THE row over an independent Scotland’s place in Europe is damaging the prospect of a Yes vote in the 2014 referendum, a former leader and Deputy leader of the SNP warned today.
• Scotland should call a referendum on Europe if the country votes yes to independence say pair
• EU membership now key issue in run up to independence referendum after furore over legal advice
THE debate over an independent Scotland’s place in Europe is damaging the prospect of a Yes vote in the 2014 referendum, two senior former SNP figures have warned.
Gordon Wilson a former party leader and Jim Sillars, ex-deputy leader of the SNP, say that Scottish EU membership would effectively be a “transfer of sovereignty” to Brussels.
Mr Wilson, who led the party in the 1980s, and Mr Sillars have instead highlighted the “attractions” of the European Free Trade Agreement (EFTA) allowing access the EU markets, without the danger of signing up to a “United States of Europe.”
Only a second referendum on EU membership – if Scots vote to go it alone in 2014 – can resolve the issue, according to the pair.
“It will be damaging to the prospects of a Yes majority in the referendum if a serious question mark is allowed to remain over an independent Scotland’s access to the European Economic Area,” they said in a statement released yesterday.
The issue must be “must be resolved quickly given its importance to Scottish business and the people who work for it.“
They say that the 18-24 month period between a Yes vote in a referendum and Scotland becoming fully independent in 2016 should allow the SNP leadership an opportunity to “clarify the position” with regards to both the EU and EFTA.
“Before the date set for independence, the Scottish Government should then ask, by referendum, which organisation the Scottish people wish to join,” they state.
They also highlighted Scotland’s oil and gas reserves and its fishing waters, and that if it became independent it would not be a “beggar at the Brussels gate”.
And because one of the EU’s fundamental principles is that each member state respects democracy, it would “not play well internationally for the EU to preach democracy to the world but refuse to practise it within.”
The European issue has been a central battleground in the constitution debate in recent weeks, after it emerged the SNP Government has not sought legal advice to back up its claims that Scotland would automatically remain in the EU after splitting from the UK. It is now doing so.
Opposition leaders say Scotland would be forced to reapply which could mean signing up to the troubled euro currency and the Schengen agreement on “open borders” which the UK is currently exempt from.
A spokesman for First Minister Alex Salmond said today: “The white paper due to be published next year will set out the Government’s prospectus for an independent Scotland.”
An SNP spokesman said: “Scotland has been part of the European Union for 40 years and an independent Scotland will continue in EU membership as a range of eminent experts have testified.
“Instead of being a subsidiary part of the EU – represented by London and with no direct voice – Scotland needs the powers of independence so that we are a member state in our own right, and therefore able to protect and promote our vital national interests.”
Labour’s Patricia Ferguson said: “For two SNP grandees to call his arguments ‘mere assertions’ show just how flimsy his arguments are. Jim Sillars and Gordon Wilson clearly have as little trust in Alex Salmond as the Scottish people, It is clear that if Scots vote for separation in 2014, we will be thrown into an extended period of uncertainty with Scotland left in limbo economically whilst the SNP tear themselves apart over where Scotland stands in the world and the EU demands that we negotiate to re-join.”
Tory Deputy leader Jackson Carlaw said : “Alex Salmond has been criticised from all sides for his arrogance and bluffing.
“Now people from within are beginning to ask what we all have been wondering – what the heck is going on?”