Statement by Gordon Wilson, past leader of the SNP, and Jim Sillars, former deputy leader of the SNP.
This statement is issued because of our concern that the Scottish Government, and through it, the Yes side, has had difficulties over the question of Scotland and Europe –something that must be resolved quickly given its importance to Scottish business and the people who work for it.
We start with a political judgement: that it will be damaging to the prospects of a Yes majority in the referendum if a serious question mark is allowed to remain over an independent Scotland’s access to the European Economic Area, that is a free trade/single market area embracing the European Union member states and the member states of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA).
Continued access to the large European market, on independence, is one of the core issues that is presently dominating the debate, and will intensify in terms of importance and influence as an issue that will shape the vote. Mere assertions by the Scottish government that there will be a seamless transition from part of the British state to full member state status, need validation. It also serves the interests of the London Government and No to Scotland to spread confusion: hence London’s refusal to seek a defining legal opinion.
In any event, given that the European Union’s existence rests upon a series of treaties between sovereign states, whatever legal advice is now tendered by the Lord Advocate, the treaties give power over the Scottish question to the member states as treaty amendments would be required to accommodate an independent Scotland.
Respect for European Democracy
It would be no small thing for the EU member states to reject Scottish independence based on a democratic vote, given that one of the EU’s basic principles enshrined in the treaties is the demand that each member respects democracy. It would not play well internationally for the EU to preach democracy to the world, but refuse to practice it within. Nor would it be in the EU’s interest to destroy the Common Fisheries Policy by the exclusion from it of the Scottish seas and to lose strategic influence over Scotland’s oil and gas (the biggest in the EU) and Scotland’s huge potential in marine energy. It is these facts of economic life that give Scotland a strong negotiating hand, whatever the legal outcome.
By 2014, with its problems of financing the Eurozone, the EU may have splintered into an inner centralised core and a loose periphery. Our working assumption is that it will still exist and be under the arrogant belief that Scotland will be desperate to join. It may therefore attempt to extract a price from Scotland for continued membership, including joining the Euro. That would be a political action by Brussels. Indeed, we are likely to see statements of a political nature emanate from within the EU member states, in an attempt to influence the referendum vote. There are states with a keen interest in the Scottish decision and its implications. The Commission is already on the record stating that continuity of membership is not guaranteed, and Spanish statements about Scotland “joining at the back of the queue.”
We, during our time in leadership positions within the SNP, strongly supported the concept of “Independence in Europe.” Over recent years the EU that we supported has changed, and changed dramatically. The Lisbon Treaty does not involve “shared sovereignty” but a transfer of sovereignty to the central organs of the EU based in Brussels. The EU has assumed a sovereign corporate identity able in its own right to sign international treaties. The Commission President has made it clear in recent weeks that the creation of a United States of Europe is the aim. Angela Merkel wishes to have a Tsar imposed upon member states’ parliaments, to control and alter their national budgets as he thinks fit.
It is questionable whether the Scottish people will accept the dominance of the new EU. We believe the Scots should be provided with alternatives.
The Attractions of EFTA – a Call to the Scottish Government
Membership of EFTA, giving access to the European Economic Area, would continue to guarantee access to the European market, without the significant transfer of sovereignty involved in the Lisbon Treaty and the further integration agenda of the Commission and Germany.
We are calling for the Scottish government to do two things: engage now, in diplomatic discussions with the EFTA countries to explore the possibility of membership, and request the United Kingdom government to do what the Commission tells us that only a member state can do, and that is ask the Commission, based on legal advice, on what a vote for independence will mean for Scotland’s membership of the EU.
Scottish voters should know, well before autumn 2014, what the position is, what the terms are, for continued EU membership; and should be provided with an alternative on the day of independence.
It is worth noting the timetable following a Yes vote:-
1. Negotiations start with the UK government on the division of assets and liabilities, and
other matters consequent on Scottish independence. Perhaps eighteen months.
During this time Scotland remains part of the UK and thus part of the EU.
2. On completion of negotiations, the Westminster Parliament passes an Act giving effect
To Scottish Independence. During the passage of this legislation Scotland continues to be a part of the UK and thus of the EU.
3. The Independence Act provides the date of independence.
During that period of 18-24 months, the Scottish government would be able to clarify the detailed position of the EU towards its status, and to clarify the position with EFTA.
Before the date set for independence, the Scottish government should then ask, by referendum, which organisation the Scottish people wish to join.
We would point out to the Yes side, and especially to the Scottish government, that it would seem wise to have an ‘alternative hand’ to play in any discussion it may have with the EU. As the EU’s major oil producer, and important contributor to the Common Fisheries Policy, Scotland is not in the position of a beggar at the Brussels gate. But should there be any threat to close the gate, and there have been such threats, then in our opinion membership of the EEA, through EFTA, would seem the wisest course for the Scottish people to take.