If Scotland voted for independence, it would probably apply to rejoin the EU. Despite its unique history, it would have to follow the normal path to EU accession, says Anthony Salamone. Scots are not keen on the euro and fisheries would be a flashpoint. While the Scottish government would be well-advised not to seek opt-outs of the kind the UK had, Scotland would have the potential to become a successful EU member state.
Independence is perennially high on the Scottish political agenda – and Brexit has cemented its salience. The Scottish government is currently seeking the transfer of power from Westminster to hold another independence referendum. Although the UK government has to date simply refused, the argument over another vote will continue until either it is resolved or the next Holyrood election takes place in May 2021.
Over the months ahead, the independence debate will only intensify. Even in the absence of Brexit, Scotland’s relationship with the European Union has long been a cornerstone of discussion. If Scotland were to vote for independence in a future referendum, what would the road to EU membership look like?
In the first instance, it is not predestined that an independent Scotland would apply to join the EU. A minority in the independence movement favours a Norway-style relationship of membership of the European Free Trade Association and participation in the European Economic Area. Some supporters of independence also voted for Brexit – and might wish for Scotland to have an equally distant relationship with the EU.
However, the Scottish electorate as a whole has endorsed EU membership on multiple occasions. It voted decisively to remain part of the EU in the 2016 referendum. In last May’s European elections, 71 per cent of the popular vote in Scotland went to pro-EU parties, and 90 per cent of Scotland’s MPs elected in December favoured staying in the EU. On balance, it is probable that a clear majority of people in Scotland would support rejoining the EU.
Scotland’s prospective candidacy for EU membership would be completely novel in two respects. First, it was previously part of the EU for 47 years. Second, it was a constituent of an EU member state, rather than a member state in its own right. While the former would facilitate a faster accession process, the latter would necessitate significant domestic preparations.
Nicola Sturgeon speaking after the release of the paper ‘Scotland’s Right to Choose: Putting Scotland’s Future in Scotland’s Hands’ in December 2019, Credit: Scottish Government (CC BY-NC 2.0)
Formal independence would have to be achieved before Scotland could submit its application to the European Council. The process of its separation from the rest of the UK (rUK) could realistically take around 2-3 years after an independence referendum, during which period Scotland’s relationship with the EU would continue to be governed by the EU-UK partnership. The EU and Scotland could conclude an Association Agreement on their relationship after Scotland became independent and presumably exited the EU-UK partnership. Provided that the EU, rUK and Scotland all consented, it is possible that discussions on this agreement could take place during the transition to independence.
Scotland would apply for EU membership in the normal way, under the procedure set out in Article 49 TEU. While in 2014 it was debated whether Scotland could instead become a member state by simply amending the EU treaties under Article 48, such ‘internal enlargement’ would not be possible since Scotland will now be a third country (and in any case it was never clear that the EU would have agreed to this special route).
The essential objective for the government of Scotland would be to advocate an acceleration of the process while still following the prescribed modalities of accession. Scotland is a European nation with an advanced democracy and a developed free-market economy. It should meet the political and economic dimensions of the Copenhagen criteria fairly straightforwardly. Its greatest task would be to demonstrate the institutional capacity to carry out the functions and responsibilities of membership.
Future enlargement of the EU is a notable topic of debate at present. France has been vocal in reiterating its desire to reform the EU’s political institutions before allowing new members. Potential reforms of the process are being discussed, although Germany and the European Commission among others remain supportive of continuing to advance the perspectives of Western Balkan candidate countries like Albania and North Macedonia.
How would an independent Scotland seeking to join the EU fit into this reassessment of enlargement? It could present itself as a well-prepared candidate with robust democratic institutions, strong public consensus for EU membership and a high degree of existing compliance with the EU acquis. With good strategy, the government of Scotland would be in a favourable position to persuade the member states to enable its accession process.
