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Scotland and the European Union: Puzzle Pieces Scottish flag and EU Flag, 3d illustration

Questions of EU Membership

Anthony Salamone – 23rd September 2022

Our relationship with the EU matters to many of us. For some, in the wake of Brexit, prospective Scottish EU membership is an important factor in shaping their views on independence (particularly for those who support independence now, but did not do so before the 2016 EU referendum). Such European sentiment can be deeply rooted, but it is only part of the picture. Two major elements of that picture, both of which are often ignored, define Scotland’s current and future connections to the EU.

First, Brexit is truly over and we now exist with a distant EU-UK relationship compared to what we had before the 2016 referendum. At this point, we have been outside the EU for over two years now. Scotland is one part of an ex-EU member – a European “third country”, per the EU’s nomenclature. With the notable exception of Ireland, most EU member states have moved on from Brexit as a subject of daily attention. The Brussels agenda, ever overflowing, is driven by what matters to the EU – not what matters to the UK. As the years pass, the default scenario is that Scotland is left behind. If we want instead for Scotland to maintain relationships with the EU and its member states, we must recognise the realities of our circumstances and address the challenges inherent in seeking to engage with, or even influence, EU affairs from our relatively peripheral position.

Second, our EU debate in Scotland is insufficient either to sustain meaningful connections with the EU in the present or to support a realistic conversation on possible Scottish EU membership in the future. We have discussed our relationship with the EU for over a decade, at least – through the campaigns for the 2014 independence referendum and 2016 EU referendum to the process of Brexit and our politics today. Given that we have dedicated so much time to EU membership (whether the UK’s or Scotland’s) and related themes, we should have an informed and nuanced political conversation on these issues. However, the regrettable reality is that Scotland’s EU debate today is dismal. It is evident that too many of our politicians and others in the political system know too little about the basics: the workings of the EU institutions, the Brussels agenda and the politics of the EU and its national capitals, to start. Media coverage of major developments in the EU, or how they affect us (regardless of our formal relationship with the EU) is minimal to non-existent. Our EU debate runs on the fumes of headline sentiment and recycled arguments. This state of affairs is not about one political party or group; it is a systemic failure of Scottish politics.

While we require a better conversation on our relationship with the EU over the short and medium term (as part of the UK), our dialogue on potential EU membership under independence should evolve as well. We are now well past the point at which basic statements of support for or opposition to the EU or membership are sufficient. Today, a real debate on Scottish EU membership and independence demands substance and detail. Through my work over the years, I have analysed and reflected on various dimensions of Scotland’s relationship with the EU and prospective Scottish EU membership, often endeavouring to provide answers. At this stage, however, it makes sense to ask questions. In a recent report, I set out 100 questions which any credible and serious prospectus for Scottish EU membership should address. These questions, grouped into 20 themes, show the range of consequential matters which should be part of the debate, but which are either absent or lacking in depth.

Such matters range from the process that Scotland would follow to join the EU, to the timescale for that process, to the requirements for EU membership, to Scotland’s relationships with the EU institutions and the member states. They include the issues of public finances, currency, the euro, Schengen, borders, fisheries, and the budget. They entail a referendum on EU membership, the role of the parliament and the role of the public on EU membership, alongside Scotland’s agenda and strategy for being an EU member state. While some of these topics are familiar, and others less so, all are crucial to a genuine debate on EU membership, and all should to be addressed adequately with honesty and detail. The choices and challenges at play on joining the EU or becoming an effective member state will not disappear because Scotland did not vote for Brexit.

In fact, a successful EU accession process and future membership would be predicated on Scotland and its political system understanding and internalising both how the EU worked and how Scotland fit into the wider puzzle. Pro-EU sentiment alone would not deliver a pre-accession relationship or achieve core objectives in the accession negotiations. Joining the EU would be a major constitutional decision; it would transform the future Scottish state. In that context, it is incumbent on proponents of independence and EU membership to offer detail on how they propose to address the issues involved. It is not adequate to suggest that, since the Scottish electorate voted against the UK leaving the EU in 2016, the electorate is inherently in favour of EU membership for a Scottish state at a future point. It is equally unsatisfactory to contend that, in the event of independence, the questions of Scottish EU membership would spontaneously resolve themselves. Neither argument is convincing.

A prospectus for EU membership under independence, whether from the Scottish Government or another body, should, at a minimum, satisfy the 100 questions in my report. The questions are generally not particularly difficult to answer, in terms of the substantive matters at hand. In the measure that some find them challenging to address, that apprehension is a product of our dysfunctional EU debate. The basic questions of how Scotland would join the EU will remain, regardless of whether they are understood or whether they are ignored. If the electorate voted for independence, and Scotland applied for EU membership without answers to these questions, the situation would be awkward at best. The realities of the EU and the wider world will not change just to suit us. On our relationship with the EU, it is high time to swap sentiment for substance.

Anthony Salamone is managing director of European Merchants

3 thoughts on “Questions of EU Membership”

  1. Norman Cunningham

    Thank you for this Anthony. I for one fall into the sentimental group and this has given me, obvious now, much food for thought. I look forward to reading your 100 questions.

  2. Alex Gallagher

    The Scottish Government has already commissioned a report on how it could meet the Acquis criteria but it has never been made public. Maybe a good first step would be for them to publish it in unredacted form?

    Could Common Weal or Mr Salamone use their influence with the SG to make this happen?

  3. Andrew Currie

    Looking g forward to your 100 questions.
    However, I have to ask why one would swiftly subrogate oneself as a vassal state to Brussels, after winning independence?
    Like it or not, Eurasia is rising, albeit as the “Wild East”. Why would we want to restrict trade opportunities with the rest of the world.
    Despite the hype, it looks like the EU and Brussels have backed the wrong horse in Kiev.
    The EU as we knew it may be unrecognizable by Spring and historically, Scotland has never done well with foreign alliances, plus its not our monkeys, nor our circus in the Ukraine.
    “Trade with all nations and have entangling alliances with none.”
    Seems reasonable.

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