Independent Scotland wouldn't get special treatment from EU '“ Eva Oer

Some believe an independent Scotland would be able rejoin the EU in just two years, but Eva Oer has her doubts.

Wednesday, 14th November 2018, 10:14 am
Updated Wednesday, 14th November 2018, 10:19 am

Voting Remain might be one of the best things Scotland has ever done for its international reputation. At least that’s what it looks like from this European mainlander’s perspective.

Scotland is regarded as a rebellious but likeable underdog who’s being dragged out of the European Union against its will. Bagpipes, haggis and whisky are all fine – but honestly, for the politically interested traveller, Scotland’s EU-friendly attitude is the icing on the cake.

Brexit felt like a rejection for many of my fellow Europeans – so it feels good to know there are still people out there who think differently. Yes, euroscepticism is on the rise in many countries – just look at Italy and its government’s anti-EU rhetoric, blaming Brussels for everything that’s going wrong, even for the Genoa bridge collapse.

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A European Union flag and a Scottish Saltire blow in the wind near Glen Coe (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
A European Union flag and a Scottish Saltire blow in the wind near Glen Coe (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

But there’s still a widespread acceptance of the EU in Europe. In fact, a recent survey commissioned by the European Parliament showed that 62 per cent of respondents believed that their countries’ membership of the EU was a good thing. That’s the highest it has been in 25 years.

So for many people, Scotland seems like a bastion of reason in a world gone crazy with populism. The Scottish position on Brexit has evoked solidarity and sympathy. But the question is: does this attitude mean that an independent Scotland would be welcomed by the EU?

While the political landscape has significantly changed since the independence referendum in 2014, most people would see one country in particular as a roadblock.

Spain is still having its own domestic problems with the separatist movement in Catalonia, a region in the north-east of the country. So that’s one member state that wouldn’t particularly be in favour of any independence referendum.

Their government has recently changed, however. In June, socialist Pedro Sánchez took over as prime minister after his predecessor Pedro Rajoy was ousted in a vote of no confidence.

Sánchez has been reaching out to the independence supporters in Catalonia, but he’s far from being in favour of the region parting ways with Spain and will not support a referendum. His party PSOE backed the hard stance of Rajoy’s government after the Catalan vote back in October 2017 and helped impose direct rule on Catalonia under article 155 of the constitution.

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But Scotland has one advantage over Catalonia: Holyrood and Westminster negotiated the Edinburgh Agreement, thereby allowing for the Scottish Government to organise a referendum.

In contrast, Spain’s constitutional courts declared that Barcelona’s referendum was illegal. The situation is different, and that’s why some observers think that, provided another independence referendum was done constitutionally, Spain would now not stand in the way of EU membership from an independent Scotland.

But hypothetically – just how long would it take an independent Scotland to rejoin? I asked David Martin, Scotland’s longest-serving member of the European Parliament. The Labour MEP had an astonishing answer: “If we were independent, I think we could be a member of the EU within two years.“

That seems like a remarkably short time. But again, Scotland has an advantage: its laws already comply with EU law which puts it well ahead of other EU candidates like Montenegro. Martin has a direct comparison as he is chair of the delegation to the EU-Montenegro Stabilisation and Association Parliamentary Committee.

“We would have to negotiate things like fishing – which would not be easy but would not be impossible,“ he said. “We have to decide what we’re going to do about the single currency and about Schengen, but I think the areas for negotiation would be rather narrow.“

Other MEPs have spoken in a similar vein: the German MEP Elmar Brok, for example, has reportedly said Scotland’s readmission into the EU could be “speedy“.

An independent Scotland might only have a few “narrow” issues to discuss compared with all the points the EU would have to discuss with other membership candidates. But these subjects seem so sensitive and complicated and they could, in my opinion, turn out to be much harder to solve than some might hope for.

Scotland right now benefits from the special position the United Kingdom has within the EU. If the country did become independent and tried to get back into the EU, it would have a better starting position than others, but it would not automatically be able to claim the UK’s opt-outs. Why would the EU allow a cherry-picking member once again – that didn’t work out so well with the UK, did it? Scotland would enter the negotiations like a completely new applicant.

As you can imagine, from my German perspective, a closer membership than before would not a bad thing; I have experienced the benefits of my country’s EU membership. But do all those who support independence know that an EU membership for a future Scottish state might entail giving up the opt-outs and adopting the euro?

In my mind, independence supporters in Scotland often make it seem as if getting back into the EU would be a really smooth operation. But let’s be honest: while Holyrood might gain control from Westminster if there was independence, they would have to cede some of it to Brussels if they wanted to join the EU again.