SNP over-optimistic on chances of Scotland's entry to the EU

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WE ARE entering the season of goodwill, so I want to be kind to the Deputy First Minister over her claim that there is no doubt an independent Scotland would automatically remain a member of the European Union. I am sure Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP are desperate for this to be the case. But wanting something and getting it are not the same thing, as those who are relying on Santa may discover.

Such doubts don't appear to have bothered Nicola Sturgeon. An independent Scotland would simply carry on being an EU member, she told MSPs. Appearing before Holyrood's Europe and external relations committee last week, she claimed there was no possibility of Scotland needing to reapply or renegotiate membership, but would just assume the rights and responsibilities of the UK as a "successor state". This was not just the view of the SNP, but overwhelmingly of legal experts, she said.

But the truth is that if they were to succeed in wrenching Scotland out of the UK, Scotland's position within the EU would certainly not be secure and neither would the 285,000 Scottish jobs that depend on Scotland's EU membership. The UK is the EU member state and would continue to be so.

There is simply no precedent for the EU to draw on. It has never happened before that part of a member state has become independent. The Czech and Slovak Republics split before they became members and were granted entry individually. Greenland did leave the EU after negotiations on gaining home rule, but it still remains part of Denmark.

Nor, of course, would Scottish independence mean the break-up and end of the UK, as the SNP appears to suggest. After all, the UK was not dissolved when Ireland ceded 80 years ago.

As to automatically "assuming rights and responsibilities" from the UK, this presumably means that the SNP might also be eyeing up a permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

Despite what the SNP claims, the weight of legal opinion suggests that, far from automatic membership, an independent Scotland would find itself outside the EU and needing to apply to regain membership. It means Scotland joining the queue of countries for entry which could cause not just delays, but massive uncertainty.

France has already declared that it will hold a referendum on all future enlargements: success would be by no means assured.

Only a few months ago, the EU fisheries commissioner made clear that if Scotland left the UK, it would also have left the EU and would need to go through the same application process as the new democracies of eastern Europe. Joe Borg told this paper in September that legally it would be the rest of the UK which would retain EU membership and that "Scotland, as a newly independent state, would have to apply for membership".

It is hard to see how such strong views fit easily with Ms Sturgeon's unfounded assertion that an independent Scotland would retain its position within the EU. In the spirit of Christmas, let's just call her claim extremely optimistic.