Scottish independence: Here are the questions the SNP paper on EU membership needs to answer but won't – Pamela Nash

Scottish independence and a subsequent attempt to rejoin the European Union could produce a decade of chaos

It is straight from the SNP playbook to respond to public scrutiny by trying to shift the political debate back to the party’s pet subject. And the nationalists are playing the same tune once again this week.

There is chaos in A&E departments with the worst weekly statistics since January, education reforms have been kicked into the long grass, there is a record level of foodbank use in Scotland, and a complete lack of transparency with the Covid inquiry. So what does the Scottish Government do? It produces another taxpayer-funded document as part of the SNP’s campaign to leave the UK.

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Yes, amid a catastrophic NHS crisis and just weeks out from the budget, civil servants have again been told to focus on the nationalists’ obsession with dividing the people of Scotland. What a scandalous waste of public resources.

The latest instalment in this fantasy series is about EU membership for a separate Scotland. The SNP does not have a monopoly when it comes to disappointment about Brexit – and it should never be forgotten how little the party spent across Scotland on campaigning to remain in the EU (just £90,830, less than it has on by-election defeats).

But, whatever you think of Brexit, the idea that a quick re-entry is possible is fanciful. Firstly, the majority of people in Scotland do not want to leave the UK, as poll after poll confirms. And they certainly don’t want another divisive referendum any time soon. And even if Scotland did separate, the path to becoming an EU member state is nowhere near as simple as the SNP would have you believe.

The procedure is well defined and there are no shortcuts. The argument made in 2014 about being a ‘continued’ member – flimsy even then – is no longer relevant post-Brexit, so Scotland would follow the same EU accession process as any other country. There are no opt-outs, whatever the SNP might allege.

Should, somehow, a path be found through all the expensive, lengthy and somewhat paradoxical negotiations with EU officials, ultimately a single country can then still veto the whole thing. It is well known that Spain, among others, has reservations about nationalist breakaway states. So there is not even a remote guarantee of success.

For the SNP government’s paper to begin to be seen as credible, it must answer a number of key questions. Would there be a referendum on joining the EU? And secondly, how many years would it take from the point of separation to the point of accession?

Experts say four to five years after independence would be a reasonable estimate should membership ultimately be achieved – and the incredibly complex negotiations to leave the United Kingdom and tear up centuries of partnership would have to be concluded first. We could be looking at an expensive decade of chaos.

Third, would a separate Scotland make the required commitment to join the euro in good faith and, if so, how long would it use the pound and how long would it then use a separate Scottish currency before joining the euro? And what impact would these changes have on mortgages and pensions? With three different currencies for the people of Scotland during a period of intense constitutional upheaval, just imagine how the markets would react to that, and what that would mean for pensions and mortgages.

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Then there is the issue of borders and movement of people. If Scotland secured the agreement of Ireland and the remainder of the UK to join the Common Travel Area (CTA), would it agree not to diverge significantly on immigration policy? Given it would not be possible for a separate Scotland to be part of both the CTA and the Schengen borderless zone, would Scotland seek an opt-out from Schengen and how would it convince EU institutions to legislate for this? And if Scotland is not granted an opt-out, would it proceed with an application to the EU given a hard border would then need to be established between Scotland and England?

This isn’t just about people – how would Scotland construct the required border controls on goods, and what impact would leaving the UK internal market have on Scottish businesses, given the rest of the UK is by far our largest trading partner (60 per cent of trade)? Is this nationalist government really going to say that the cost, the chaos and the implications of a border would be worth it?

Finally, other questions that people want answers to are the budget contribution to the EU, the impact of the Common Fisheries Policy on our fishing industry, and how a separate Scotland would go about planning to reduce its deficit to the required three per cent of GDP given it currently stands at nine per cent.

This requirement is part of the EU’s Stability and Growth Pact, a necessity for applicant members, and could only be met by putting in place serious public spending constraints over time – putting already critically stretched services like the NHS and schools at huge risk – and increasing taxes, which will simply be unaffordable.

If the Scottish Government’s latest paper is to withstand the slightest scrutiny, it will address all of these challenges and many more. The SNP may not like the fact that most Scots do not agree with its divisive dream of separation, but that is no excuse for making up fanciful claims in a desperate attempt to shift voters’ attitudes.

Unless there is going to be some genuine honesty with the people of Scotland, this should be the last taxpayer-funded paper on the SNP’s constitutional obsession. It’s time for the people’s priorities – not the SNP’s.

Pamela Nash is chief executive of Scotland in Union, the largest pro-UK campaign group in Scotland



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