Alex Salmond has revealed that talks have taken place with major European states including France, Spain and Italy about the prospect of an independent Scotland joining the EU.
The First Minister also revealed that a number of members of his Team Scotland negotiating team have already been signed up and will “move into action” immediately after a Yes vote. Scotland will need the support all 28 members states if it is to secure its EU membership as an independent country.
Asked if he has already spoken to countries like Spain, Italy, France and Belgium, who have all previously expressed concerns about their own separatist groups, Mr Salmond said: “The answer is yes to all of these points.”
The SNP Government proposes that an independent Scotland would be able to renegotiate its membership from inside during the 18-month transition period between a Yes vote and formal independence being declared in March 2016. Many experts have suggested Scotland would find itself outside the EU and forced to re-apply to join.
“We’re inside and we obviously have to negotiate our position and that requires the agreement of other European countries,” Mr Salmond told The Andrew Marr Show yesterday.
“Why am I confident about 18 months? Let’s remember that Professor James Crawford, who was actually paid by the United Kingdom Government, and is a distinguished international lawyer, when he was asked about this he said that it was a realistic timescale.
Mr Salmond added: “I don’t think that anyone in the rest of Europe is wanting to exclude fish rich, energy rich, renewable rich, oil rich Scotland. I think that’s a ridiculous proposition.”
Spain is dealing with its own separatist movement in Catalonia and Italy is facing calls for independence from Venice. Experts have suggested these countries won’t want to encourage such movements by making life easy for Scotland to leave the UK and join the EU.
Last night opponents warned that Scotland could face a lengthy wait before it is able to secure EU membership. The issue of EU membership is seen as crucial so that Scottish firms can get access to the single market of 300 million people and be covered by EU global trade agreements.
Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: “The First Minister is in for a shock if he thinks that the EU member states will be queuing up to give him everything he wants in Brussels.
“Leaving an EU member state to negotiate our way back into the club on worse terms for Scotland makes no sense to me. Alex Salmond is asking Scots to take a step into the dark when it comes to the EU. I say that this is a risk that we simply do not need to take.”
Scottish Conservative chief whip John Lamont added: “The fact is, a separate Scotland would have to get right back to the end of the queue. There are 28 members, some of whom are likely to have a particularly strong view on Scotland thinking it can waltz back in straight away on the same terms the UK enjoys.
“I don’t know how many experts and interested parties Alex Salmond needs to hear this from before he understands. And no whirlwind tour of western Europe will have any impact on that, no matter how much he bleats about fish stocks and renewable energy.”
Scotland could secure a smooth transition to EU membership because it is already signed up to the key tenets of EU – the so-called `acquis’ – by virtue of its membership of the UK. Scotland would also need to deal with the question of joining the euro, which is now obligatory for any new member.
The SNP points to the example of Sweden which has been in the EU for 19 years but never signed up to the euro because the process is essentially voluntary. But currency could still be a stumbling block if Scotland decides to use the pound without a formal agreement from the UK.
The so-called “sterlingisation” approach is not compatible with EU membership, former EC economy commissioner Ollie Rehn warned in a letter to Treasury Secretary Danny Alexander recently. One area where Scotland looks certain to lose out is on the UK’s annual £3 billion budget rebate, while it’s EU structural funds are also likely to be cut.
The Coalition Government warned in a report this year, this would leave the newly-independent state up to £3.8bn worse off between 2014 and 2020. John Kerr, chairman of the Centre for European Reform and Britain’s former envoy to Brussels, warned that it was impossible to predict how any of these votes and negotiations would go.
“The fact is that the EU would be uncharted waters,” he wrote in a recent appraisal of Scotland’s prospects. Meanwhile, the First Minister said that Better Together leader Alistair Darling and Gordon Brown could be among those who join Team Scotland to negotiate Scotland’s “separation” talks in the event of a No vote on Thursday.
He revealed: “We need and have recruited specialisms in a variety of fields – some extraordinary people with great things to contribute.
“Nobody has said no incidentally.”
The third sector like charities, the STUC and small business organisations will also be involved because they have a particular expertise over a range of things that will be up for negotiation, Mr Salmond said.
“In the circumstance of a Yes vote, you will get from me early on Friday a strong indication about how Team Scotland moves into action and brings the country together.”