Leaders: Get down to business over EU membership

Barely has the smoke cleared from heavy exchange of gunfire on the currency-sharing issue, than Alex Salmond and the Yes campaign find themselves under fire on another front – this time from European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso.

Picture: Neil Hanna
Picture: Neil Hanna

His declaration yesterday that it would be “extremely difficult, if not impossible for an independent Scotland to join the European Union” runs directly counter to the SNP’s assertion that an independent Scotland would be able to continue its EU membership and negotiate arrangements from within.

Finance minister John Swinney’s dismissal of these comments as “pretty preposterous” adds heat but no light to an issue that is of vital importance for Scotland and in particular its business community.

Any idea that Scotland would lose access to the EU single market would be a serious blow to Scottish exporters and to business confidence generally. The SNP counters that membership would be achieved through Article 48 of the Treaty of the European Union and that such a move could be achieved within 18 months of a Yes vote. However, negotiations on membership terms from outside would take considerable time, adding to business uncertainty, and could well result in tough compliance terms as well as the loss of its pro rata share of the UK’s contribution rebate.

It is well known that Spain would be anxious to avoid a precedent being set which would be seized upon by the Catalan separatist movement. To buttress his argument that an independent Scotland would find it extremely difficult to secure agreement from all member states, he cited the example of the Spanish not recognising Kosovo.

A point Mr Swinney might usefully have made is that, under the treaties, the EU Commission has no say in who becomes or who ceases to be a member. This is entirely left to the European Council, which comprises the heads of state or government of the EU member states. And while Herman van Rompuy, the president of the EU Council, has also said Scotland would need to reapply, neither the council nor the parliament has yet voted on the issue. The practice of unelected functionaries speaking first and representative bodies being consulted later may be a regular occurrence in the EU but it does not make it any more acceptable. While the EU would have much to gain by having an oil-rich Scotland as a member, the Yes campaign now has to find a credible pathway through the deep uncertainties surrounding the status of an independent Scotland, and in particular to assure Scottish exporters that their interests will not be prejudiced. While there may be room to establish a status of Scottish exceptionalism to ease the evident concerns of Spain, that, as matters stand and with seven months to go, is starting to look a very tall order.

Trump the wind farm magnet

What is it with tycoon Donald Trump and wind farms? No sooner has he lost a hotly contested legal battle to stop a wind farm being built off the coast of his golf links in Aberdeenshire, than his plans for a new golf club enterprise in Ireland’s County Clare have been overshadowed by a planning application – for nine 85-metre turbines.

With windy provocation such as this, it may be hard for Mr Trump to keep his hair on. To have his dreams blighted twice in so short a time must have seemed to him about as likely as Birnam Wood advancing on Dunsinane. But the giant mechanical trees just keep marching towards him, like huge iron filings to a magnet.

The wind farm application was placed with the local council for a site two miles south of his newly acquired resort in the town of Doonbeg. Here he planned to offer golfers at the renamed Trump International Golf Links a 400-acre course on the shore of the Atlantic Ocean. Now the wind farm application envisages “nine electricity generating wind turbines with a hub height of up to 85 metres and a rotor diameter of up to 82 metres giving an overall height of up to 126 metres, hard standings, a control building, an electrical compound, a permanent meteorological mast, associated site roads, drainage and site works”.

Mr Trump, with whatever powers of speech were still left to him, said he will appeal this decision. The latest battle comes just days after he withdrew plans for a second Scottish golf course after losing a Court of Session legal battle against the Scottish Government for an offshore 11-turbine wind farm being built off the coast.

Wind farm developers may take heart. Looking for a new site for turbines? Just follow the Trump.