Thursday, 11 September 2014

Reasons to oppose Scottish independence, #6: the road to European Union membership will be long and hard

Our sixth reason for urging a 'no' vote in Scotland's 18 September independence vote is that country's membership of the European Union (EU). It's a deal that Scotland gets quite a lot out of - in terms of regional infrastructure spending and access to markets, for instance. Outside the Common External Tariff that the EU throws around its markets, Scotland would find it much tougher (though not impossible) to make its way in the world. So would the rest of the UK (rUK) by the way, but that's an argument for a 2017 referendum on the UK's membership as a whole. If the UK as we know it now still exists, of course.

Anything that endangers this membership, or even drags it through negotiating chambers and courtrooms, will therefore do short- to medium-term damage to Scotland itself.

And that's what independence does threaten. Constitutional scholars almost all accept that Scotland will have to re-apply as a new member using the so-called 'Article 49' procedure for accession states. Since Scotland has not existed as an independent state for hundreds of years, it will be England, Wales and Northern Ireland who will be the 'continuing' member. Scotland will have to get in from the outside. Recent attempts to imaging short-circuiting this process via 'Article 48' of the EU treaties, which cover treaty revision, are deeply unconvincing, since that part of the texts deals with relations with outsider organisations and groups - not with a new state trying to get in. Or, in Scotland's case, get back in. It'll be complicated. It'll take a long time.

Now it's quite true that, in the end, all these issues will probably be ironed out - though it's possible to find more than a few big players who say that Scotland might be left out in the cold altogether, a quite disastrous outcome that must cross many Scots' minds in their deepest nightmares. Only Spain truly stands in the way, and who knows how that state's struggles with its own separatist movements will play out? Spain's worries about Catalonia might be over, or much reduced, by the time of an independent Scotland's membership. Italy and Germany may well raise no objections. Excluding Scotland would fly in the face of the EU's own founding principles - of democracy, and the fundamental rights of all it citizens, including Scots. But the intervening period of negotiations may well be very tough. European Commission officials are letting it be known that they think five years is a realistic timeframe. Any post-'yes' Scottish government has little hope of meeting its self-imposed deadline of March 2016 for independence, a date that will almost certainly have to slip back into 2017 or 2018. But that still means that there'll be a gap between Scottish statehood and EU membership.

In the interim, Scotland may well have to accept two measures that her voters won't like - first, the Euro (which is at least a plausible alternative to the present Edinburgh administration's absurd and unworkable plans for so-called 'sterlingization'), and, second, the Schengen Agreement on the free movement of European citizens. Since polls suggest that the majority of Scots dislike both ideas, the initial independence party would have ended up in one great big hangover. Try selling that to businesses and families who do most of their business with rUK rather than the rest of the world put together, let alone the Eurozone on its own (the second link there opens as a PDF).

'Special measures' will also be needed to bridge the gap between Scottish statehood and EU membership, but because this hasn't happened before, no-one is quite sure what these are or might be. Scottish citizens will have to be guaranteed the travel, movement and welfare rights that EU citizens enjoy without quite being actual citizens of the Union for a year or more. That might well hold as a sticking plaster solution, but it'll be one more thing that the rUK negotiators will be able to hold over the Scots in the long and acrimonious divocrce that this will become. Scots-born UK citizens living and working across rUK, or indeed the rest of the EU, should beware.

Although there is of course the obverse risk that the UK in total will leave the EU after any 2017 referendum, this seems unlikely: recent polls show that voters will probably vote to stay (especially if the Prime Minister recommends staying in), while if Scots do leave and set up their own state, they only make rUK's exit more likely - cutting them off from the majority of their markets and raw materials. Far better to stay and fight for the wider good.

Scottish enthusiasm for 'Europe' has become one fixed point of that country's new and more confident identity. It would be tragic if the ultimate expression of a nationalist surge that misinterprets that transformation should rob them of that confident, cosmopolitan liberalism - that 'Europeanism' - that they have come to think of as uniquely theirs.

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