Saturday, 25 June 2016

Why Spain will not object this time to an independent Scotland

Spain is less likely to veto EU accession for a Scotland that is leaving a non-EU country.

Today Nicola Sturgeon, the leader of Scotland, left an emergency cabinet meeting in Edinburgh and declared that her government will seek "immediate" bilateral discussions with Brussels to "protect Scotland's place in the EU."

She already said yesterday that a second referendum on Scottish independence was "highly likely" following the UK's vote to leave the EU. The vast majority of voters in Scotland, Northern Ireland and London voted to remain in the EU, but a majority of people in England and Wales voted to leave - resulting in a 52% vote for leave. 

All of it gives the impression of a vote driven by English nationalism - whether the leave voters realised it or not. With their vote, they may have created the nation-state of England. It now seems likely Scotland and Northern Ireland will leave the union.

Sturgeon has said it would be unconstitutional for Scotland to be taken out of the EU against its will.

Sturgeon's Scottish National Party, which controls the Scottish regional government, called an independence referendum in 2014. Although polls had predicted a tight race, in the end independence was roundly defeated - 55% voted to remain in the UK.

At the time there was a lot of concern over misinformation from the SNP during the campaign. Alex Salmond, at the time SNP leader, insisted that an independent Scotland would be able to unilaterally keep using the pound even against England's wishes (laughable) and that Scotland would not have to apply for entry to the EU but would be grandfathered in under its existing membership as part of the UK (impossible).

The Scottish public could sense something wasn't quite right (they are perhaps less susceptible to dubious claims than their cousins to the South). 

But now the situation has entirely changed. Sturgeon, Salmond's successor, has identified the Brexit vote as the thing that will tip the scales - a compelling case to leave the British union that did not exist two years ago. 

At the same time, the chances for Scottish independence to be accepted by Europe have just dramatically increased.

Less nervous Spain

As I've written before, the central problem with Scottish independence was that its re-admission to the EU could be vetoed by any EU member state. And those countries with their own independence movements - namely Spain, Belgium and Italy - would not want to set a precedent.

Without saying it outright, the Spanish government gave every indication during the 2014 referendum that it would indeed veto Scottish accession. Given that Scotland needs to be part of the EU single market to be viable as an independent state, it meant Spain essentially had a veto over Scottish independence.

But everything has changed now, because the Scottish situation has less relevance to the Spanish situation and would therefor set less of a precedent. If the UK is no longer an EU state, then Scotland is no longer a region separating from a member state and joining as its own member state.

Therefor the applicability to the situation in Catalonia and the Basque Country is gone (or at least significantly reduced).

Indeed, as Sturgeon suggested today, Scotland may be able to work out a deal with Brussels in which it 'inherits' the EU membership of the UK. In other words England renounces EU membership and gives the UK's member state status to Scotland before the United Kingdom disbands. This, perhaps, might not even require a unanimous vote by member states.

Turn England into the Isle of Man?

I've seen some in the British media today positing that perhaps Scotland could pull a 'reverse Greenland', staying in the EU and the UK even as England leaves. It's theoretically conceivable, I suppose. 

There are parts of the UK right now that are not part of the EU - the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. Greenland is part of the Kingdom of Denmark, but not part of the EU. Aruba is part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, but not part of the EU. So theoretically, the United Kingdom could remain part of the EU, but England and Wales would take on the status of the Isle of Man - in the UK but not in the EU.

But this seems inconceivable. These islands, all tiny by population, are just strange anomalies. How could you have the majority of the member state in question not in the EU? It's unworkable.

I suspect, also, that Sturgeon would not be content with such an arrangement. She wants independence - real independence. And this is her chance to get it. Why squander it on a strange unworkable semi-independence? It would still require setting up a border with England and imposing customs duties. Why not just go the full hog?

Insiders say Sturgeon will not call another referendum unless she's sure she can win it, so there is undoubtedly going to be some serious polling done in the next two weeks. Any decision on calling a referendum will surely not come until the Autumn at the earliest, as the SNP watches both the fallout from Brexit and the mood of the Scottish people.

Things are still too unclear now to take action on Scottish independence. But Sturgeon isn't wasting any time in getting the ball rolling.

By the way, there's the separate issue of Northern Ireland, which seems also likely to call a referendum on leaving the UK. And there's the question of what's going to happen to Gibraltar. More on that later.


Anonymous said...

Italy has no indipendent movement, Lega Nord with the new leader has become a neo-fascist and nationalist party , morover they are a bunch of corrupt clown and has just lost the local elections in their strongholds. Padania was a joke.

Matteo Z.

Jack Schickler said...

The Channel Islands are not Isle of Man are not part of the United Kingdom. As far as I know they never have been. (They are both part of the UK-Ireland common travel area, the British Isles' equivalent of Schengen).

Dave Keating said...

Semantics really. In terms of international law they are as much part of the United Kingdom as Aruba is part of the Dutch Kingdom or Greenland is part of the Danish Kingdom, no?