A new report from the government in Edinburgh lays out its plans for a future relationship with Europe, but independence is not on the cards any time soon.
The Scottish government has laid out its plans to rejoin the European Union, claiming it would be a process that happens “smoothly and quickly” after independence, with an application to become part of the bloc being submitted “as soon as possible.”
The pro-EU, pro-independence government in Edinburgh made the comments in a new policy paper that lays out the benefits of EU membership including access to the single market for Scottish businesses; joint access to the EU’s free trade agreements; securing EU funding for Scottish agriculture in particular; and allowing Scotland’s young people to benefit from the Erasmus+ university exchange programme, which was closed to them after Brexit.
EU membership, says the country’s _de facto_foreign minister Angus Robertson, “would give Scotland direct representation in European decision-making for the very first time, providing opportunities for our economy to grow inside a market which is seven times the size of the UK and escape the damage of the UK’s hard Brexit, which is hitting Scotland’s economy and communities hard.”
Lack of support for independence hampers plans
The elephant in the room for Scotland’s EU membership is that independence is not on the cards any time soon.
Both the UK Conservatives and Labour have vigorously opposed any mechanism that would allow the Scottish government to hold a referendum on independence; while polls consistently show no majority support for independence in Scotland itself.
A survey published earlier this month puts support for independence at 40%, with 49% in favour of remaining part of the UK.
The ruling Scottish National Party says it will claim it has “a mandate for independence negotiations” with London if it wins a majority of Scottish seats at the next UK election, something it already has now.
However, a series of scandals and the natural attrition of almost 16 years in power has dented the SNP’s once unassailable position at the top of Scotland’s political establishment, with a sea change expected in the next year.
Scottish Labour are widely predicted to capture a large number of the SNP’s Westminster seats at the next UK election; with polls also showing a surge of support for Labour in Scottish parliamentary elections, which would likely cancel out the Edinburgh parliament’s pro-independence majority.
At the start of November, the European Commission issued it’s annual report on the future enlargement of the bloc, with expansion plans firmly focused on the Western Balkans region.
How would Scotland rejoin the EU?
Scotland left the EU with the rest of the UK after the Brexit referendum of 2016.
Although the UK as a whole narrowly voted to leave, Scotland overwhelmingly voted to remain part of the bloc and polls since then have shown an increasing majority think Brexit was a mistake and that the country’s future should be in the EU.
It paints a picture of a confused Scottish electorate: they want to be part of the European Union, but are not committed to independence as the way to get there.
Since the Brexit referendum “there’s been much debate about the best future for Scotland,” said Robertson.
“The Scottish government believes we can build a better country through a powerful combination of independence and EU membership,” he added.
The Scottish government said an independent Scotland would pursue the normal accession process, known as Article 49, which typically takes several years. In the meantime, they would seek some sort of transitional arrangement that would allow Scottish exporters access to the Single Market in particular.
“Having been part of the EU for over 47 years with a positive record of implementation of EU legislation and a high level of alignment with EU law” puts Scotland in a “unique position” to move quickly through the accession process, the report says.
The new policy paper fudges the issue of whether an independent Scotland would adopt the euro as its currency – an issue that has proved particularly divisive in political discussions in Scotland. However the paper restates the government’s position that there would be a new Scottish Pound currency in use after independence, and then at a later date decisions might be taken on joining the euro.
Scotland would likely eventually become a “net contributor” to EU budgets, the government says, but notes “a number of member states with relatively small economies have initially been net recipients but over time have become net contributors to the EU budget.”
Setting out Scotland’s attractiveness to the EU
While Scotland would benefit in a huge range of areas by rejoining the European Union, the new policy paper highlights how the EU could also benefit by having Scotland as a new Member State.
It highlights areas such as research and development on renewables technology to fight climate change, culture and education, a commitment to the EU’s social justice agenda and commitment to freedom and democracy – attractive qualities for a bloc struggling to figure out how to handle countries such as Hungary and Poland, or others, which lean right and have moved away from those shared EU values.
“We are also well placed to give back to the EU as a welcoming and inclusive country with strengths in research and renewables, and a steadfast commitment to advancing human rights and the rule of international law,” says Angus Robertson.
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