EU myths, politics and scaremongering on an independent Scotland

The EU is governed by hard politics, and the easiest thing for everyone if Scotland votes yes will be that she never leaves the EU.

Kirsty Hughes
11 September 2014

As the Scottish referendum enters its final stretch, expect a ramping up of myths and scaremongering on an independent Scotland lingering in the cold outside the European Union.

An anonymous European Commission official suggests, implausibly, negotiations to re-enter  the Union could take five  years (  Ed Miliband suggests there could be armed guards on the border - an even more unconvincing and empty threat (  Scotland will have to join the euro, threaten the somewhat more sophisticated scaremongers, or Spain will block Scotland joining to inhibit Catelan independence say the somewhat more politically astute.

The more likely scenario, that an independent Scotland may never leave the EU, joining as an independent state at the moment the UK dissolves its ties is rarely heard. Nor is any mention made of the challenges the rest of the UK may face, which, even as the successor state, will have fewer votes when EU member states agree laws, as voting strength depends in part on population, and which may well face new challenges to its budget rebate as it is recalculated after Scotland's departure from the UK.

The EU is above all else a highly political community. When it faces a situation outside its experience or rulebook, politics - of power and ingenuity - take over. In the face of German reunification in1990, the former East Germany became part of the EU overnight, with a sweeping delay for it to meet most EU rules. Faced with the opposite, a country - Scotland - that already meets and is part of all EU criteria, laws and processes (with the exception of the UK's border, currency and partial justice opt-outs), the simplest, least complicated approach for all concerned would be for Scotland never to leave.

Negotiations for Scotland to stop being a part of the EU would be very complicated. Businesses with subsidiaries in Scotland or exporting to or importing from Scotland would face new rules on investment, tariffs, movement of staff, labour regulations and more. Decisions would have to be reached over what would happen to EU regional funds invested in seven year long jointly funded projects - there would be major headaches in disentangling these funds with half-built roads and abruptly ended employment or cultural projects a testimony to the idiocy of pushing Scotland temporarily outside the EU. Would all Scottish eurocrats in Brussels and in delegations round the world be summarily dismissed? The confusion and complexity of departure compared to Scotland simply remaining a member will surely give more than a little pause for thought.

And more than this is the higher politics of the European project. The EU has always wanted to be a pole of attraction, its success happily illustrated by the queue of those wanting to join. The efforts to keep the UK in the EU, despite the eurosceptic, disruptive games of the Tories, speak to this wish. EU leaders 20 years ago were disappointed that Norway voted against joining the Union, delighted that Sweden, Finland and Austria joined. The reluctance to bring in poorer or larger countries as seen in the snail's pace of negotiations with the former Yugoslav countries and Turkey does not apply to the smaller, wealthier Sweden's, Norway's or Scotland's of Europe.

Many in Brussels are looking somewhat askance at Scotland's independence debate, mistaking it for a reversion to Europe's nationalist demons, failing to see, or to pay enough attention to see, the democratic renewal that the referendum campaign has brought forth - a dynamism and renewal that all of Europe's democracies badly need. But faced with facts, EU politicians and eurocrats, get to work - whether to deal with the huge historic changes when the Berlin Wall fell or as they would with the smaller but still significant event of Scotland's independence.

Other myths abound. The 'anonymous official' claiming negotiations would take five years should explain why it would take three times longer than the 18 months it took   Sweden, Finland and Austria, when Scotland unlike them already follows all EU rules.

Then there is the border myth. There will be passport controls between England and Scotland claims Miliband. But lets simply ask why? Is it in either country's interest not to have free movement? Ireland joined the euro but stayed out of the EU's passport free 'Schengen' zone precisely to keep free movement between north and south, so here a useful precedent exists. Norway, even while not a member state, is part of the EU's border free zone, another precedent.

And then the euro scaremongering - lower down the list as the main threat from London is that Scotland cannot have the pound (something that would in fact be in both countries' interest including business interests). Many EU members are not in the euro but only the UK and Denmark have formal opt-outs. Sweden has been clear since the euro's inception that it will not join, despite having no formal opt-out, a clear political fact on the ground simply accepted in Brussels. Scotland will have plenty of room for manoeuvre on euro commitments.

That any deal on Scotland's position as an independent EU member state will have to be agreed by all existing members is true. But EU member states have agreed down the years to bring in the UK, Sweden, Croatia, Malta, East Germany, even a divided Cyprus, so getting agreement is not a Sisyphean challenge. Spain most of all will indeed not want Scotland's membership of the EU to encourage Catalonia, but that does not mean Spain's government will choose to put a long-term, hard to justify block on Scotland - there will be horse-trading, perhaps forms of words in summit agreements to make it harder for regions such as Catalonia to emulate Scotland. But all this is meat and drink to the EU's diplomats and politicians, pulling deals out of hats down the years.

And the rest of the UK will have every reason to push for Scotland to stay in the EU. That will create least disruption for both countries, from business to family to social and cultural links. And a rapid deal keeping Scotland in the EU will make it easier for London's diplomats to keep the spotlight away from the rest of the UK's rebate and other opt-outs.

Scotland itself will have a voice in the EU at the top table, a direct vote in all laws. And like other smaller member states from Ireland to Portugal to Finland, it will find adept political and diplomatic strategies and alliances can give an influence greater than voting weight and population size.

Beyond the myths and scaremongering, and through the twists and turns of EU politics, an interesting and potentially influential future awaits an independent Scotland in the EU.

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