yes vote in the referendum?
Would we be in or out – or in some constitutional holding pen until the issue is resolved by European Union legislators?
This is one of the most important questions facing Scottish voters in the approach to the referendum. It would be comforting to think that behind the political veils there is some degree of legal certainty here. But legal opinion – to the extent that it has been published at all – appears to be sharply divided. There is presently no certainty as to whether an independent Scotland would automatically inherit EU membership on similar terms to those it has within the UK (the SNP position) or whether it would need to apply for membership and in such a situation may not be able to secure the same opt-outs as currently enjoyed by the UK – the view of the UK government.
Now the Law Society of Scotland has entered the fray, in a paper entitled Scotland’s Constitutional Future – Views, Opinions and Questions. It calls on the Scottish and UK governments to publish the legal advice they have received on the issue. The paper raises other awkward questions. It asks the SNP administration to set out what would happen if negotiations about EU membership could not be concluded in the period between the Yes vote in the referendum and “Independence Day” – on which Scotland would be legally and constitutionally independent.
Would this date, it asks, be moved back to allow for a conclusion to negotiations? Or would the date remain in place, even if this meant Scotland having to leave the EU and rejoin when negotiations were concluded? Such an outcome would risk an outcry from businesses in Scotland for whom the prospect of delay and uncertainty would be disruptive to exports, finance and trade.
There are difficult questions, too, for the unionist camp. The paper calls on the UK government to say whether it would support an application by an independent Scotland to join the EU. And it also asks the Better Together campaign to set out a timetable for future devolution in the event of a No vote.
The problem with all this, of course, is that it presumes a level of certainty among politicians on these issues, and of this there is little sign. Within the EU, there are sharply divergent views on Scotland’s position, with Spain unlikely to back the idea of a region seceding from an existing state to be automatically treated as a member. And there is likely to be little agreement within the unionist camp as to the speed and extent of more devolution.
Nevertheless, the Law Society is right to add its eloquent voice to calls seeking clarification on these issues. Answers are vital if we are to have an informed vote. Sceptics, however, will note that however much clarity is achieved, there will certainly be no lack of work for the lawyers to sort out.
Creative use of quango’s credit card
It could have been the prospectus for a new Creative Scotland competition: “Submissions are invited for a one-act drama set in contemporary Scotland. Authors are asked to envisage how the sum of £105,000 could disappear from a publicly-funded body and to what artistic ends this sum could be put. The production should reflect the prevailing ethos of social realism, raise searching questions on the aspirational levels of Scotland today and show how creative endeavour could rise above the pursuit of hedonistic materialism and consumer gratification in an age of austerity. The competition will be funded entirely by Creative Scotland out of its own resources and the winning entry staged for public view.”
It appears a “winning entry” has already been submitted. A group of freelance entrepreneurial artistes – or “fraudsters” – have made deft use of a Creative Scotland credit card to make off with £105,000, with no-one noticing until the credit card limit was hit.
“Legitimate” credit card expenses included a £716 stay in a five-star hotel in Rio de Janeiro, stays in Glasgow’s Blythswood Square and Edinburgh’s Glasshouse, and thousands of pounds spent on music downloads, concert tickets, flowers and drinks.
Where the £105,000 ended up remains a mystery. So, too, is why the quango’s credit card protocols were so open to abuse, why it took so long for it to discover the fraud and four months to elapse between the discovery and the police being called in.
To say its financial procedures need tightening is blatantly obvious. Less so is in what category Creative Scotland’s accounting procedures should now be filed: audience-engaging theatre, high drama – or farce.