Scotland’s journey to EU membership would be deeply linked with the construction of the Scottish state. In the post-referendum transition and formative years of independence, it would establish government departments (such as a department for European and external affairs) and state architecture such as a comprehensive system of taxation, a central bank and a competition agency. It would also ensure a stable basis for UK parliament legislation remaining in Scots law and undo whatever divergence from EU law had taken place during the Brexit era. These measures would all be direct or indirect requirements for EU membership. Excellent domestic preparations would facilitate more expeditious accession negotiations.
Like any EU candidate country, Scotland would have its priorities for the negotiations. The government of Scotland would probably seek a special arrangement on the Schengen Area in order to maintain the Common Travel Area between Ireland, Scotland and rUK. In the post-Brexit context, it is difficult to imagine the EU granting a treaty-level opt-out, but perhaps a model of deferred participation could be agreed.
As an obligation of membership, Scotland would have to make a good faith commitment to join the euro. However, despite its pro-European sentiment, the euro is remarkably unpopular in Scotland. Opinion polls suggest that only 18 per cent of people believe that an independent Scotland should take up the single currency. Committing to the euro would therefore be politically challenging. The currency is a highly salient issue in the independence debate and reflects the strong economic focus which pervades Scottish and British politics. Nevertheless, Scotland would have to confront the political and strategic consequences of not being part of the eurozone, given it has increasingly become the locus for future integration.
Fisheries is another emotive issue, with the Common Fisheries Policy disliked by Scottish fishing communities, particularly in the North East of the country. It would be awkward for the government to simply sign up to the policy unchanged. Scotland might also look for transitional provisions on national fiscal and budgetary standards.
A recurring question is how long Scotland’s EU accession process would take. Considering its current political and economic institutions and its previous relationship with the EU, Scotland’s accession would probably take around 4-5 years. By comparison, Finland took about 3 years to join the EU – but it was already an independent state and part of the European Economic Area.
The EU now has more members than in previous enlargement rounds. As a result, the process of national ratifications of an accession treaty takes longer. For Croatia, the most recent accession country, it took 15 months from first to last ratification. Ultimately, the speed of the accession process for Scotland would depend upon its own approach, the attitudes of the member states and the assessments of the European Commission as the Union negotiator.
Scotland would be a European small state. Consistent pro-EU electoral support demonstrates its mainstream Europeanism, which would enable Scotland to conduct a more positive EU membership than the UK. Indeed, Scotland could only become a successful EU member state by jettisoning the UK’s confrontational approach to the EU and instead defining itself as a constructive co-constituent of the European project. The government of Scotland would therefore be well advised not to expend its political capital on arguing for a special accession process or opt-outs which it would be extremely unlikely to secure. Instead, it would be best placed to ensure a beneficial accession by advocating its positions within the existing rules and prioritising negotiation objectives which would be deliverable.
At the moment, Scotland’s debate on independence and the EU is focused on a narrow set of issues (such as whether Scotland could join at all, how long it would take and whether its budget deficit is too high), largely ignoring the actual challenges and choices which the country would face. This debate must now be expanded to encompass the full range of issues at stake, including Scotland’s European interests, its potential negotiation priorities and its proposed contributions to the future of Europe. An independent Scotland would have the potential to be a successful EU member state – but it would have to significantly widen its horizons.
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Note: This article originally appeared at our sister site, LSE Brexit. It gives the views of the author, not the position of EUROPP – European Politics and Policy or the London School of Economics.
Anthony Salamone is Managing Director of European Merchants, a Scottish political analysis firm in Edinburgh. His academic and policy expertise focuses on EU politics and institutions, Scottish politics, Brexit and UK politics. He is a Member of the Edinburgh Europa Institute and Honorary Fellow of the Scottish Centre on European Relations.
It would take the alll the EU including Spain being ready to accept an independent Catalan state into the EU.
Scotland might find it preferable to join EFTA, initially at least. Norway voted against joining the EU because of the impact it would have on its fishing industry, and Scotland is in quite a similar position.
People think that the euro would be a weakness of the campaign and in a superficial sense that’s true because the euro is unpopular. When this debate happens you always find that a lot of people like the idea of an independent Scottish currency without concerning themselves about the economics that goes along with that. They think the euro is risky and don’t much like the idea of losing the pound (they already have a “Scottish pound” in terms of the design of bank notes so it doesn’t seem like much of a change to have an independent currency).
