An independent Scotland in the EU

The Scottish Centre on European Relations has just published a new report on Issues for Accession if Scotland decides to become independent and rejoin the EU. Here are the opening paras of the overview written by Kirsty Hughes, SCER director. Other contributors include Fabian Zuleeg, member of the First Minister’s standing council on Europe, and David Gow, EMiS executive member.

“Now the UK has left the European Union, the question of how and whether an independent Scotland could re-join the EU, and what the implications of that would be, are gaining renewed attention. Even in the run-up to the June 2016 referendum, how a Brexit vote might change both the levels of support for independence and the implications of independence in the EU were under discussion, and have been more so since the ‘leave’ vote.[i]

This report brings together the views of fifteen experts across fourteen topics to analyse, from different angles, what an independent Scotland’s accession process to the EU might look like and what the implications of independence in the EU, while the rest of the UK remained outside the EU, might be (notwithstanding Northern Ireland’s special status leaving it effectively in the EU’s single market for goods).

In many ways, an independent Scotland would look well positioned to join the EU. It would certainly be eligible to apply as a European state, as Tobias Lock argues (chapter two). And, compared to the range of states that have joined the EU in the last sixty-three years, Scotland does not look like an outlier.

A whole range of states, large and small, have joined the EU since the first enlargement in 1973 which brought in Denmark, Ireland and the UK. In total, twenty-two states have joined and one, the UK, has left. Those states include eleven countries from central and eastern Europe and the western Balkans, (Kirsty Hughes looks, in chapter 15, at the lessons of that enlargement for Scotland) and three of the European Free Trade Area states – Austria, Finland and Sweden (see Saila Heinikoski chapter 14 for a look at lessons from that 1995 EFTA enlargement). They include the still-divided island of Cyprus, and the group that joined in the 1980s – Greece, Portugal and Spain – having emerged from dictatorship in the 1970s. They also include a number of states who had re-gained their independence before joining the EU – including the Baltic three, and the ‘velvet divorce’ that split the former Czechoslovakia into two states.

In the face of a legally and constitutionally valid independence process, it is hard to argue that an independent Scotland (with 47 years experience as part of the EU, within the UK) would not be likely to succeed in joining. James Ker-Lindsay (chapter 13) argues Scotland would rapidly overtake the western Balkan candidate and potential candidate countries if it were independent in the next few years.

However, there are many questions that need to be addressed to understand how that accession process may play out. If it is not too long after the end of the transition period in December 2020 (until when the UK will continue to be part of the EU’s single market and customs union), then Scotland will not have diverged very far, quite probably, from the EU’s body of law and regulations – its acquis.

The further the UK, and Scotland, have diverged by the time of a potential Scottish application to join the EU, then the longer the accession process may take. And, in addition, Scotland as an independent state will need to establish institutions, regulatory bodies and laws, that previously sat at UK level during the UK’s period of EU membership.”