Once upon a time when I was UK ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina, I was invited to Pale to give a live TV interview to Republika Srpska TV. After I refused to do the interview in a room featuring a picture of war crimes indictee Radovan Karadžić and we went somewhere else, the interview started:
“Please tell us about the UK’s relations with Republika Srpska”
“We don’t have relations with Republika Srpska! We have relations with Bosnia and Herzegovina.”
This reply visibly disconcerted the host but there was nothing she could do about it. When I returned to Sarajevo some people I did not know asked to shake my hand for being so direct to the Bosnian Serbs on their own TV show.
As with Republika Srpska, so with Scotland. The EU does not have any special relationship with Scotland. Why? Because Scotland is not an EU member. Why? Because it is not an internationally recognised country. It is part of the UK, and gets its ‘place’ in the EU through that and only through that.
So, question. If the UK masses collectively have voted to leave the EU (even though a majority of Scottish voters oped for Remain), can Scotland somehow stay on as an EU member? If so, how?
Elderly readers here will recall my thoughts on Craig Murray (handily listed here). Craig was UK ambassador to Uzbekistan before exploding in a shower of sparks and leaving the FCO to become a vociferous magnet for conspiracy theorists and otherwise angry/disgruntled people. His website is accordingly one of the most successful of the genre, attracting all sorts of comments. As someone dear to Craig once put it to me, Craig’s site performs a public service by “keeping them off the streets: otherwise they’d be mumbling at people in shopping centres”.
My favourite Craig Murray moment? So many to choose from, but this one is the best: in unerring Holmesian style he deduces from that the fact that someone enters 10 Downing St by the front door that something shady is going on! But a close runner-up is his magnificent proof that a record of conversation written by a Scottish official was an MI5 PLOT.
Here’s Craig on Scotland/EU. He starts well:
The European Union is an institution which is based on treaties which have legal force. There is nothing whatsoever in any of those treaties, and nothing in any existing arrangement with any state, that makes it possible for part of a state, even a federal state, to be inside the EU, when the state itself is outside.
There is absolutely no way that Scotland can be inside both the UK and EU, if the UK is outside the EU. This question has been visited before by the EU in detail, in relation to Cyprus in particular . I understand that Nicola Sturgeon may feel a need to show that she explored all possibilities. But there is a serious danger of confusing the issue by asking for impossible things that will just exasperate people and lose sympathy.
Good. Indeed even better than good: true. But he then spirals off:
It is very possible indeed to work out modalities for independent Scotland to join as an EU member at precisely the same moment the UK leaves. Indeed, the creation of a new doctrine of right to retain EU citizenship that makes it possible for recognised EU “regions”, of which Scotland is one, to achieve statehood and continue membership, only if the member state is leaving the EU, could alleviate potential Spanish opposition.
Such a solution can politically be stitched together. The reaction to Alyn Smith’s speech demonstrates that. Absolutely crucially – and I cannot emphasise the importance of this enough – no treaty changes would be required for Scotland as a newly independent state to continue membership. But any kind of special status for Scotland when it is not a state, would require treaty changes which we are just not going to get…
I spent four years of my life as First Secretary (Political and Economic) in the British Embassy in Warsaw working specifically on Poland’s EU accession. I not only know this stuff backwards, I know a lot of key contacts. Alyn Smith shows that the SNP MEPs know what they are doing and are highly capable. I am consumed by desire to find a way to help my country at this crucial time. Having thought I had achieved some kind of acceptance that in the UK whistleblowers are forever excluded from public life, I today find it hurting more than ever.
OMG! Craig worked on the margins of Poland’s EU accession twenty years ago at the altitudinous level of First Sec Pol/Econ in Warsaw, so he knows this stuff backwards! And he has key contacts! Ha ha.
Note the Craigian sleight of hand. He imagines a way that Scotland can ‘achieve statehood and continue membership’ by creating a new ‘doctrine of right to retain EU citizenship’ in a ‘solution’ that ‘can politically can be stitched together’.
