Willie Rennie “coolly impressive” as SNP reject independence debate openness

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie is “coolly impressive” …..says journalist Euan McColm, who is not known for dishing out praise without good reason.

He was speaking after Willie’s contribution in the Scottish Parliament debate on the events of last week, when it emerged that the SNP Government had not even sought legal advice from its law officers on the terms of an independent Scotland’s membership of the EU, despite them making every effort to create the impression that they had. To add insult to injury, they spent thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money taking the Information Commissioner to Court over the issue. She had ruled that the Government would have to say whether such advice existed.

wrote last week that Labour had over-egged the pudding on this by making it all about Salmond lying. That gave the First Minister just enough wiggle room. They need to learn that sometimes less is more. Ming Campbell told Scottish Liberal Democrat Conference in Dunfermline on Saturday that:

Alex Salmond may or may not have lied, but he certainly didn’t tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

That’s relevant because it smashes Alex Salmond’s and the SNP’s credibility to bits, but the important thing is to get to the exact situation an independent Scotland would face when it tried to join the EU. Would it have the same rights as the UK, or would it have to join the Schengen Agreement, the Euro and all that the fiscal stability pact would entail in terms of budget cuts? The truth of the matter is: nobody actually knows, least of all the SNP. Former Labour Special Adviser David Clark argued last week that favourable legal advice, if available, was one thing, but the realpolitik of getting 27 other states to agree that interpretation was quite another.

So, Willie Rennie’s focus is on pinning the SNP down on setting out both the legal basis (which is not the advice from Government Law Officers, but the basis of their assertion) and asking them to provide evidence on the political angle – that their case would be accepted across Europe. It’s much more precise than the Labour motion  for debate yesterday. Willie asked for:

in moving forward to publication of the white paper on independence, calls for the full legal case and basis for Scotland’s terms for continued membership of the EU, including consideration of whether Scotland might be required to join the euro or the fiscal stability pact, to be published alongside evidence that the case has been accepted across Europe

That all seems pretty reasonable to me. What is remarkable is that the SNP all voted against it. They rejected the idea of proper openness, with the full facts being known. Their own amendment was simply a load of marshmallow with a bit of bile directed at the Labour Party.

SNP members in the debate didn’t so much ignore the ball in play, but they went off to another pitch and started playing with their own ball. They tried to argue that UKIP were going to win the European elections and the UK might subsequently pull out of Europe. Not the most inspiring argument for independence. And then Rob Gibson made some interesting but unsubstantiated predictions about the future of Europe:

The changing EU will be looser, not deeper. It will have new members by 2016. There will be many new nations in the world in that time. Many other nations are vying to become members of the European Union, and that will change the way in which the EU adapts to the new world in which it tries to bring people together.

It’s clear to me that Willie Rennie should be a key player in the Better Together campaign. His forensic scrutiny of the SNP, combined with his natural positivity and straight talking will be a huge asset over the next two years. Euan McColm is not the only journalist to be complimentary about him recently. The Sunday Herald this week lamented his absence from First Minister’s Questions last week and said:

Since the election, the party, largely through Rennie’s ceaseless efforts, has shown it can punch above its weight at Holyrood. Rennie has been ahead of the curve on issues such as the job losses which must accompany police and fire centralisation, and is arguably Salmond’s best inquisitor in the Holyrood chamber.

The First Minister’s antipathy towards him is a back-handed compliment.

It’s been a good week for Willie and the Scottish Liberal Democrats. The launch of the party’s Home Rule Commission has given the debate on Scotland’s future a kickstart and a potential idea to build a consensus around.

* Caron Lindsay is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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16 Comments

  • Gareth Aubrey 31st Oct '12 - 1:52pm

    It would be interesting to know who these “many new nations in the world” are going to be exactly, because I can’t think of many places I would say were especially, particularly likely to have become new countries by 2016 (any offers, LDV readers?)

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 31st Oct '12 - 2:13pm

    I know. That perplexed me as well. Maybe he’s counting Orkney and Shetland if Scotland votes for independence:-).

  • Oh dear, I really do think this is barking up the wrong tree. Does anyone seriously suggest that an independent Scotland would not continue the UK treaty obligations and remain as a member of the EU? It really is preposterous to suggest otherwise any more than that an independent Scotland would not have to shoulder its share of the UK national debt.

    As in all cases, in the end it is for the 27 (or 28 or more) states to agree, but to object would be equivalent to the EU rejecting the Scottish vote and the partition of the UK. Some details would have to be sorted out, but sadly from my point of view, adopting the Euro could not really be included unless the Scots adopted their own interim currency.

    In all seriousness future continued membership of the EU is more certain as an independent Scotland, than as a member of the UK.

    There are a number of countries on track to become members of the EU: Croatia for certain,with other ex Yugoslavia states to follow, Iceland and then at some point there is Turkey.

  • Since I do not live in Scotland (but my daughter does), my opinion matters little, however I am surprised that the Scottish Lib Dems are not more agnostic on the Scottish Independence issue. Perhaps someone could explain (I have looked at the ‘Better Together’ video, but it does not explain).

