THE SNP’s plan to negotiate an independent Scotland’s conditional membership of the European Union with several opt-outs has come under scrutiny by two architects of European Union law.
Former European Council president Ruairi Quinn said in the “unlikely” event Scotland is accepted into the EU it would have to agree to join the euro, contrary to the SNP’s plan to keep the pound.
Scotland’s membership is likely to be vetoed by “at least two member states, maybe more” to discourage secessionist sentiment throughout Europe, according to Mr Quinn, who presided over the group that decided the economic criteria for joining the euro.
Former European Court Judge Sir David Edward has previously described any scenario that would deprive Scots of their EU citizenship as “absurd”.
His earlier intervention won him plaudits from First Minister Alex Salmond, who described him as “eminent”.
But today Sir David has turned his attention to another key plank of the SNP’s Europe policy, its plan to continue charging English students to study in an independent Scotland.
The SNP’s tuition fees policy is “shot through with confusion, inconsistency and irrelevance”, Sir David said in legal analysis for No campaign group Academics Together.
The Yes campaign insists “no country can be forced to join the euro”, and that “the No parties cannot be trusted on tuition fees”.
Mr Quinn said: “All member states have to agree before a new state can become a member. In my opinion, it is highly probable that at least two member states, maybe more, will vote no.”
Scotland’s membership would “create the precedent” for Catalonia and the Basque country “to agitate for secession from Spain”, and encourage Flanders and Wallonia to leave Belgium, he said.
Mr Quinn added: “If, however unlikely, Scotland was accepted as a full member it would have to agree that once its economy met the economic criteria of economic and monetary union, as politically agreed in Dublin in December 1996, it would be legally obliged to join the euro.
“All of the new member states which joined the EU after the Maastricht Treaty have no opt-out clause such as negotiated by Denmark, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.”
A Yes Scotland spokesman said: “Mr Quinn will be aware that one of the entry criteria is membership of the exchange rate mechanism for two years - which is itself voluntary - so no country can be forced to join the euro against its will, as the example of Sweden makes abundantly clear. An independent Scotland’s currency will be the pound.
“After a Yes vote, the Scottish Government will begin discussions with the Westminster government, EU member states and the institutions of the EU to agree a smooth transition to full membership on the day Scotland becomes an independent country in 2016.”
Sir David said the SNP’s tuition fees plan “would be incompatible with EU law and could not survive challenge in the Court of Justice”.
UK students currently pay fees in Scotland while other EU students do not, as EU law prohibits discrimination between member states but not within them.
If Scotland leaves the UK will be a separate member state, and UK citizens would be entitled to equal treatment to fee-free Scots students, Sir David said.
The SNP say it has an “objective justification” to continue charging UK students because of its shared land border and common language with England, and the hefty fees charged by Westminster.
Sir David said: “All EU member states apart from Malta and Cyprus have ‘shared land borders’ and many have a ‘common language’ - notably Austria and Germany, and Belgium and France.
“They are also different in ‘relative size’. ‘Fee differentials’ are common as between different member states. The position of Scotland cannot remotely be said to be ‘unique and exceptional’ in any of these respects.”
He added: “It follows, in my opinion, that the policy as stated in the White Paper would be incompatible with EU law and could not survive challenge in the Court of Justice.”
Speaking on behalf of Better Together, Scottish Labour MSP Kezia Dugdale said: “This is the most significant and comprehensive intervention on tuition fees so far in the campaign.
“No doubt the nationalists will dismiss Sir David’s expert legal opinion, but until they produce their own legal analysis nobody will believe a word they have to say.”
SNP MSP Stewart Maxwell said: “This is the height of hypocrisy from Kezia Dugdale. While the SNP’s cast-iron commitment to free higher education is absolutely clear, Labour have broken every manifesto promise they have ever made on tuition fees - and still refuse to say what they would do if they ever got back into power in Scotland.
“What is obvious is that the No parties cannot be trusted on tuition fees - and that is why one of the opportunities of a Yes vote is the ability to enshrine free higher education in the constitution of an independent Scotland.”