“In the event of independence, Scotland’s EU membership should be restored immediately”. This was a suggestion sent in from Jakob on the Conference on the Future of Europe platform. A similar idea was sent in by Jock. Given that Debating Europe wants to support the work of the Conference, we thought it might be fun to take Jakob and Jock’s idea and put it to a couple of experts for them to respond.
Scotland voted for Europe. When the people of Scotland voted to remain in the United Kingdom in the 2014 referendum on independence, they did so under the impression that remaining in the UK would mean remaining in the EU. Ultimately, though, Scotland was dragged out of the EU by Brexit, even though a majority of Scots (62%) voted Remain. This discrepancy is the justification for the recently-elected coalition of Scottish National Party (SNP) and Greens to seek another referendum on Scottish independence.
So far, Boris Johnson’s government in London hasn’t taken a clear position on whether it would agree to an independence referendum. If, however, Scotland were to embark on the road towards independence, should the EU welcome it with open arms? What precedent would that set for other independence movements around Europe? Could Scottish accession to the EU damage our relationship with the UK?
What do our readers think? We had a comment from Andrea arguing that Scotland should hold another independence referendum as soon as possible and take the UK’s place in the EU.
We put this comment to Kirsty Hughes, founder and director of the Scottish Centre for European Relations. Does she think an independent Scotland should join the EU?
I think there are several parts to this question. First of all, will there be another independence referendum? The Scottish National Party and the Greens, which are both pro-independence, got a clear majority in the recent elections. Therefore, I do think there is a mandate for a referendum, but it’s not one that Boris Johnson is necessarily recognizing. Yet, there may be a referendum within the next five years. At the moment, the opinion is 50/50, so we cannot be sure which side would win.
What has become clear is that the pro-independence vote is very much a pro-EU vote. There used to be a significant number of people who supported independence but had voted for leaving the EU back in 2016. And now, they seem to be a very small group. There is also a larger number of voters who wouldn’t support independence who voted leave. Before, they may have supported remain or leave, but the people who support independence today are pretty much pro-EU.
We put the same question to Erik Bergkvist, a Swedish Member of the European Parliament, who sits with the S&D group. Would he like Scotland to join the EU?
I regret that the UK left and I would like the UK to return to the EU. But if Scotland decides to leave the UK, and it’s done by the book, then I would welcome Scotland to the European Union if they would like to apply for membership.
Our next comment comes from Maskedman. He expects a complicated (and possibly even violent) split of Northern Ireland and Scotland from the UK.
For a reaction to this gloomy prediction, we spoke to Andreas Rahmatian, Professor of Law at the University of Glasgow. How should the EU respond in the event of a breakup of the United Kingdom?
The EU will most likely stay quiet on the internal issues of a state as it did during the Scottish independence referendum in 2014. This also applies to EU member states (Spain with regard to Catalonia). The UK has no written constitution and no regulations about a possible secession of Scotland from the rest of the UK. The treaty of the Acts of Union of 1707 which unified the Kingdoms of England and of Scotland and formed Great Britain is understood to allow both parties to leave, but there is no procedure how that would have to be done.
At the moment, England is less keen on maintaining the Union with Scotland as one would think: this is not an absurd idea if you look at the current governing branch of the Tory party to which Boris Johnson belongs. This group of Tories which is in power now does not care much about Scotland at all. Politically, if Scotland wants to leave, the current London Government is probably the best one they could possibly have for such a plan. Because for them England is really their political focus and Scotland is just seen as a financial burden. Ironically, the Tory party is meant to be the Conservative and Unionist Party but they are actually not unionist at all at the moment. This was still different under Theresa May because she was a more traditional Tory in this regard. But for Boris Johnson, Scotland is a side issue.
Importantly, Scotland must prepare a Scottish constitution if and when it becomes independent. This new constitution would also have to stipulate clearly the possibility for dual (Scottish-English) citizenship of English residents in Scotland. By doing so, it would prevent a lot of tensions and possibly unrest within Scotland if independence were to happen.
For another perspective, we asked MEP Erik Bergkvist the same question.
I think the EU is behaving correctly, by not interfering in internal processes of the United Kingdom. But an area where the EU shouldn’t stay silent is the internal market. If you want to be part of the internal market, it has to be borderless and Ireland is part of the internal market. I would say, the UK has created a problem with Northern Ireland. This was anticipated, we told the UK that by leaving the internal market, they are not making things easier for Northern Ireland. It is a fragile situation, which I hope will be solved peacefully, but we can see how explosive things still are.
Should an independent Scotland join the EU? How should the EU respond in the event of a breakup of the United Kingdom? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!