EUROPEAN Union leaders would “want to see Scotland as a member” if the country becomes independent, MSPs heard yesterday.
A group of experts on the European constitution said that other EU members would be keen for Scotland to join the alliance, but warned that entry would not be without its problems.
MSPs on Holyrood’s European committee heard that Scotland was likely to lose out on the UK’s multi-billion pound budget rebate and its demands for greater fishing rights.
The Scottish Government’s claim that the country will become a full EU member within 18 months of independence was also dismissed as “unrealistic”.
The European issue has been at the centre of the referendum debate with the SNP insisting that Scotland would remain a member and renegotiate its terms of membership after a Yes vote. EU leaders have indicated an independent Scotland would not be a member of the union at its inception.
Appearing before MSPs, former civil servant David Crawley said it is likely Scotland would be outside the EU after independence, forcing the new country to apply to join.
But Mr Crawley said: “I do think that in very broad terms, the institutions of the EU – the commission, parliament and for the most part the council – would want to see Scotland be a member of the European Union.”
He said it is “impossible” to guarantee this and said the SNP’s proposed 18-month timetable for negotiating its membership from the point of the referendum in September this year to independence day in March 2016 was “unrealistic”. It is more likely to take at least two years, and possibly longer, he added.
Mr Crawley, who headed the Scotland Office’s Brussels headquarters in 2005-6 said: “It’s not going to be a difficult thing for Scotland to survive with a degree of prosperity in a larger Europe as long as it can manage to align its interests with others.”
The SNP government is hoping to retain its share of the UK’s £3 billion budget rebate when it joins the EU and also take control over the management of fishing quotas.
But both of these scenarios would require the agreement of all 28 members of the EU and Mr Crawley said these would be “difficult areas” for Scotland to secure a deal.
John Bachter, director of the European policies research centre at the University of Strathclyde, also played down the prospect. “I think its difficult to see a scenario where other member states would agree to an application of the rebate because the UK is constantly isolated in negotiations,” he said.
Alex Salmond’s claims that an independent Scotland would have a straightforward entry into Europe were further undermined by claims that France would have to hold a referendum to accept the new state.
Evidence submitted to Holyrood by the former legal counsel of the European Council Jean-Claude Piris, raised the prospect of the French population having to go to the polls in order to ratify Scotland’s membership.
The Scotsman also understands that the prospect of other EU countries having to stage referenda to accept Scotland will be raised by the UK government today when Foreign Secretary William Hague launches a paper on foreign affairs in Glasgow.
Mr Piris’s evidence, submitted to the Scottish Parliament European and external relations committee this month, came to light at First Minister’s Questions yesterday. The document was produced by the Tory leader Ruth Davidson when she accused the First Minister of “misleading” Scots over the issue.
Mr Piris’s paper casts doubt over the SNP’s plans to secure membership of the EU under Article 48 of the Treaty of the European Union at the point of independence. He argues that Article 49, which deals with countries wanting to join from outwith the EU, would be a “suitable” legal route for Scotland.
In his submission, he adds: “Each member state will have to sign and then to ratify the admission agreement and their constitution may provide for specific requirements for that ratification. In the case of France, the constitution provides that, in principle, the ratification of an admission treaty must be authorised by a referendum, and not by a vote of the French parliament.”
Ms Davidson said: “Alex Salmond pretends entry into the EU is a foregone conclusion. It is not – it requires all other member states to agree and France would even need to hold a referendum to vote through such changes. These are the sorts of uncomfortable truths the First Minister is desperate to hide.”
But Mr Salmond was adamant that Scotland would have a seamless entry into Europe saying that the UK government adviser James Crawford and the Better Together “star academic” Jim Gallagher both backed SNP claims that an accelerated EU membership could be secured.
“If even they are saying that then I think the reasonable position that people will adopt is that that is a profound and important contribution to the political debate,” he said.
A spokesperson for Nicola Sturgeon said: “This a complete red herring from the Tories. The French Constitution … provides for the option of a referendum but it also provides an alternative route via the parliament. A referendum is not mandatory.”