Trouble in paradise…SNP MEP says leadership should admit they made a mistake over independent Scotland’s EU membership

DSC_0044So we’ve had the first real sign of jitters within the SNP ranks tonight. Up until now, they’ve been as tight as anything, united against everyone else as they pursue their lifelong goals. In fact, I suspect there might have been a few times Nick Clegg has looked at the loyalty of SNP members and elected members and maybe felt a wee pang of envy. Even when two SNP MSPs resigned the whip over the party’s abandoning of its anti NATO stance, it was all done more in sorrow than anger. In practice those MSPs still vote with the party and it’s oh so civilised.

Tonight, though, we’ve seen the first public sign of unease in the SNP camp. At a debate organised by the Law Society in Scotland, Alyn Smith, SNP MEP, said that the SNP leadership should admit that they had made a mistake over an independent Scotland’s EU membership. They assert that they would be able to get in with the same terms as the rest of the UK, despite a growing pile of evidence to the contrary. There is little doubt that an independent Scotland would get EU membership at some point, but the terms and the speed at which it would happen are far from clear.

Smith told the astonished crowd that the SNP leadership had not listened to his advice that membership would not be as automatic as they had claimed.

George Lyon, Scotland’s Liberal Democrat MEP was there taking part in the debate and saw it all happen. Afterwards he said:

This admission by Alyn Smith that his leadership must confess about mistakes over its EU position is refreshing.  People now know that membership of the European Union would not be automatic for an independent Scotland.
The frustration that Alyn Smith feels about the lack of honesty from the SNPs leadership is revealing.  It shows that the SNP are prepared to say and do anything to win the referendum.

With the stakes so high, there are bound to be fraught moments for everyone involved. This is the first public sign of tension in the SNP, though and it’s quite revealing. The body language at their European campaign launch in the morning will be interesting. There seems to be trouble in paradise. How deep does it really go?

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

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  • What probability would you estimate that the EU would pronounce, against the wishes of the people living there, that people living in Scotland were excluded from the EU? Even without the backdrop of Europhobia and UKIP’s popularity in England, I would guess the chances are too low to bother about. The damage to the EU taking such a course would be immense;it would play straight into the hands of those who claim that the EU does not respect national democracies and would set an appalling precedent that the EU would be unable to wriggle free from.

    Possibly Scotland might be asked to commit itself to adopting the Euro, however no target date could be set. Another undiscussed issue is nationality, not only could the EU not be able to revoke EU citizenship, nor could the rUK; there would be nothing to stop all living in Scotland and presumably many not living in Scotland, from claiming dual citizenship. Did this Scottish MEP enumerate the supposed ” growing pile of evidence”? It doesn’t sound to me that he has got such a good grasp of what ‘evidence’ is.

  • I thought that we were citizens of the EU by right of the UK signing the treaty. Does the treaty apply to a new fountry which has succeded from another then? Afer all it seems that membership of Nato et al does not carry over, so why should ‘citizenship’ of another artifical construct carry over as well?

    I am sure that the EU would readmit Scotland. On its terms of course.

  • David Cloke 30th Apr '14 - 9:26am

    I think that’s the point. Scotland would have to renegotiate entry, and thus likely have less good terms than the UK, not that it would be excluded. In addition to having to accept the Euro, would it have to accept Schengen and what that might mean for the Anglo-Scottish border?

  • Please, come on. While I’m English and would dearly like to see Scotland remain in the union, this line of thinking presupposes that an independent Scotland would have no bargaining advantages at all, and that the country would be at the mercy of Brussels benevolence.

    Scotland won’t be kicked out of the EU because it has among the largest fishing groundss and certainly the largest energy reserves in Europe, if you only want to look at it crassly. In an age with Russian tension, the EU is not going to shoot itself in the foot like that.

    Mr. Salmond had a speech in Bruges the other day which I happened to read for some odd reason. He addressed this question in a way that I thought was quite good.

  • The problem is one that appears to be entirely out of either the rUK or the newly independent Scotland’s hands. My reading of the situation is that, at the very least, Spain would want to make it a difficult process in order to put of their own regions seeking independence. Scotland would surely need a plan B in these circumstances (even if they felt them unlikely).

  • Toby Fenwick 30th Apr '14 - 10:21am

    Caron – very interesting. Is there a video or transcript about what Mr Smith actually said? If it is as reported, and he actually makes the point that iScotland would have to apply under Art 49 (as we’ve all been saying, including the Commission Vice-President Viviane Reding on 20 Mar 14 –,d.ZGU), then it punches a major hole in the credibility of the SNP’s EU policy, which all of the assertion and bluster in the world doesn’t hide.

  • Toby Fenwick 30th Apr '14 - 11:00am

    The route to joining the EU is detailed in Art 49 of the Lisbon Treaty. You need to be independent and meet the criteria, and then apply the EU’s rulebook (the acquis).

