Scottish independence: Spanish blow to EU vision

ALEX Salmond’s vision of EU membership after independence was dealt a significant blow tonight when the Spanish Prime Minister said an independent Scotland would be outside the union and would have to apply as a new state.

The Scottish Government believes Scotland could join 'at the point of independence'. Picture: PA Wire
The Scottish Government believes Scotland could join 'at the point of independence'. Picture: PA Wire

Mariano Rajoy said he believed Scotland would exit the EU in the event of Yes vote, just a day after the Scottish Government’s White Paper claimed Scotland would continue to be a member in the event of a Yes vote as it has been a member since 1973 as part of the UK.

The Scottish Government believes Scotland could join “at the point of independence” by revising current treaties the UK is signed up to.

Sign up to our Politics newsletter

That would mean the country does not have to negotiate its way into the EU like a new state.

But Mr Rajoy, who as leader of Spain is having to deal with the Catalan independence movement, took a different view.

At a press conference in Madrid, Mr Rajoy said he wanted the “consequences of secession presented to Scots in a realistic way”.

“Citizens have the right to be well informed” he said. “If part of a Member State becomes independent it would be left out of the European Union, and it would be good for citizens (in the EU) and Scots to know that. EU entry would (then) need to be approved by all 28 member states.”

Scotland retaining its membership of the EU after a “Yes” vote has been one of the key policies upon which the SNP’s vision for independence is built.

It has also been one of its most controversial. Last year the Scotsman revealed that European Commission President Jose Manueal Barroso’s position was that for an independent Scotland to join it would have to comply with Article 49 of the Lisbon Treaty - the legal basis for enlarging the union. The White Paper, published on Tuesday, said an Article 48 deal - which would see a revision of the UK’s treaties, with Scotland retaining membership - would suffice.

Mr Rajov’s intervention came as the SNP launched a charm offensive in Europe. External Affairs minister Fiona Hyslop gave a private briefing on the white paper to London-based consular corps, while International Development minister Humza Yousaf held a similar meeting in Edinburgh.

It also coincided with the publication of a 111-page document by the Scottish Government “Scotland in the European Union”.

The paper said it was “wrong” for opponents of independence to “assert” that “Scotland would be required to leave the EU and take its place in a queue behind countries presently negotiating the terms of their possible EU membership”.

Tonight Better Together leader Alistair Darling said: “This is another blow to Alex Salmond’s claims that nothing would change if we vote to go it alone. The Spanish Prime Minister has just made it clear that everything would change.

“We now know what the position of the Spanish government would be if we vote for independence. This has created even more uncertainty.”

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson MSP said: “The Spanish Prime Minister has just blown Alex Salmond’s case for EU entry out of the water. We need to know what advice the SNP received before they laid out their threadbare case in the White Paper, whether they’d spoken to other member states or even checked basic facts with EU officials.

“It seems the First Minister has been playing fast and loose with the facts on EU entry and has been spectacularly caught out. This is a devastating blow for the Separatists’ case and they appear to have no plan B. Alex Salmond has some pretty tricky questions to answer about where they go from here.”

Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie said: “The nationalists insisted an independent Scotland would not be put outside the European Union but this intervention from the Spanish Prime Minister directly contradicts this assertion. Hard won opt-outs on Schengen, the Euro and the rebate would be in doubt and might have to be traded away to get back in. At breakfast the SNP said there was little doubt, by tea time there was little certainty.

“This is just one EU country. How many more might speak out?”

But a spokesman for Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon: We note that the Spanish Prime Minister has said he has not read our proposals, but Mr Rajoy has previously indicated that he considers the Scottish and Catalan situations are ‘absolutely and totally different’. That is because the process for Scotland becoming independent is enshrined in the Edinburgh Agreement, where the UK Government has pledged to respect the outcome of the referendum.

“As the papers we have published outline, we have detailed a process which will see Scotland negotiate its position as an independent member of the European Union from within, during the 18-month period between a Yes vote and independence day – a period when we will still be part of the EU as part of the UK, and which has been described as ‘realistic’ by the UK Government’s own legal adviser. That process, under Article 48 of the Treaty of the EU, allows for Scotland to become a member state at the point of independence.

