The question of Scotland’s ability to remain in the EU has been getting clearer and clearer. Although Unionist newspapers claim it is a blow that Spain doesn’t want Scotland as part of the EU to negotiate outwith the UK’s official channels, it actually makes independence more likely.
Scotland’s EU membership is a special case as part of the UK, which upon Brexit can leave an independent Scotland in the EU. The option for Scotland to remain within the EU and still be part of the UK seems far too complex, but the Scottish FM has a duty to explore the option given the result of the 2014 independence vote.
Now however, the answer to the “separate negotiations” and “leave / rejoin” conundrums have started to emerge and its not good news for Westminster.
Margaritas Schinas, European Commission spokesperson has said said that the Commission respected the results in Scotland re Britain’s referendum, where a majority of voters supported to remain part of the Union. Schinas also said that Scotland’s bid to remain in the EU “is an issue that pertains to the constitutional order of the United Kingdom and will have to be dealt with this context”. EU officials later clarified that a deal could be done but only if London and Edinburgh agreed it between themselves first.
In other words, an independent Scotland could be part of the EU after Brexit without re-applying for membership if London and Edinburgh were to agree, EU officials have said.
Separately giving evidence the Scottish parliament Dr Kirsty Hughes, former senior political adviser in the European Commission and an Associate Fellow at Friends of Europe think tank, said she had been told “off the record” that discussions were taking place in the EU over placing Scotland in a “transitional holding pen” after the UK leaves the bloc, thus preventing Scotland from having to go through the process of leaving and re-applying should the public back independence. She also stated that independence would be the “simplest and most obvious way” to maintain Scotland’s place EU membership following last week’s Brexit vote.
This puts the Westminster government between a rock and a hard place if they simply say that independence and separate negotiations are off the table then the Union is dead – they can’t stand in the way of exploring all options when there is a majority in the Scottish Parliament that would vote to allow it, possibly only the Tories would vote against and Lib Dems and Labour abstain.
If however, they allow separate negotiation and a holding pen option and security of membership is confirmed by the EU, meaning that there is no way to maintain Scotland’s place in the EU without independence there will be a second referendum and most likely an overwhelming Yes vote within a year.
There are problems to sort out and policies to rewrite and refine and a lot of negotiations, and there is no answer that won’t involve some change and disruption but compared to the total omnishambles that Westminster governance has become a Yes vote with an EU deal already done at least in outline would bring stability, economic confidence and certainty that Westminster won’t be able to match for maybe for a decade.