It is ironic that while Little Englanders search for the exit gates from the European Union in ever-increasing numbers that it is infact Scotland that is being politely asked to leave, in the event that it decides to create its own country. If only there was a ‘one out, one in’ policy that we could take advantage of. (There isn’t, or else the drachma would be back on the marketplace by now).
Intuitively, the position set out by Jose Manuel Barrosso makes sense, that new countries emerging from existing EU members would need to reapply for membership. Who is to know after all whether a smaller part of an existing member can pass the numerous hurdles to EU membership? Particularly in the current financial context?
What should be more concerning for the Yes Scotland campaign however is not so much what was said by the President of the European Commission but why it is being said.
Let’s make one thing quite clear, the European Union is a club that sets its own rules. It’s a bit like golf’s Royal & Ancient that way. We may not always get to see how the rules are made, or even understand them, but if they want to change anything about how they operate, and who they let in the door, they have the power to do so. So if enough of the 27 nations wanted Scotland to be a member immediately after independence then they could make it so, and they could speak up for that option now if they so chose.
Similarly, they could hold their tongues and keep the door closed for as long as they wanted which is, sadly, seemingly the preferred option, this side of the referendum at least. ‘Get behind Romania and Bulgaria’ is not the friendliest of calls from our supposed friends and partners at the European table, but c’est la vie.
I am sympathetic to the SNP arguments of why wouldn’t the EU want oil-, scenery-, whisky- and fish-rich Scotland as a member, but that makes it all the more concerning that the EU isn’t vocalising such an opinion.
There is gamesmanship here of course. Spain tried it rather nakedly, and not to mention cack-handedly, when they reportedly said they would veto Scotland joining the EU, quite clearly trying to dampen down support for Scottish independence with a view to dampening down the problematic Catalan nationalism within Spain’s own borders. Or possibly even just rabble-rousing from within the UK if NewsnetScotland is to be believed. Either way, one has to assume there is a similar approach from Barroso at play here, that a vested interest exists to explain why he’d rather just keep the UK as it is. After all, there is nothing to stop the head of the EU Commission embracing the idea of Scotland becoming a member of the EU post-independence, as would surely be the case whether it was sooner or later. This would be the more diplomatic, unbiased line to take, irrespective of what the rules say, and arguably more befitting a man in his position.
But no, his words suggest that he doesn’t want independence to happen in the first place despite the UK as it stands being amongst the most truculent of the EU’s members. Indeed, David Cameron’s posturing and chest beating over budgets and vetos would have suggested to me that the considerable pro-EU bloc, or at least France or Germany, might have been tempted to talk up Scottish membership of the EU in a bid to further diminish already-dwindling UK power within the club or extract a concession at the discussion table in Strasbourg.
But that is not the case. It is the SNP who are suffering from the subtle political positioning of the EU’s power brokers, and boy how they suffer.
John Swinney’s otherwise reasonable arguments regarding a negotation between the EU and Scotland over what its continued membership would look like carries more than a whiff of desperation given the timing and context, and it sits horridly awkwardly against SNP commentators like George Kerevan in the Scotsman today seeking to argue that maybe we don’t need the EU after all. A hollow argument if ever there was one given the EU has been the single most successful political alliance on this continent since, well, possibly ever.
There is something pleasing about throwing all the constitutional and international relations options up in the air and indulging ourselves in speculating as to which one we prefer. Two years out from a referendum is probably the right time to be doing that, but that process requires to be followed by a controlled landing of ideas, settling into a cohesive plan and a public consensus that our politicians can then take forward. We don’t for a moment seem to be doing anything as structured as that and, if anything, that consensus does appear to be retreating into our UK shells.
This is unfortunate, but the SNP may have already blown its chance to lead that consensus into a braver world.
Scots could be persuaded that waiting to join the EU (if Barroso isn’t bluffing) is worthwhile, what’s a couple of years in a lifetime of Scottish independence anyway, but we don’t like being treated as fools. The non-existence of legal advice on joining the European Union, so coldly and calculatingly floated by the First Minister as something we should all rely upon, has been all the more damaging given the apparent reality of being frozen out of Europe, a reality that is diametrically opposed to what this legal advice supposedly said.
Once bitten, twice shy they say, and fervour for the EU wasn’t exactly at fever pitch before this self-primed grenade blew up in Alex Salmond’s face anyway. Far from making Brussels dance to a Scottish jig, the First Minister has helped us Morris dance to a No landslide.
To understand the mortal danger that this single issue poses for independence prospects, we need only consider the following logic that is being drum-drum-drummed into us from Brussels, through the press and via the Better Together campaign:
‘An independent Scotland would have to reapply to join the EU. Joining this way involves adopting the Euro and look at the problems that that brings (Ireland, Greece). Now just imagine the problems that an independent Scotland not joining the EU would cause (border controls, trade disruption). Ergo, let’s just not cause any bother and stay as the UK, ok?’.
Game, set and match to Team No. Back to the trenches for Yes Scotland.
As only the staunchest of Europhiles would argue in favour of the Euro these days, so too would only the most devout of Nationalists attempt to deny that Yes Scotland hasn’t taken a pounding over the EU question in recent weeks.
As for the all-ímportant independence polls, well, plus ca change….