A Difficult Divorce
This would have consequences; should the UK as a whole vote to leave the EU while Scotland votes to stay, a repeat of the 2014 referendum on Scotland’s membership of the UK would quickly become unavoidable. Nicola Sturgeon, a nationalist recently re-elected as First Minister of Scotland with just two seats off a majority in parliament, has already stated she will seek a second referendum should the UK leave the EU. To be forced out of the EU against their will, says the Scottish National Party, constitutes a “material change in circumstances” from the 2014 Scottish referendum. At that point, the likelihood of Scotland leaving the UK in a second independence referendum would be high.
This puts the Scottish National Party in the interesting position of supporting an EU which had previously shown itself antithetical to Scottish independence (and campaigning for a Scottish ‘yes’ while perhaps hoping for a ‘no’ from the UK as a whole). For the rest of the UK, this is an existential problem. Many of those most in favour for the UK to leave the EU would be horrified at the prospect of that vote breaking up their own, much older union. The EU institutions have, wisely, so far chosen not to wade into the debate by threatening UK voters with a promise of easy access for an independent Scotland.
A Tricky New Marriage…
Should this happen however, the way for Scotland into the EU after independence is not clear; would it re-enter as a new member; would it stay on taking the UK’s place? The EU has not been a friend of Scottish independence in the past, but with the UK leaving the situation is different, and there may now be a unique opportunity.
The order in which the separations take place would be important, as well as the time needed for the UK to leave the EU. If Scotland and the UK were in agreement following a ‘yes’ vote in a legally binding second Scottish referendum, Brussels and Scotland could begin talks about accession, while UK-Brussels and Scotland-UK hold talks too. However this option might involve Article 49, the accession protocols, which would probably involve a costly delay.
Or Car Keys in a Bowl?
Alternatively, Scotland could push for quick independence, while maintaining its current border and currency agreements with the rest of the UK –which would itself be in the process of negotiating leaving the EU. An independent Scotland could subsequently hold its own talks with Brussels, but now on the basis that the rest of the UK is leaving the EU, while Scotland as an independent country wants to remain.
This might make use of Article 48, allowing alterations to the current Treaties to bring about ‘internal integration’ for Scotland. The fact that the UK would already be divided into the ‘leaving’ and ‘staying’ camps might make the negotiations simpler. These steps would also avoid the leaving-then-returning that might require accession protocols were the UK as a whole to leave the EU before Scotland joins again.
The Easy Way Out
Whatever way things pan out life will not be easy: if the UK votes to stay there will always be smouldering dissent against the EU, but a vote to leave would spell trouble and a break-up of union upon union. There would be political turmoil within the UK as Scotland and England settle border and currency issues, and this is without even beginning to look at the question of the future of Northern Ireland, a part of whose identity is tied to the UK and to Scotland, and the Republic of Ireland, which shares a border with it.
In their aptly-named song “Should I Stay or Should I Go”, The Clash wrote that “if I go there will be trouble; if I stay it will be double” but I think for the UK, in this case, it is the other way round.
Eóghain Mitchison, Account Executive
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