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Scottish independence: Forced EU exit ‘unlikely’

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  • by SCOTT MACNAB
 

Scotland will not be forced out of the EU after independence because it would leave a massive “hole in the single market”, MSPs have been told.

Member states would fear widespread disruption for Euro-pean workers, students and businesses in such a scenario, said Professor Michael Keating, director of the ESRC (Economic and Social Research Council) Scottish Centre on Constitutional Change.

But the SNP’s estimate of an 18-month renegotiation of its membership in time for “independence day” on 24 March, 2016 is “too ambitious”, with a two-year period more likely.

Prof Keating played down warnings from Spain last week that Scotland would be out of the EU after independence and would have to apply to join.

“No government has said they would veto Scotland’s membership of the EU,” he told MSPs on Holyrood’s European and external affairs committee yesterday.

“In the last few months we’ve made a lot of progress on this to the extent to say that there does not seem to be an issue in principle and there doesn’t seem to be a legal obstacle.

“But there are huge practical difficulties. It’s the details of the negotiations that would be the difficult thing.”

However, Prof Keating, along with legal expert Prof Stephen Tierney and defence expert Dr Colin Fleming, told the committee there could be no guarantee that Scotland’s EU membership would not be blocked by a member state.

Tough negotiations would lie ahead on issues such as the UK’s current multi-billion-pound budget opt-out, the Schengen “open borders” area, agricultural policy and security.

“Since some of these member states would be very unhappy about Scottish independence, they might be uncooperative and they might try to increase the price,” he said.

The SNP government has said Scotland would join the EU as part of a transition process, with negotiations taking place from within the organisation in the period between a Yes vote next September and Scotland becoming independent.

Prof Keating said: “The objection that for a while Scotland would be outside the European Union before negotiating to go in, I think is unrealistic.

“I think its in nobody’s interests to create a hole in the single market and disrupt all relationships between Scotland and the EU.”

He warned that Europeans working here would no longer have the right to stay if Scotland found itself outside and many students would have to go home.

In addition, European firms would face a huge disadvantage competing for public contracts like building Scottish ferries as “open” procurement rules would no longer apply. Spanish fishermen could be excluded from Scottish waters and huge uncertainty would hang over business because EC law has not been transposed into Scottish law.

It was “realistic” that negotiations on an independent Scotland’s membership of the EU could take place in tandem with the negotiations to leave the UK. “The way Europe works, a way is normally found to do it,” Prof Keating said.

Nationalist MSP Christina McKelvie said it was an “injection of common sense” into the referendum debate.

“The fears and scaremongering that the No campaign has been engaging in when it comes to Scotland’s place in Europe have been comprehensively debunked,” she said.

David Maddox: Business urged to speak up for the UK

AN PLEA to the business community in Scotland to make “its voice heard” in the referendum debate “before it is too late”, has been made by Lib Dem Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael.

He also issued a warning to the other pro-UK parties they all need to “offer a vision if what it means to remain part of the UK” in a plea for an agreed package on the next stage of devolution.

His appeal to businesses to speak out came at a CBI Scotland event in the Scotland Office in Whitehall reflecting growing concerns in the No camp over the way businesses and the organisations which represent them are staying out of the referendum debate despite privately opposing independence. So far only CBI Scotland, which is in favour of staying in the UK, has made its stance known.

Along with Mr Carmichael’s appeal the reception heard veiled criticism of organisations which have tried to stay out of the debate by CBI Scotland director Iain McMillan who spoke with pride of the body’s view that “Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland are better together”.

He pointedly added: “Even if some others don’t, won’t come out and say it, we will not tire of stating our position and go on saying it”.

Speaking to the audience of leading business figures, Mr Carmichael said: “Your voices must be heard.”

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