An independent Scotland should join the European Free Trade Area (Efta) before considering EU membership – Kenny MacAskill MP

I voted Remain in 2016, but this is 2021 and Brexit’s happened.

It was, of course, against Scotland’s wishes and the predicted economic consequences have come to pass and the threats to our NHS loom large.

The sunny uplands of a brave new future that were promised have similarly failed to appear, even on the far distant horizon. But we’re out all the same and it's what we do and where we go now that matters, not feet-stamping or girning.

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Best estimates for an independent Scotland re-joining the EU are five years with the three years suggested by some perhaps wishful thinking, and the ten stated by others maybe the very maximum.

However, it doesn’t change the fact that Scotland’s out and businesses are suffering. Independence is required to allow for control over the economic levers and set a direction that suits Scotland, not that of the political charlatans and hedge fund operators currently dictating our destiny.

But immediate action will be required by a Scottish government, as time doesn’t stand still for anyone or any land and certainly not for five years or even three. It’s why the proposal by the Alba Party that an independent Scotland join the European Free Trade Area (Efta) is sensible.

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It’s the organisation of which Norway is currently a member, along with Switzerland, Iceland, and Liechtenstein. Gaining membership of that takes just months, if not weeks, and and allows access to the EU’s single market. It’s an application that would be treated favourably, granted quickly, and facilitate easier trade for Scottish goods and services.

An independent Scotland could join the European Free Trade Area, like Switzerland, relatively quickly, while full EU membership would probably take several years (Picture: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images)

For Efta offers access to the EU27 with fewer obligations and restrictions, as well as less delay, than re-joining the EU. It would allow for a distinct trade deal to be struck by an independent Scotland with the rest of the UK and would equally avoid the Solway to the Tweed becoming the hard border of the EU. It needn’t and doesn’t conflict with steps being taken to apply for EU membership once again.

That though should of course be the choice of the Scottish people in a future referendum. Norway has been content to rest in Efta and not continue the journey onward to the EU. That does mean no seat at the top table for them as decisions are made. But it’s seen as being offset by flexibility on other aspects. That’s the Norwegian people's choice, as it should be for Scots.

There are arguments for EU membership as reciprocal rights have been lost, as well as customs issues that still arise with the 27. But they’ve been resolved amicably for Norway and her colleagues in Efta.

Equally, though, scepticism about the EU remains with many. I voted Remain whilst holding my nose at what had been done to impoverish the Greek people, never mind the blind eye being turned to brutality against the Catalans. For some, scepticism has only increased with the EU’s vaccine roll-out failures.

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But Efta’s immediate, the EU is for later and for the people to decide

Kenny MacAskill is the Alba Party MP for East Lothian

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