Scotland’s future within (or outside) the European Union (EU) has once again hit the headlines, with the Scotsman reporting that “the European Commission has written to a House of Lords committee stating that if Scots voters back independence, existing treaties which cover the UK’s EU membership will ‘cease to apply’”. The Scotland Office is quoted in the article as saying that Scots have the right to know the full implications for Scotland if it were to “leave the UK family”.
Before we reach the meat of this topic, it’s rather disingenuous to claim that standing on your own two feet is akin to leaving a family. When our sons and daughters grow up and make decisions for themselves, it’s the mark of a developing, mature relationship, not of abandonment. An internationalist, co-operative Scotland would seek the same relationship, as is already shared with the other nations on the British Isles through the British-Irish Council.
Anyway, pedantry aside, we must remember that the Scotland Office’s argument should cut both ways. It looks likely that, regardless of who wins the next Westminster election, there will be a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU. David Cameron, under fire from the right wing of his party and the growing prominence of UKIP, has all but promised one should the Conservatives emerge victorious; senior Labour MPs have suggested holding one and Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats promised one in their 2010 manifesto.
Opinion polls consistently show that, although the small number of Scots in each survey are more evenly divided on EU membership, a strong plurality of UK voters would vote to leave the EU in a referendum. For example, in the latest YouGov poll, this antipathy towards the EU translates into outright majorities in favour of withdrawal in the North of England and the South of England and 48% in the Midlands and Wales. This ‘cold house’ is hardly surprising, given that the UK press, whose attitudes towards Europe range from critically supportive to spluttering outrage, can hardly be described as being well-disposed towards Europe.
So, given that both major parties at Westminster would hold a referendum on EU membership after the next election and that there’s a consistent public and media majority in the UK in favour of leaving the EU, why do the No campaign continue to show their concern over Scottish EU membership? Surely it’s more at threat as part of the UK than as an independent country?
Of course, an independent Scotland would need to negotiate new terms of membership, as the Scottish Government itself says. However, it would do so from within the UK (and the EU) in the 2 years between the referendum result and the planned first elections for an independent Scottish Parliament in May 2016.
To suggest that the EU would be willing to perform an expensive and elaborate hokey-cokey, where Scotland was in, out and then in again, is ludicrous. Given the human, financial and natural resources that Scotland contributes to the EU at a time of uncertainty and financial instability across Europe, does anybody honestly expect the EU to wilfully eject a long-standing partner of almost 40 years?
Over the next 2 years, there will be attempts to obfuscate the debate by attempting to boil down 50 years of complex European treaties into doom-laden, doubt-ridden claims about Scottish membership of the EU while ignoring the very real threat posed by Westminster sabre-rattling. I hope, and believe, that the people of Scotland can see through the scaremongering and apply the common sense logic that has served us well in the past.
Jean Urquhart MSP
Independent MSP for the Highlands and Islands region