Scottish Independence: Status in the EU

Part 5 of an 11-part look at Scottish independence and its potential impact on Scottish influence

The United Kingdom is the third-largest economy in the European Union outranked by only Germany and France.[i] Scotland, as part of the UK, has a significant influence on the EU, and, “The Scottish Government works closely and maintains an active and constructive relationship with the UK government in all areas of EU policy interest to Scotland.”[ii] Should Scotland declare independence, the new United Kingdom would drop one spot to fourth place, right behind Italy. Scotland however, would find itself in twenty-second place, right below Romania and right above the Ukraine.[iii] Additionally, the new United Kingdom may or may not retain its membership in the EU[iv], whereas according to Professor Robert Hazell, director of the Constitution Unit at University College London, Scotland, as a newly created nation, most international lawyers say that Scotland would have to reapply for membership.[v] One researcher at the London School of Economics, Jo Murkens, blogged that, “there is no automatic right to membership of the European Union. Continued membership would only be possible with the approval of all 27-plus Member States.” This membership process is an intense one.[vi]

When Czechoslovakia was divided in 1992, 30 treaties and 12,000 legal agreements played a part in the nations of the Czech Republic and Slovakia being readmitted to the EU.[vii]

Additionally, many experts, including Murkens,[viii] also state that if Scotland has to reapply for admission, they will be forced to take on the European currency. However, with the current economic state the EU finds itself it, that point may be irrelevant when the time comes as the Euro may not even exist.[ix]

According to Arabella Thorp and Gavin Thompson in their House of Commons Library research paper, “Scotland, independence and the EU,” “There is no precedent for a devolved part of an EU Member State becoming independent and having to determine its membership of the EU as a separate entity.”[x]

An example used in the past to bolster the claim that a newly independent Scotland would remain part of the EU is that of Greenland, and of their 1979 securing of autonomy from Denmark and their 1992 passage of a referendum to withdraw from membership in the European Community. The argument that is used, is that since Greenland had to negotiate its withdrawal from the European Community, the logical assumption is that Scotland would remain part of the EU upon independence and would have to negotiate withdrawal rather than entrance.[xi] This, however, is an erroneous application since Greenland did not have full independence, simply home rule, similar to the current devolved government in Scotland. The Greenland example would only apply should Scotland remain part of the United Kingdom and yet seek to leave the EU. It does not logically follow that the opposite is true.

Regardless, economic and political influence in the EU would only be slightly reduced for the new UK, while Scotland would be one of many smaller voices seeking to guide Europe into the future once the question of membership was settled. That is, unless the United Kingdom has voted to completely leave the European Union by then.[xii]

[i] World Economic Outlook Database, April 2012, International Monetary Fund

[iii] World Economic Outlook Database, April 2012, International Monetary Fund

[xi] Sinclair, David (1999) Issues Around Scottish Independence (The Constitution Unit)

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