Open Europe Blog

The SNP has today published its White Paper on an independent Scotland. Amongst its other analysis it sets out a strategy towards the EU. It has always been clear that if Scotland votes for independence there will need to be a negotiation with the rest of the UK on the terms for divorce, but it is now clear the SNP have an EU negotiating agenda too. Here are the main points:

Firstly, the SNP assume Scotland will remain in the EU and have a smooth transition from corporate UK membership to individual membership. They argue that “discussions [on EU accession] will be held during the period in which Scotland remains part of the UK”. These discussions will have to take in the following points:

  • A Schengen opt-out: The SNP says it  would “plan to continue in the current Common Travel Area” with the rest of the UK.  As signing up to the Schengen travel area is incompatible with the UK/Ireland CTA and Schengen is a part of the EU treaties this will need a negotiation.
  • A Scottish EU Budget rebate: The UK is a net contributor to the EU budget, but would contribute even more if it had not secured a UK rebate. The SNP recognise that “Scotland is likely to be a net financial contributor to the EU” but state they wish to have their own rebate saying they “consider that the division of the share of the UK rebate would be a matter for negotiation”. This would obviously be a difficult negotiation as it was for Mrs Thatcher at Fontainebleau.
  • A Euro opt-out: The SNP state that it is “our intention to retain Sterling as the currency of an independent Scotland”. As well as discussions with the rest of the UK, Scotland will ideally need to gain a permanent opt-out from the Euro. The UK and Denmark are the only two states to have such a permanent opt-out but the SNP argue that the case of Sweden (which is meant to join but shows no signs of joining) shows that the EU can be flexible.
  • A Justice and Home Affairs opt-in: The UK has a special deal whereby it can chose to opt in to new JHA (justice and home affairs) measures on a case-by-case basis. The SNP have said that they “will seek to retain the current flexibility to opt into new measures on Justice and Home Affairs” meaning they will ask for their own ability to opt in.

So in an independent Scotland’s EU accession negotiations, the SNP will be asking for a number of special conditions already afforded to the UK. Firstly they would like their application to be considered while they remain a part of the UK, something they will also need UK approval for. They will then be asking for opt-outs from Schengen, the Euro, a JHA opt-in and perhaps most controversially a Scottish rebate.

Will the EU be a big deal in the Scottish referendum? The SNP seem to think it might be and are keen to defend themselves from accusations they might inadvertently leave the EU. Indeed they argue that “if we remain part of the UK, a referendum on future British membership of the EU could see Scotland taken out of the EU against the wishes of the people of Scotland.”

It is often thought that Scotland is less ‘eurosceptic’ than the rest of the UK. But is this true? One YouGov poll for instance suggests that 31% of Scots would vote to leave the EU against the UK average of 34% and that 55% would vote to stay in if David Cameron renegotiated and recommended a new deal the same as the UK average. Perhaps the SNP feel that if they were left inside the EU without a ‘Scottish’ rebate and their own version of the UK’s existing opt-outs they might see a challenge from a tartan version of UKIP?

So at a time when disillusion with the EU is growing in the UK, the SNP is, like the UK parties, keen to demonstrate they will not be ceding more (Scottish) power or money to the EU. They even accept that there are, as in the UK at large, some Scots “arguing for a looser form of partnership” with the EU.

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