Here is my understanding of six essential steps a separate Scotland would have to take to retain, or more correctly achieve, EU membership: I assume that as part of the UK it could not achieve a different relationship than that which the UK negotiates.
- A second independence referendum (indyref2) would have to held
- Sturgeon has previously spoken of her criterion for indyref2 being a consistent run of opinion polls that shows 60% support for independence. Will she ever get that and if not would she risk another poll with much less certainty of winning?
- The UK government would have to agree to the referendum
- What attention would any UK government be likely to give to a request/demand for indyref2 from a hostile SNP during a period when the consequences of the Brexit decision for the entire UK are likely to absorb the energy of government and parliament for a long time?
- Would the UK government agree to another referendum, having signed off the first one only in 2014 that achieved the ‘decisive’ result of the Edinburgh Agreement, especially when the SNP repeated so often their ‘once in a generation/lifetime’ promise?
- If the UK parliament withheld agreement to another referendum it would not be possible to hold it legally. Would an attempt to do so in the guise of a consultative exercise à la Catalonia not be challenged and struck down by the courts?
- Even if the UK government agreed to indyref2 would it not be likely to require different conditions than last time, for example not a Yes/No question (remain/leave now seems more appropriate) and more than a simple majority win whatever the turnout?
- Those who want independence would have to win the referendum
- To win a referendum the SNP would have to promote some sort of prospectus (Scotland’s Future Mk. 2?) for what an independent Scotland would look like. What would it include given that the economic fundamentals that partly thwarted the previous referendum have not improved? Indeed some aspects of the economy (oil and gas, government expenditure and revenue forceasts) are worse.
- The choice of Scotland’s place in the world post-independence could surely only be between full EU membership or a status unaligned to any significant economic grouping. Once voters see the implications of both these options, might they not shy away from either?
- If the referendum were won Scotland would have to disentangle itself from the UK
- As the UK will have significant challenges disentangling itself from forty years of EU legislation and regulation, so Scotland would from 300+ years of UK legislation and regulation. Many of the SNP’s previous 2014 proposals to do so, and especially its timescale, were shown to be unrealistic. Even assuming a smooth process a huge amount of work would be required, and at a time when UK government civil servants were pre-occupied with Brexit.
- As an independent state, Scotland would have to apply to join the EU
- Given the nervousness of some EU states about their own separatist movements, might some be tempted to thwart or indefinitely delay a Scottish application, especially from an SNP government that has made common cause with some of those movements?
- There is already a queue of other states lining up to join the EU. Why would it allow Scotland to jump the queue of those who have already been waiting for some while and may have put in a lot of effort to their application?
- Following application, Scotland would have to negotiate entry
- Like other candidate states, Scotland would have to meet 35 accession criteria. Many should not be a major problem given the inheretence the country would have from UK EU-compliant legislation. But those criteria in which the UK has had opt-outs would have to be met, including working towards adoption of the Euro as Scotland’s currency (itself an onerous requirement, believe it or not), and joining the Schengen border-free area.
Finally, heaven forfend, would the negotiation offer of the EU to the probably by then not so newly-independent country need to be approved, in yet another referendum?
Each of these steps would raise additional questions not dealt with here, for example the skills and capacity available for negotiation at many points in the process. And beyond the formalities, of course, there are other issues. If push comes to shove would people be willing to throw in their lot with a grouping that accounts (2014) for only 15% by value of Scotland’s exports compared to the 64% that go to the rest of the UK. So many uncertainties …
I would be happy to have any of my assumptions about Scotland’s six essential steps to EU membership tested or corrected. Subject to any corrections it seems to me that it would be a long hard road even if majority ‘Remain’ opinion in the recent EU referendum holds up – although of course that result assumed the UK would stay in under its present terms augmented by whatever concessions David Cameron negotiated earlier this year.