THE UK should only be allowed to leave the European Union if all four home nations vote in favour of such a move in a referendum, Scotland’s first minister in waiting has argued.
Nicola Sturgeon, who will succeed Alex Salmond as SNP leader and Scottish first minister, said it now seemed “inevitable” that there would be a vote on whether the UK remains part of the EU in 2017.
Proposals for an in/out referendum on the UK’s future membership have been put forward by the Conservatives, with David Cameron committed to having such a ballot in 2017.
But Ms Sturgeon believes for any vote to leave the EU to be valid, a majority of voters in each of the four nations of the UK - England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland - must give their backing.
She said this would mean that voices in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are not “drowned out” by anti-European sentiments in England.
The current Scottish deputy first minister will highlight the issue as she embarks on a series of rallies setting out how she intends to lead the country when she becomes first minister next month.
At an event in Edinburgh Ms Sturgeon, who is the only candidate to take over from Mr Salmond, will say when legislation for an EU referendum is introduced at Westminster, the SNP will table an amendment requiring a majority in all four home nations for withdrawal before this can happen.
Ms Sturgeon will state: “It is clear from recent by-elections in England that the anti-European politics of Ukip is on the rise. An in/out referendum on EU membership in 2017 now seems inevitable - almost regardless of who wins the general election next May.”
That means it is “entirely possible that the UK as a whole could vote to exit the EU, but that Scotland would vote to stay”, she will warn
Ms Sturgeon will make clear: “I don’t think the EU is perfect. Far from it. It badly needs change and reform.
“But I do believe - strongly - that our interests are best served by being in, not out, of the EU. The impact of an exit on jobs and on the economy would be disastrous.
“And to be taken out against our wishes would be democratically indefensible.
“So I am making this proposal. Should a Bill be tabled in the House of Commons for a referendum on European Union membership, my party will table an amendment.
“That amendment will require that for the UK to leave the EU, each of the four constituent nations - England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland - would have to vote to do so, not just the UK as a whole.”
She will argue this proposal “transforms the terms of the UK debate on Europe - which so far has been all about the Westminster parties dancing to Ukip’s tune” so it would “give proper protection against any of the nations of the UK being removed from the EU against their will”.
Speaking ahead of this evening’s rally, Ms Sturgeon told BBC Radio Scotland: “What I’m suggesting is the kind of double majority system you see in some federal states like Canada and Australia, that for the UK to leave the European Union it would require not just the UK as a whole to vote for that but for each one of the four home nations also to vote for it.
“I think that is right, it’s sensible, it’s reasonable. It would also be in line with what the Westminster parties told us during the referendum on Scottish independence was the case, that is that the UK is a family of nations, a partnership of equals.”
She told the Good Morning Scotland programme: “What I’m putting forward today is a proposal that would ensure that Scotland’s voice is not drowned out in that referendum, that Wales’ and Northern Ireland’s voices weren’t drowned out in that referendum.”
Ms Sturgeon said: “The UK is not a unitary state, it’s a family of nations, it’s made up of the four home nations. We were told during the referendum that each of these nations had equal status, that our voices mattered.
“If that is the case then I think it is right that something that would have such significant consequences for jobs, for the economy, for our standing in the world, should require the consent not just of the UK as a whole but of each member of that family of nations.”