The European Union – and Scotland’s future place within it – is an issue that simply will not go away.
The Foreign Secretary, William Hague, has been in Glasgow where he weighed into the argument with a claim that an independent Scottish state might not be able to negotiate ‘from within’ as promised by the Scottish Government’s White Paper. Indeed, he went as far as to claim that Scotland would have to reapply for EU membership if the country votes ‘Yes’ later this year; and it may not be able to join under the same terms of membership as the UK currently enjoys.
Speaking of BBC Radio Scotland, Mr Hague said that, even if the European negotiations were “constructively-minded”, it would still be a complicated process involving the agreement of all 28 EU member states. He went to claim that Scotland would be obliged to join the Euro single currency, which the Scottish government had said it would not do.
His was not the first voice to question the White Paper’s claims on Europe this year. Writing in ‘Policy Review’, the enigmatically named Schadenfreude wrote: “in a debate in January, in the Scottish Parliament, the Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon asked the rhetorical question: ‘Which European Union country would not want to have Scotland as a member?’ She would have done well to check with Rome, Brussels and Madrid.”
The author went on to point out that Italy, Belgium and Spain would not welcome the prospect of being asked to agree to European Union membership of a country that had split from its former partners. The example, he/she wrote, would be “highly contagious”, pointing out that the central governments in all three are facing at least some calls for independence from significant parts of these countries – the North of Italy, Catalonian and the Flemish area of Belgium.
The SNP Government clearly doesn’t see things like this. The deputy first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has consistently argued that the White Paper had clearly set out the way in which Scotland could continue EU membership. This states that, in the event of a ‘Yes’ in the autumn, membership would be negotiated ‘from within’ ahead of its planned “independence day”, in March 2016.
She’s added that the UK government’s EU referendum, proposed for 2017, posed the only real risk to Scotland’s status in the EU. As she explained on Good Morning Scotland, “the fact of the matter is that, if Scotland votes ‘No’ and we don’t become independent, there is absolutely no guarantee at all that we would stay within the European Union. We could find ourselves taken out of it against our will.”
But William Hague dismissed this, insisting that what the government in London was trying to achieve by 2017 was “a reformed EU that we can recommend the whole of the UK stays in.” He added that the plans to hold a referendum on EU membership, if the Conservatives won next year’s UK general election, were not an immediate threat. “Scotland in effect is going to have two referendums on whether to leave the EU and one of them is in September,” he said.