Jim Murphy: EU issue a real mouthful for islanders

Jim Murphy is currently on a 100-stop tour of Scotland. Picture: Robert Perry
Jim Murphy is currently on a 100-stop tour of Scotland. Picture: Robert Perry
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‘WHAT will happen with the pound if we become independent?’ was the question I was asked the other morning. It’s a familiar question but this time asked in an unfamiliar accent, for the man was a young Latvian shell fish worker posing his query in an emerging Hebridean twang.

I’m out again in my 100 meetings in 100 days ‘No Thanks’ tour. Yesterday I finished a three day visit to Lewis, Harris and Benbecula.

So much about these islands reflects the need for connectivity. The crofters at the South Harris Agricultural show send most of their livestock to northern England - Cumbrian buyers, mainly - without the complexity or additional regulation that would come if Harris was in a foreign country to such a major market.

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Those shellfish workers rely on the even bigger market of the European Union. Their scallops are favourites in the restaurants of Barcelona’s Las Ramblas and other legendary European centres of gastronomy. But because an independent Scotland would have to reapply to get back into the EU they worried what it would mean for their livelihoods.

Well here’s the answer, and it’s a bit of a mouthful whether in English or Latvian: “When part of the territory of a Member State ceases to be a part of that State, e.g. because that territory becomes an independent state, the treaties will no longer apply to that territory.

“In other words, a new independent region would, by the fact of its independence, become a third country with respect to the Union and the Treaties would, from the day of its independence, not apply anymore on its territory.”

Those are the precise words of Ms Viviane Reding, vice-president of the European Commission with responsibility for justice, and citizenship, writing to the Scottish Parliament’s European Committee. That is: the responsible person from the EU writing to the responsible committee of the Scottish Parliament.

The shellfish workers of the Western Isles don’t know those words off by heart, but they understand them perfectly well. There’s not really any doubt, is there? ‘By the fact of its independence... become a third country.’ So you’re in – until you decide to go out. Then, yes, you’re out.

There’s another bit of connectivity exercising the good people of the isles right now. The ferries. There are ominous signs that Calmac is being primed for privatisation. The future of the islands’ lifeline ferries will be decided next year – after the referendum. We should all keep an eye on that bit of connectivity.

• Jim Murphy is the Labour MP for East Renfrewshire, and the Shadow Secretary of State for International Development.