But the euro is actually a way out of a big problem for Scottish independence. A country that shared the UK’s currency could never be properly independent, but worse than that, in campaigning terms it just allows the UK government to say they would refuse a currency union and the entire case would fall apart (which is exactly what happened in 2014). An independent currency, in contrast, is a major risk.
The euro means that Scotland doesn’t have to have those problems in the long-term because it can from the end of the transition period make joining the euro the end goal. It’s a strange situation where the euro is unpopular in principle but actually the best way of solving a problem that would be unsolvable for most countries around the world who declared independence.
The Euro is not unpopular in Scotland, that’s an English fear, why would they be, the second biggest currency on the planet, used by 17 fellow traders, it would make perfect business sense.
In saying that currently the main focus is on Scotland using its own currency, which really is fine as well, and although personally I hope Scotland does use the Euro, the fact remains as it has always been, Scotland can use whatever currency it likes and the Scottish people will decide and Westminster or anyone else has absolutely no say
Fairly confident the Bank of England has a say on which countries can adopt the pound there bud. Why would they let an independent Scotland with bags of debt crash their currency?
No, anyone can use anyones currency. BOE gets no say in anything. Of course as the English pound will tank without OUR oil/gas/tech/booze and SOON our WATER, you can queen your lizzy pounds.
Not Sterling. So it will be a Scottish currency but the bet is the SNP will sell the Euro to the Scots. Good luck.
Ref immigration. As I contemplate when I can get my Scottish citizenship I wonder whether, on the hard border at Carter Bar, the main problem will be people escaping the PR of S to England or vv?
yes by using the UK currency Scotland could not be properly independent, but by doing the Euro the same occurs. Scotland’s fiscal policies would be subordinated to the ECB, they could not devalue to avoid Greece’s fate and would have to engage in fiscal discipline of a kind they have never had to as part of the UK.
Ah David, we Scots dont believe your peoject fear. We’re richer and more powerful than ever. We’re about to show you.
Please provide the numbers. It is quite clear that Scotland runs a very large fiscal deficit that would require an austerity more severe than anything experienced before.
There is one fly in the ointment that has an unknown effect on Scotland joining the EU as an independent country – the antagonism generated by England and its government both towards Scotland and everything about the EU. We can expect them to do all they can to make it as difficult as possible for Scotland to separate and to rejoin the EU.
I was involved with the front line of the Accession Process over 45 years ago when we had a ‘straightforward’ situation because goods went from the UK to the EU and vice versa. Most Scottish goods would have to transit England to reach mainland Europe, since Scotland only has one port sailing to Northern Ireland nor Eire (at the moment but would change when Ireland is united), and none to the other countries. So an independent Scotland may look towards reinstating ferries to Norway or Sweden to avoid english transit issues.
Then there is the issue of any border between Scotland and England. This may be more for Scotland’s protection if any trade deal is made between the USA and England, but if we look more to the European models than to traditional UK ideas many difficulties can be overcome. I was in an Italian / Slovenian border town on for two periods, both a month before and then day after Slovenia’s Accession to the EU. There had always been an ‘Italian arrangement’ between the two countries, and whilst the town had a physical border it had been breached in many places! Although many in Scotland would like to see another Hadrian’s Wall, than concept seems as out of date as having an Iron Curtain.
Finally thee is the prospect that once Scotland is Independent and part of the EU we may see an English EU referendum having a sensible outcome to rejoin!
You have not even the slightest shred of evidence the Uk would make it difficult for Scotland. With Scotland nine then the likelihood of the UK redoing is remote, as it is anyway
England , MAY be the rUK if Scotland agrees. Still, as a NON EU state it gets NO say. If it opens its mouth too much I think we’ll ensure its security council seat at the U.N. is forfeit.
The currency of an independent Scotland is critical to gaining an understanding on if, how and when we would meet the Copenhagen Criteria
The full extent of your comment on currency is that we probably wouldn’t use the Euro, but you don’t say what currency we *would* use.