    What Salmond & Co are trying to do is to get a change in the Treaty under Art 48 to allow an independent Scotland to have all of the advantages from the UK’s opt-outs and have continuation of membership. Professor Kenneth Armstrong, Head of Cambridge’s Centre for European Legal Studies concluded that Article 48 “cannot plausibly be used” for this, and Viviane Reding, VP of the Commission said the same in a letter to the Scottish Parliament on 20 March (repeating what the Commission have said on this since 2004). Instead of accepting this and coming up with a Plan B, as on the currency union question, Salmond doubled down in Bruges on Monday and made a whole pile of assertions that the EU would do this or that, and seriously damaged his credibility in the process.

    It is refreshing that Mr Smith apparently agrees with the Commission and the EU lawyers in this area. What it means in practice is that Scotland would be outside the EU for 24-30 months after independence, and wouldn’t get the UK’s preferential membership position. Whilst this may not matter to some Scots, it will to others.

  • The Commission will do what it is told to do by the EU Council. Article 49 is almost a red herring, it clearly is formulated for new territories. There is nothing on removing a territory or excluding a defined population.

    As I wrote above people need to consider the precedent that would be set. If anyone thinks that it would be a good precedent for the EU to exclude Scotland and its inhabitants from the EU against the wishes of the population, they need to explain why.

    Without any good reason, and as I have already made clear I think it would be an overwhelmingly bad precedent for the EU, the EU leaders in the Council will do everything they can to ensure continuity.

    Those who fantasise about anything else do so possibly because they do not seriously believe Scotland will secede. I suppose the odds are still that it will remain part of the UK.

  • The legal advice, as I understand it, is that the remaining UK would be considered under international law to be the continuing state, with Scotland a new state. The rUK would inherit the existing UK’s treaty commitments.

    Scotland would in all likelihood be given a clear run through most of the accession process, but there’s no guarantee that they would get in on the nod, given Spanish regional movements for example. The EU would not magically go from 28 to 29 countries at midnight on a particular date.

  • @ ed wilson In the event of independence rUK would need to be careful with that ruling. New state, no debt.

  • Ed Wilson: I recall seeing legal advice that both entities would be expected to honour treaty obligations by default. (possibly it was Alan Boyle who has advised something of this nature)

    A ‘Yes’ in the referendum would not lead to overnight independence. I think an 18 month negotiation period is envisaged.

  • Toby Fenwick 30th Apr '14 - 4:11pm

    Martin –

    Scottish independence would indeed set a precedent, which is precisely why Madrid (and to a lesser extent Paris and Brussels) are concerned about it. The law does matter, and the civil law jurisdictions have a less flexible view than we do in common law – but for the sake of argument, let’s look at it in terms solely of EU politics.

    Specifically, what’s in it for the other 28 member states (ie, including the rUK) to do Scotland a favour by deciding that Art 48 and seamless entry with all of the UK’s bells and whistle opt outs intact?

    For most, nothing. For net contributors, if iScotland loses the UK rebate, then that saves £260m (insignificant) but opens the door on the UK’s rebate again (quite significant), and it marginalizes the rUK. (For the record, I don’t think that the rUK would care too much, as the EU budget still requires unanimity, and will always do so – otherwise the net recipients at some point could outvote the net contributors.)

    For those with restive regions whose domestic separatists call for independence within EU, a seamless option is a major threat – and will be treated as such. Spain, France and Belgium fall into this category with Italy also there too, theoretically. Spain’s interest in Catalonia dwarfs the value of the Scottish fisheries to Madrid, so CFP considerations make no difference.

    But I can’t think of anyone who gains, presuming that there is an EEA style patch put in place ahead of accession (and frankly, iScotland’s GDP is 1.4% of the EU and the population is 1% of the EU total that it wouldn’t make a lot of difference to EU countries’ trade if there wasn’t a free market to iScotland.)

    So this leaves three groups – those actively opposed to doing iScotland a favour for fear of setting a precedent; those who are relatively agnostic but have an incentive to get iScotland into the acquis and reduce the rebate, and those who broadly don’t care, but have nothing to gain by expending precious political capital on iScotland’s behalf.

    Which by my reckoning means that it’s not in anyone’s interest to do iScotland a favour, and there are a couple of groups with serious EU players who are strongly incentivised to force iScotland down the Art 49 route.

    Game, set and match to Article 49, I think.

  • Martin Lowe 30th Apr '14 - 8:22pm

    I think Toby’s assessment is more realistic than that of my namesake.

    Martin’s fallen into the trap of thinking that the world owes Scotland a living just because.
    But the world doesn’t work like that.

    All being said, if Scotland does gain independence I wish them every success. It’s in everyone’s interests for them to prosper, and independence from the UK didn’t mean that Ireland escaped its status as a priest-ridden backwater until it gained EU membership.

  • Martin Lowe: No, I have not made any assumption of the kind. My reflection is based on how devastating it would be to the EU if it were seen to exclude a whole population against its wishes; such an action would undermine the basis upon which the EU has been constructed.

    Furthermore, it would set a destructive precedent by effectively inviting any region to easily detach itself from the EU,in the hope of a short term advantage. It would give UKIP like parties a tactic of breaking up the EU by a thousand cuts.

    The EU tolerates numerous small states within its borders; Monaco, San Marino, Liechtenstein, Andorra, Channel Islands etc, but definitely would not wish to invite an epidemic of such entities.

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