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 31st Oct '12 - 4:36pm

    Martin, there are no guarantees that Scotland would have the same terms as the UK does at the moment. There’s no doubt that it could or would be a member, but we don’t know whether we would have to join the Euro, Schengen Agreement or whether we’d get the same rebate. There have been mixed messages from other member states. I think the Spanish would have their fingers on the veto button from the very start.

    Scottish Lib Dems don’t want independence – Ming said the other day that people living in Eyemouth and Otterburn, a few miles apart, should be getting the same pension, not be in a different country. In this global environment, a big country getting smaller is not ideal, either.

  • Thank you Caron, I respond better to what Ming says than to what from a distance looks very much like over hyped scare stuff about the EU. It would be a complete break from past form for the EU not to look for the smoothest path that has the minimum disruption. I doubt there is any sensible suggestion that existing UK treaties would not be recognised on all sides.

    If Lib Dem policy is against partition then it is surely best to hear the positive arguments. At present I am quite sympathetic to a YES to independence vote (as I think is my, up to now, Lib Dem voting daughter in Scotland), though devo max (if available) would be more practical

  • Tom Robinson 31st Oct '12 - 5:54pm

    The idea that Spain would happily give up on access to the fishing areas around Scotland is wholly unconvincing.

    The main defence that Spain will mount (as has already been outlined by at least one Spanish minister) is to point out that in their view the union of Scotland and England (by the Treaties of Union) differs materially from the origins of Spain.

    Better that the LibDems (and everyone else) should stop using Spain/Catalonia as a stick to beat the SNP, and rather reflect on the very serious issue that may arise in Catalonia, Will it be acceptable if the Catalans vote for independence in their parliament at some point over the next 4 years, and Spain sends in the military, to do other than support Catalonia as Spain will be in breach of the UN charter on self determination.? Will it be SPAIN that has to be threatened with being thrown out of the EU.

    Stop the empty posturing on Scotland and the EU. The recent informed report of Graham Avery to Westminster on Scotland and the EU very much supports the SNP view of what would happen rather than the “sky will fall in” analysis of far too many dissembling unionists.

  • Tom, I very much agree with your level headed comment, though I somehow doubt that modern Spain would be so idiotic.

    Do you have a link to the Graham Avery report? I suspect the EU will be drawing up some sort of plans, which are likely to stress continuity with possibilities of later negotiation. For example Catalonia might want its language recognised at EU level.

  • Tom Robinson 31st Oct '12 - 7:28pm

    Martin, let’s hope you are right about Spain.

    The web address is http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmselect/cmfaff/writev/643/m05.htm

    I am afraid you will have to paste/type it into your browser.

  • Tom Robinson 31st Oct '12 - 7:29pm

    Martin-I underestimsted my only talents-just clicking on the adress should work :-)

  • ☻Thanks Tom, it makes an interesting read and I find it exactly in line with my own considerations. I have mentioned the issue that the Scots are European citizens and that this cannot be lightly removed, so I was interested that Graham Avery gives importance to this too. The anti-parallel case of East Germany is an interesting indicator. Well done on the link, I usually cheat by setting it up from a comments page on another website, which has the link facility, then copying it across.

    The href thing is rather cumbersome, does anyone know if there is any prospect of including buttons for links, quotes, bold etc?

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 31st Oct '12 - 8:58pm

    Tom and Martin, you seem very sure that everything will be fine, and you may be right. However, Scots need to know exactly what they are voting for when the Independence Referendum comes. They can’t just be expected to cross their fingers and hope for the best. I think Willie is right to expect the SNP to set out what the legal basis is and also to show that the other EU members agree with it. It only takes one to veto and we could potentially be in a much more difficult situation.

  • Caron, I really think it is the wrong alley(one that can comfortably be left to the Tories and Scottish Labour), far better to deal with question at stake and to present a positive vision for Scotland to the Scottish electorate. It is this vision from the Scottish Liberals that I keenly await.

  • Tom Robinson 1st Nov '12 - 9:14am

    Caron. It would now appear that only the UK government, of which the Lib Dems are a part, are formally entitled to ask for a definitive response from the EU. The UK Government has not done so-not for the first time, the unionist attacks appear to be rebounding upon themselves.

    As a general approach, I run my life on the basis of the balance of probabilities whilst being aware of, but not paralysed by, downside risks. Therefore on the EU, the scenario outlind by Graham Averyseems to me probable, but not certain.

    As to certainty on Europe, the leader in Holyrood of your UK coalition partners, Ruth Davidson, was unable to state whether or not the UK would be in th EU in 5 or 10 years-a doubt added to by the Commons defeat re the EU last night. No certainty there then.

    If you wish certainty about the political future, I am afraid you must seek another universe :-)

  • Robin Bennett 1st Nov '12 - 10:28am

    The Nats are no doubt constantly updating their list of myths about independence. When they publish them with authoritative rebuttals they can expect a boost to their credibility. Let’s hope they won’t be quoting Willie or other Lib Dems.

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