An independent Scotland could begin talks to join the EU even while using the pound without a formal monetary union, Nicola Sturgeon has insisted.
The First Minister claimed Scotland could rejoin the EU “relatively quickly,” despite the SNP’s Growth Commission report stating it could take between five and ten years to set up a new currency and stop using the pound.
Ms Sturgeon came under pressure over the SNP’s plans for independence in a half-hour interview with the BBC’s Andrew Neil, and was unable to give a timescale for how long it would take for Scotland to rejoin the EU.
The SNP will unveil its general election manifesto tomorrow, with a demand to hold a second independence referendum next year in order to avoid Brexit at its heart.
It came as the Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard conceded that his party would respect the mandate of pro-independence parties to call indyref2 if they won a majority at the 2021 Scottish Parliament elections.
As well as having control of economic levers to keep prices stable, EU accession candidates must have a budget deficit of close to 3 per cent - with Scotland’s public spending outstripping government revenues by 7 per cent.
Challenged over whether an independent Scotland could meet the EU accession criteria without an independent currency in place, Ms Sturgeon said “that is not a requirement necessarily of joining the European Union… that is not true”.
The First Minister added: “We would be setting up a central bank. We’d be setting up the infrastructure that is required for that.
“That is part of the discussion we would have about the European Union, but it is not true to say that we would have had to have established an independent currency before joining the European Union.”
Asked how long it would take for an independent Scotland to rejoin the EU, Ms Sturgeon said: “I’m not going to give you a specific timescale for that… in all of my experience of discussions with different interests in the European Union, I think that could be relatively quick.”
Challenged by Mr Neil, who said the SNP’s plans were “all very uncertain”, Ms Sturgeon replied: “Scotland faces right now the uncertainty of being ripped out of the European Union against our will. It’s not of our making.
“And we need to plot the best way forward for our country where we are in charge of the decisions that we take.”
The First Minister conceded that even if Labour forms the next government after 12 December and calls a second EU referendum that keeps the UK in the EU, the SNP would push for independence.
Justification for indyref2?
Asked whether remaining in the EU would remove the “material change” that would provide the justification for indyref2, Ms Sturgeon said: “The material change, frankly, is the way in which Scotland has had it completely demonstrated to over the past three years that our views and our voice doesn’t matter.”
She added that “it’s always been true” that Westminster was “horrible”.
Paul Masterton, the Scottish Conservative candidate defending the East Renfrewshire constituency, said Ms Sturgeon was offering “the same vague assurances during the independence referendum.
“Now once again she’s back telling Scots not to worry their heads, it’ll all be alright on the night.
“The reason the First Minister can’t give a timetable on what might happen to Scotland after independence is because the SNP doesn’t know what will happen. Yet still she insists we must have another referendum next year.”
Meanwhile, speaking on the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland programme yesterday, Mr Leonard said Labour would not block indyref2 after 2021 if pro-independence parties secured a majority in the Scottish Parliament.
“If the SNP or other parties put in their manifesto that they wanted to hold a second independence referendum and they got a mandate for that, either in 2021 or at some future point, then of course what we are saying is that would not be blocked by a UK Labour Westminster government,” Mr Leonard said.
That could pave the way for a second Scottish referendum as early as 2022, but Ms Sturgeon insisted Labour would have to grant the SNP its timetable in order to win power at Westminster, unless it wins an unlikely majority.
“I lead a minority government,” she told Mr Neil. “I can’t get a budget through unless I win support from other parties.”