Alex Salmond, the first minister of Scotland, has made clear his intention of holding a referendum in the autumn of 2014 on whether Scottish people want to leave the Union with England, Wales and Northern Ireland. In the event of a victory for the ‘independence’ option, how would the new State’s relationship with the EU be?
The timing Mr Salmond chose to hold the referendum could not be more symbolic. In the summer of 2014, Scotland will celebrate the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, a battle in which the Scots trounced the English troops. In that very summer, Scotland will host the Commonwealth games and the 2014 Ryder Cup golf tournament. The first minister is keen to take advantage of this mood, as it is not clear Scottish people would vote massively for independence (a recent YouGov poll puts those rejecting outright independence at 61% and those supporting it at 39%). David Cameron has told him to go ahead but within the next 18 months, and under the condition of a yes-or-no question, rather than the ‘Devo-Max’ option that Salmond desires.
Leaving British politics aside, supposing the Scottish people give a green light for independence in the referendum and Scotland is consecrated legally as a new State, what would its position regarding membership of the EU be?
The EU has no precedent as guidance, as never has a member state been split whilst holding membership of the EU. Alex Salmond wants a smooth transition of Scotland to independence, upholding most of the treaties signed by the UK on behalf of its territorial units, including membership of the European Union; however, the legal reality may not provide the easy road the Scottish first minister wishes for.
The most likely scenario following Scottish independence is for it to apply for membership in equal terms as the other applicant states have done, such as Iceland, Montenegro, Serbia or Turkey. As Scotland would be the seceding party, England, Wales and Northern Ireland would be the remaining territory of the UK and the ones who would get to keep the name of ‘United Kingdom’. In the meantime, however, questions of human rights (if we disregard the bureaucratic and political issues) would arise, as Scottish people would suddenly find themselves illegal immigrants in other European countries, or at the minimum, requiring a visa to work and study in the EU.
The Euro issue would require resolution. Would Scotland retain the opt-out possessed by the UK or would it have to adopt the Euro as with every other new member state (although with the possibility to choose when)?
Mr Salmond has indicated his intention of signing a stability pact with London to keep the British Pound. His intentions over an eventual adoption of the Euro, however, remain unclear. Administrative matters would also have to be considered, such as on the number of votes Scotland would have on the Council, the number of MPs and on a possible Scottish Commissioner to be appointed.
Another question poses itself; being accepted as a new EU member state requires the full acceptance of the 27 current members. Why would countries with their own seceding problems, such as Spain, approve Scotland’s smooth entry into the European Union? A successful transition from devolution to independence and a warm welcome of a seceding territorial unit into the EU as a member on its own right would certainly raise hopes for Catalans, Basques and even Bretons for their own statehood.