Scottish independence and the EU

Professor Michael Keating, University of Aberdeen

Professor Michael Keating, University of Aberdeen

In a post on The Future of the UK and Scotland, Michael Keating responds to the intervention from Commission president, Jose Manuel Barroso regarding Scotland’s future in the EU should it vote for independence. In this piece, Michael asserts that while Scotland would need to apply for membership, it would ultimately be admitted. 

The debate on whether an independent Scotland would be a member of the European Union refuses to go away, in spite of all the work put into clarifying matters. The latest intervention from Commission president, Jose Manuel Barroso merely confuses the question.

Like most people who have studied the matter, I have long argued that Scotland would need to apply for membership but that it would be admitted.

  1. Under the terms of the Edinburgh Agreement, Scotland would be recognized by the United Kingdom. There is no reason for any of the other  EU members to refuse recognition. There is no precedent for a seceding state, recognized by the host state, not being recognized by others.
  2. EU membership is open to any recognized European democracy that meets the Copenhagen criteria and adopts the acquis communautaire. Scotland has been within the EU/ EC for over forty years and does meet these criteria.
  3. The situation is not like Catalonia, where the Spanish government has ruled out an independence referendum and the constitution forbids secession.
  4. Incidentally, Barroso has got himself tied in knots with his repeated argument that an independent Catalonia would be outside the EU. The real point about the Spanish constitution is that an independent Catalonia is impossible altogether, so Catalonia could not be outside the EU. By suggesting that it would be outside the EU, Barroso has fallen into the trap of accepting that Catalonia could be independent.
  5. It is in nobody’s interest to throw Scotland out of the single market – not Scotland, the rest of the UK, the other member states, business or anyone would gain from this.
  6. There is no ‘queue’ to get into the EU. Applicants are admitted as and when they are ready. Turkey first tried to get in 50 years ago, so if there were a queue they would be at the head; but 22 other states have got in before them.
  7. As the UK Government noted in one of its papers, the Nordic states completed negotiations in 1-2 years.  Were Iceland or Norway to change their minds and apply now, they would be in very quickly.
  8. Barosso’s comparison of Scotland with Kosovo is utterly misplaced. Kosovo is not recognized by a number of EU states because it is not yet recognized by Serbia. It emerged from the last of the Balkan wars, complete with mass killing and ethnic cleansing. Comparing this process with that of the Edinburgh Agreement, which was a model for democratic ways of dealing with the issue, is dangerous and a disservice to democracy itself.
  9. The role of the European Commission in the accession process for a new member state is limited to certifying that the state meets the membership requirements. If Scotland does meet those requirements, Barroso (or his successor) would be obliged to make a favourable recommendation to the European Council and not to invent new political criteria.
  10. There are many questions about Scotland’s position and strategy within the EU, which the Yes side need to clarify. These include the implications of keeping the Pound, a matter on which the Yes side has recently been put on the back foot. Suggesting that Scots would be thrown out of the European Union simply for exercising their democratic rights, however, is to undermine the very basis of the European order.
  11. None of this is in itself an argument for independence. Unionists can argue that Scotland is better off as part of a big EU state than as a small independent one. It is not consistent, however, to agree that Scots can vote to be an independent state but then seek to deprive them of the basic rights of any European democracy.
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One Response to Scottish independence and the EU

  1. Peter Brown says:

    Incisive, dispassionate and comprehensive. This type of quality analysis should be given more prominence. But I’m not holding my breath.

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