Is there any glimmer of reality here?
We Brits are indeed ‘EU citizens’: see A20 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union:
Citizenship of the Union is hereby established. Every person holding the nationality of a Member State shall be a citizen of the Union. Citizenship of the Union shall be additional to and not replace national citizenship.
Likewise Scotland has a role in the various affable European chunterings about Regions.
It follows that if the UK leaves the EU, we all will no longer be EU citizens and Scotland will no longer be an EU ‘region’. Might other EU member states take pity on Scottish EU citizens and cut a deal to invent a new ‘doctrine’ so that Scotland leaves the UK and stays in the EU as a new member state as Craig proposes?
For many reasons. Let’s list a few:
- Scotland’s EU citizens were given their own referendum a mere 93 weeks ago to decide whether to leave the UK and strike off on their own. They knew that a UK EU referendum was looming, yet voted by a bigger margin than achieved by the Leave campaign in this new Brexit UK-wide referendum to stay in the UK. Own it!
- It sets a terrible precedent for Spain with its Catalonia problem
- Above all, it can’t be done without Scotland assuming all sorts of obligations as a full EU member, including agreeing its contribution to the EU Budget that it can’t afford and promising to accept the Euro when it is no longer part of the Sterling Zone. Sorting all this out adds new layers of annoying complexity to something that is already complex enough, thanks.
That’s why poor Nicola Sturgeon has found it hard to find anyone in Brussels willing to give her anything more than a perfunctory handshake. Note that Ms Sturgeon achieved a photo-op with Mr Juncker, president of the European Commission (ie the EU central bureaucracy). Of course! They want to talk to anyone to try to boost their power in the forthcoming epic battle between Supranationalists and Intergovernmentalists. Back in real life, EU national leaders are made of sterner stuff:
The French president and Spanish prime minister have both said they are opposed to the EU negotiating potential membership for Scotland. Spanish premier Mariano Rajoy said he “believes everyone is extremely against it” and that “if the UK leaves, Scotland leaves”. President Francois Hollande of France insisted the EU would make no advance deal with Scotland.
But acting Spanish prime minister Mr Rajoy said after a summit of EU leaders in Brussels that he wanted to be “very clear Scotland does not have the competence to negotiate with the European Union”. He added: “Spain opposes any negotiation by anyone other than the government of United Kingdom. “I am extremely against it, the treaties are extremely against it and I believe everyone is extremely against it. If the United Kingdom leaves… Scotland leaves.”
Craig’s case collapses. It is built on the puny fact that one SNP MEP got a noisy welcome in the European Parliament, bastion of the most useless pampered Europhiliacs: Such a solution can politically be stitched together. The reaction to Alyn Smith’s speech demonstrates that.
NO. It doesn’t demonstrate (or even show) that. Because (a) among EU capitals who ultimately decide there is no political interest in any such solution, and (b) any ‘political’ deal has to be given tortuous legal expression in treaty form.
All of which said, IF eventually the UK leaves the EU in favour of some sort of EEA/EFTA hybrid relationship (brilliantly described here how that outcome might be reached), might Scotland and Scots have some sort of added ‘special relationship’ with the EU as a side deal? Why not, as long as everyone is happy with it and no damaging precedents are set eg for Spain/Catalonia, ie above all the arrangement emerges under a UK/EU treaty schema.
Conclusion? Like most things, it’s simple.
If Scotland wants to be independent it should be just that – independent. It should opt for leaving the UK and EU, setting up its own money, accepting its share of UK debt, and paying its own way in the world without subsidies from England or anywhere else. Once it has established itself as such, it can then decide if it wants to join the EU or EEA/EFTA, or become a bold buccaneering free trade space or a wretched inward-looking socialist slum.
Until Scots vote for that and the rest of us accept that result, they are stuck with what they have voted for – being part of the UK and its multifold relationships with the rest of the world. Everything else is just a silly noise.