The EU measure functioning market economy using specific metrics, many of which are around good governance of monetary policy.
Under the SNPs growth commission plans for a decade of Sterlingisation we would not *have* control of Monetary policy – we couldn’t set our own interest rates, enter an exchange rate mechanism or Quantiative Ease.
Under the current rules it would be literally impossible for us to meet the Copenhagen Criteria while Sterlingised.
Even if some workaround was to be considered – the EU stability rules could never accept a Scotland as a European economy when the non-EU remainder UK could, at any time in the process, unilaterally decide to QE and devalue our economy.
It’s possible that Montenegro may be able to negotiate their use of the Euro in an informal currency union – but not without handing over economic control to the EU. It might be a path that Scotland could take to enter into an informal use of the euro, but there is nothing to suggest the ECB will allow it – it is one of the issues holding up Montenegros EU membership.
It certainly puts it outside your timeline – Montenegro declared independence in 2008 and will not likely be a member even by 2025.
There are also a few other thorny issues for Scotland on the road to Independence.
In August 2020 the Institute for Fiscal Studies noted
‘Today’s Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland (GERS) figures show Scotland’s implicit budget deficit increasing to 8.6% of GDP in 2019-20, around 6 percentage points higher than the UK as a whole, largely reflecting higher government spending’
The Barnett Formula currently protects the Scottish Government from colossal spending cuts on Health, Social Security and Education, but this would need to be addressed following Independence.
Secondly, Independence would require Scotland to take on a portion of the UK National debt, which would need to be externally financed as there is no Central Bank, nor control over currency/fiscal policy. This would be very difficult to achieve in the short term and likely require rUK to agree deferring the capital transfer over a longer period – but for which Scotland would have to pay.
Third, key areas of the Scottish economy are facing significant headwinds: Oil prices are likely to stay depressed or fall further in the long term as the world transitions to clean energy (ave $100/barrel 2014 vs average $50 since), also US tariffs on EU products has severely hit Scottish Whisky/other spirits sales in North America (-25-50%) and the Japanese are rapidly growing sales (+20%) that may not be recovered.
Fourth, any Independence vote looks increasingly likely to trigger ‘sauce for the goose/sauce for the gander’ debates in Shetland and the Orkneys, that would be difficult for the Scottish Government to legitimately push away without undermining their own arguments. Should these island decide to push for UK ‘Crown Dependency Status’ this would impact Oil Revenues (Sullom Voe & Flotta), Fishing Grounds, and potentially the Scottish financial industry by offering incentives similar to those found in Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man.
Finally, a Brexit trade deal is likely to be reached that will return fishing quota to Scotland (which is one of the main reasons this is a UK government redline). This will necessarily be returned into the CFP if Scotland joins the EU – without waters retained by Orkney/Shetland.
Well your made up ignorant scenarios are as wrong and blinkered as your trust in Westminster protecting fishing rights having just signed a deal, giving fishermen even less quota than they had while in the EU, you trust these people lol.
Scotland doesn’t run a deficit, it has balanced its books every single year since the Parliament began, the deficit in Scotland is created by Westminster borrowing money on Scotlands behalf without even asking how much they would like, Scotland has no say, is then told they have to pay back what Westminster borrowed and a deficit created.
2ndly the apparent deficit is no restriction to EU membership, all that is required is a budget plan and an economic policy that shows convergence towards that EU target.
Legally Scotland is not required to pay any UK debt if it is not in the UK, that will revert back to Westminster who borrowed the money, although I’m sure some friendly deal can be done, Scotland is not liable as you assert.
3rdly, what makes you think you get to keep everything in this divorce? Scotland is due it’s share of all UK assets, that includes all military assets, all property assets, all investment assets and not forgetting Scotlands share of all the gold bullion held in the Bank of England, which in itself would cover any perceived debt transition.
On every level, on every aspect of the uneducated nonsense drivel you have just put forward, the actual reality is completely different, go educate yourself.
Why is Brexit better than independence exactly ?
