Alex Salmond today insisted there is “substantial evidence” that Scotland will not be kicked out of the EU after independence and can renegotiate membership from inside.
But he faced claims that Spain’s Prime Minister is being “straighter with Scots” than the SNP, after Mariano Rajoy warned last night that Scotland would be forced to exit the EU after a Yes vote in the referendum.
The issue is central to the independence debate, amid concerns that a “renegotiation” of EU membership could see Scotland forced to adopt the euro currency, join the Schengen open boders area with mainland Europe and lose the UK’s multi-billion pound budget rebate.
But Mr Salmond told MSPs at First Ministers Questions: “Scotland will be negotiating its position from within the European Union.”
The First Minister produced a letter from the head of unit of the Europen Commission Secretariat-general, addressing this question.
Reading from the letter, he stated: “The ongoing democratic process is a matter for the UK and Scottish Governments and the Scottish people.
It would be legally possible to renegotiate the situation of the UK and Scotland within the European Union.”
And Mr Salmond told MSPs: “It can happen legally.”
Former European Court judge Sir David Edward has also said the EU would be “obliged” to enter negotiations before Scotand become fully independent, Mr Salmond added, while UK Government advisor Professor James Crawford had said the SNP’s 18-month timescale “seems realistic.”
“That’s reasonably substantial evidence that Scotland as a nation can negotiate its position to full membership within the European Union,”
Mr Salmond added. But Labour leader Johann Lamont said that the Spanish Prime Minister had made it clear that by leaving the UK, Scotland would also leave the EU and have to “reapply as a new member.”
She added: “What part of that statement does the First Minister not understand?”
Mr Rajoy is himself contending with a rising Nationalist movement in the Catalonia region of Spain. He said he intervened last night because the consequences of a Yes vote should be presented with “realism to Scots.”
“I know for sure that a region that would separate from the European Union would remain outside the European Union and that should be know by the Scots,” he said at a press conference in Madrid.
Ms Lamont said: “The Spanish Prime Minister is being straighter with the people of Scotland than the First Minister.”
EU President Jose Manuel Barroso has also said Scotland would have to re-apply to join the EU, Ms Lamont added.
“But in Salmond’s world they’re wrong,” the Labour leader added.