“Scotland is already an integral part of the EU, and there is nothing in the entire body of EU treaties which provides for the expulsion of an existing territory or the removal of its inhabitants’ rights as EU citizens.

“And of course the only serious threat to Scotland’s continued EU membership comes from Westminster’s in-out referendum, which could see us dragged to the exit door of Europe against our will.”

Analysis by Robert E Wright: Nothing is guaranteed when it comes to joining the top table as a very small player

If Scotland wants to be a member of the EU, it will be required to agree to the eventual use of the euro and membership of Schengen area. Only three EU-member states have opt-outs from the euro (Denmark, Sweden and the UK) and only two countries have opt-outs from Schengen (Ireland and the UK).

The likelihood of Scotland being able to negotiate opt-outs from both is nil, although they will have at least two years to meet the Maastricht criteria. Even after two years, given the level of debt Scotland will inherit, it will not have met these criteria. Likewise, it will have a deadline to meet the requirements set out in the Schengen border code, assuming the UK sticks to its intention of not joining Schengen.

Of course, if what remains of the UK after Scottish independence decides to join Schengen, then a “hard” border between England and Scotland would not be required. All new members states since 2004 have followed exactly this path, and Scotland will be no treated no differently when it applies.

Even if one were to accept the view that joining the EU is a “process of negotiation”, one must ask what would give Scotland a strong negotiating position. Scotland represents about 1.5 per cent of the total EU population and generates slightly less than 1.5 per cent of the total EU economic output. Scotland is just too small and too insignificant to “demand” opt-outs. Furthermore, there is no benefit to the EU of current members splintering into micro-states, each demanding a seat at the top table.

Even if agreement is reached on opt-outs, membership is not guaranteed. It can be vetoed by another EU member state. An independent Scotland may set a dangerous precedent for other states with secessionist regions.

• Robert E Wright is professor of economics at the University of Strathclyde.

Analysis by William Walker: EU governments might not be happy about Scots going it alone but would have to accept it

Particular attention is given in the white paper to the desire to join the European Union and Nato, stressing Scotland’s enthusiasm for the EU in contrast to its sceptical neighbour.

The broad claim is that it is implausible that member states would exclude Scotland from the EU and Nato given its assets, democratic credentials, history of participation, and economic and strategic significance.

Although this judgment may be correct, governments will want to keep options open until a Yes vote forces them to decide.

Less is said in the white paper about membership of the UN, which would be required before Scotland could accede, as a sovereign state, to most international treaties and organisations.

If the party or coalition forming the UK government after the 2015 election remains committed to Trident’s retention, continued use of Faslane and Coulport might become one of London’s main conditions for supporting an independent Scotland’s aspirations.

However, pressing the UN to deny a country membership because it refused to host nuclear weapons would be a red rag to several bulls. It might even open doors to discussion of the UK’s right to continued permanent membership of the Security Council. London would have to tread carefully.

Observed from foreign capitals, the referendum does not awaken fears about the character and viability of an independent Scotland. The common view is that it could easily fend for itself.

The main concern is with the rest of the UK – its internal coherence, volatility and future as an international player.

The white paper is unlikely to persuade foreign governments that a Yes vote would serve their interests. They would nevertheless be bound to accept the democratic decision and work towards a political settlement at home and abroad.

• William Walker is an expert on international relations at St Andrews University


• Subscribe to The Scotsman Apple and Android tablet apps

Our apps offer the latest news throughout the day as well as complete electronic copies of the newspaper.

The apps - which are available on Amazon Appstore, Apple iTunes and Google Play , have been designed to offer readers a dynamic way to keep up to date whether at home or on the move.

They feature full articles, videos and picture galleries plus the ability to browse through complete downloadable editions of the paper which can also be read offline later.

Print subscribers of The Scotsman are entitled to any version of the app to suit their device as part of their subscription.

Alternatively readers can subscribe to the app through the app stores, and will get 30 days free access.