What a good blog , well thought out and points out the pit falls. If they want to vote for independence let the whole of the uk vote on it, they would definitely get it. People are fed up listening to them moaning all the time , about hard done by they are
Very little here about the fact that the French, Greeks and Spanish at the very least, all have very good reasons to veto Scotland joining the eu due to their potential break away regions.
The difference between a region in Spain seeking independence is Scotland is country and has been for centuries. It has centuries of friendship with France and I do not the greeks vetoing it either.
Your hypothesis is just Unionist propaganda.
Nothing in my my comment is anything to do with unionism. For a kick off I’m a Scot. Whether the people of Scotland, (as opposed to the Scottish) are sold the promise of the people’s republic of Scotland is a different thing from joining the EU.
I would also like to watch you telling people from the various small enclaves around Europe that they are less of a nation than Scotland.
They can’t stop EFTA membership and THEY HATE the English. Catalonia will eventually make a deal with Spain.
Ask SNP when, in the event of independence, they will become a republic to rejoin the EU. In 2014 they said they would keep the Queen if independent. At that time they could, just like Canada/Australia/NZ. Now it would be impossible. They could not join the EU with a head of state who was also HOS of a non EU member.
Would the Scots really want to ditch the Queen to rejoin the EU. Has SNP warned them ??? There is no chance of deciding to have their own monarch as the crown of Scotland ceased to exist in 1603.
It’s doubtful the EU would be bothered about it at least where the HoS is a pure figurehead. They will be concerned about practical matters of governance.
We’ll be a Republic, we need no royal. Only old fuddys like the Royals , every day their # dwindles.
All Sturgeon want is to sit at the big boys table does she think country`s like France Germany Spain are going to listen to her. She will be told to sit down and speak when spoken to and Scotland will be ground into the earth by the EU. She will be told how many EU boats will fish our waters and how much they will catch and how much Scotland will be allowed to catch witch will be a lot less than anyone else, plus all the £billions we will have to give them each year
spot on with stuart shipton January 3, 2021 at 2:22 pm as it would be sensible to have the thinking cap of pros and cons being as whole uk or not before going along with SNP for event of independence. so think really hard what you really want, regardless of political groups suggestions. such as freedom of eu travel to illegal immigrations.
So if the Sottish gain independence democratically after a referendum 7 years after the first referendum, what stops them continually having referendums if they don’t like the outcome. If I am not mistaken the first was a lifetime job.
And now the big question….how much will have to be contributed to the EU budget. I doubt if Scotland has the financial capability of meeting this given that many subsidies from Westminster will be phased out and withdrawn once Scotland werre to gain independence. It will have to pay its own way by increasing tax, abolishing free prescriptions and uni places etc etc. Financial implications have not been laid out and once they are explained to the Scots their appetite for independence and the EU may well evaporate.
I think the Scottish people are being sold dreams by the SNP. Of course an independent Scotland will survive, but they cannot walk away from their share of the UK debts (they are part of the UK! The path will be long and difficult, establishing their own independent country,including disengaging from inter UK trade, to get ready for the hard EU border at Carlisle, The reality is they will be what 2 1/2 % of the population of the EU, with a 2 1/2% influence – the loss of sovereignty will be massive. Scotland is a big cog in the UK wheel, but will be a tiny cog in the EU wheel. Add to this the massive loss as the UK takes all government and armed forces jobs back to the rest of the UK.
As for joining the CTO, who says that is agreed? – given the aggressive behaviour of the SNP its likely that this wont be offered, so Scots can forget their option to go to London for jobs and opportunities, as they have done over the decades past.
Scotland feels important as part of the UK – it will be an insignificant member of the EU, and have to follow rules imposed by the bigger states – good luck to my Scottish friends..
Yes the UK needs reforming, but the SNP should be doing that from the inside, not just seek to wreck a very successful Union of brothers and cousins.
Brothers and Cousins. FUNNY.
The typically arrogant and condescending anti Scottish bias of the (obviously tory) commentators on here us appalling. Why not Scotland!