openDemocracyUK: News

Leading European cultural figures call on EU to offer Scotland ‘path’ to rejoin

Brian Cox, Slavoj Žižek, and Elena Ferrante among signatories asking the EU to offer membership ahead of possible Scottish independence vote

Adam Bychawski
29 April 2021, 6.45am
EU leaders must not allow Westminster to "bully" Scotland, said campaign organisers.
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Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert / Alamy Stock Photo

More than 170 prominent European academics, authors and artists have backed a campaign calling for the European Union to offer Scotland a ‘path’ to membership as pressure mounts for another independence referendum.

The letter, which is signed by figures including Scottish actor Brian Cox, Italian writer Elena Ferrante, and Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek, urges EU leaders to make a “unilateral and open offer of membership” ahead of any independence vote.

Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU in the 2016 referendum by a 62-38% majority. Campaigners have called for the country to have a second independence referendum in light of the vote. In 2014, Scotland voted against becoming an independent nation  in a referendum, by a 55-45% majority. 

The letter, which is addressed to European leaders and signed by figures from all 27 EU member states, asks for Scotland to be offered membership prior to a second independence referendum. 

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“Scotland – where every region voted Remain – must not be left on its own by Europe while being subjected to bullying by the UK government,” said Anthony Barnett, writer and co-founder of openDemocracy. Barnett organised the letter together with openDemocracy main site editor Adam Ramsay. openDemocracy is not involved in the campaign, nor has it endorsed it.

The signatories said that an offer from the EU would “make it possible for any referendum to be a clear, practical and democratic choice for Scotland between two unions: the EU or the UK.”

“The usual process is for the EU to respond to a membership request only when it comes from an independent country,” write the signatories.

“Scotland deserves a different process. While it is legally part of the UK, the Scottish government cannot negotiate with the EU. But the EU can declare that, because Scotland has already long been part of the EU, should it become legally and democratically independent it need not apply as a ‘new’ accession candidate,” they add.

Elections for the Scottish Parliament take place on 6 May. The Scottish National Party (SNP) has made a second independence referendum one of its key election pledges and argues that Westminster should accept an SNP majority as a valid mandate for a second independence referendum.

The letter points to EU provisions made in the Brexit deal for extending membership to Northern Ireland in the event of a vote for Irish reunification as a precedent for unilaterally offering Scotland a route to rejoining the EU.

“The EU has demonstrated already that it can recognise the unique circumstance created by Brexit. The European Council unilaterally confirmed at its Summit of 29 April 2017 that Northern Ireland would become part of the EU immediately should it ever vote in the future to join the Republic of Ireland,” said the letter.

The SNP pledged to hold a second referendum in its manifesto at the 2019 UK general election. After the party was reelected with an increased majority, leader Nicola Sturgeon formally requested the power to hold an independence referendum. 

However, prime minister Boris Johnson refused the request on the grounds that key pro-independence figures had said that the 2014 referendum was a “once in a generation opportunity”.

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