4 January 2022

Reflections on the Future of Scotland’s European Debate

Anthony Salamone on the state of debate on European relations and EU membership one year after the conclusion of the EU-UK relationship

Anthony Salamone

Anthony Salamone

One year after the signature of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement, the EU-UK partnership established in response to the latter’s withdrawal from the former, the anticipated normalisation of Brexit is now well under way. In political terms, the contrast between the continued Brexiteer zeal in London and the EU’s multifaceted deliberations on its future direction makes it evermore challenging to remember that the UK was once an EU Member State. On a practical level, many impacts of Brexit have been commingled with those of the coronavirus pandemic, or otherwise occluded in view of the more insular lifestyles which many people now lead as a result. Yet, with each policy divergence and occasional newsworthy consequence, it is increasingly evident that Brexit has been realised.

In my latest report, Scotland’s Global Standpoint, I enumerate the daunting challenges for Scotland in seeking to sustain meaningful relations with the EU in the years ahead. As neither part of the EU nor a state, Scotland is a peripheral actor in European politics. Domestic consensus on the Scottish Government’s EU engagement is absent due to its conflation with the independence debate. Serial lack of Europeanisation of Scottish politics and public life prevents a robust policy culture on European affairs. The Scottish Government’s antagonistic relationship with the UK Government, on EU relations and generally, limits the former’s scope for productive engagement with EU actors. On the first anniversary of the TCA’s signature, the timing is opportune to assess the state of debate in Scotland on European relations in the present and potential EU membership under independence.

State of debate in Scotland on European affairs

Across this past year, the largely lacklustre debate on Scotland’s relationship with the EU was defined by two principal themes. First, the conversation on European relations continued to be framed predominantly in terms of internal affairs and the independence debate. Scottish politics generated stunningly little substantive discussion on the actual developments and policies of the EU, let alone reflection on their implications for Scotland or production of articulate positions on them. Second, the Scottish Government maintained the same consistent, and basic, tripartite message: Scotland opposes Brexit; the Government will “preserve Scotland’s good relations” with the EU (to use its words); and Scotland will join the EU as an independent state. In fact, most noteworthy is how little the Scottish Government expounded on the latter two claims last year – no major speeches, no defining publications (a long-time favourite of the SNP) and no strategic plans. With its autumn programme, the Government pledged to produce a new Global Affairs Framework, in 2022.

Although Scotland’s European debate was mostly static, the circumstances which should form the foundation for that debate were not. To state the obvious, Brexit is over. The success or failure of Scotland’s future relations with the EU will depend on evolution, not preservation. Scottish EU membership, should independence happen, is not an immediate prospect. As I have evidenced elsewhere, if a referendum agreed by the Scottish and UK Governments took place in September 2023, and returned a result in favour of independence, Scotland could reasonably join the EU between December 2030 and December 2031. Whatever its constitutional future, Scotland will most likely remain outside the EU for at least the rest of this decade. In this challenging context, the premise of “protecting Scotland’s place in Europe” means nothing where not otherwise rigorously defined.

Last year’s Holyrood election, held in May, was not an advertisement for quality public debate on European affairs. During the campaign, Scotland’s relationship was the EU was instrumentalised to make arguments for independence or the UK union. The substance of Scotland’s EU relations within the present constitution barely featured, much less the state and evolution of European integration – and that dual absence is the regrettable standard in Scottish politics. In fact, various campaign proposals on competition, procurement, nationalisation, industrial policy and market regulation, particularly those made by Scottish Labour, would probably accelerate Scotland’s divergence from the EU and make it more difficult to establish a closer EU-UK relationship in the future. The subject of Scottish EU membership under independence became a recurring election theme, seemingly to the SNP’s surprise, given that it deferred providing detail on questions ranging from the timing and length of Scotland’s EU accession process, Scotland’s national budget deficit and eventual currency, the Scotland-England border in view of Brexit, and the prospect for a Scottish EU accession referendum.

In that regard, it must be remarked that those issues on Scottish EU membership, and independence more widely, surfaced in the election campaign predominantly as a result of interventions from think tanks, universities and figures in London and its environs. The Scottish media seemingly found those contributions newsworthy and amplified them. It seems probable that, going forward, London actors will seek to make more active contributions in Scottish politics – especially in a future independence referendum. While ideas and analysis should face no borders, the combination of the limited amount of such analysis within Scotland and the minimal interest within Scotland to that analysis renders the lack of sufficiently recognised local counterbalance on Scotland’s European relations problematic. Moreover, the lack of Europeanisation of the Scottish media reduced the scope for related insightful revelations. In the absence of sufficient knowledge of the functioning of the European Union, it is undoubtedly challenging to pose illuminating questions on possible Scottish EU membership, to both sides of the independence debate. All told, the conduct of the Holyrood election does not bode well for Scotland’s future relations with the EU – whatever shape they take in the decades to come.

International relations are one of the “excluded matters” of the non-coalition cooperation agreement between the Scottish Government (the SNP) and the Scottish Greens, concluded months after the Holyrood election. Not to be outdone on complexity, certain elements of European and international relations, included in the two-party cooperation programme, are excepted from the exclusion. Much more detail should be made public on the practical operation of these exclusions and non-exclusions, along with their resulting impact on the Scottish Government’s EU policy and engagement. In respect of that engagement, the Government should reconsider its habitual preoccupation with explaining and evidencing Scotland’s political, historical and geographical circumstances to EU actors. Moreover, the amount of bandwidth, principally at political level, still dedicated to reiterating opposition to Brexit and the existence of an independence debate is not a productive allocation of resources.

In the measure that the Scottish Government believes that most EU policy-makers know virtually nothing of modern Scottish politics, including its constitutional settlement and consequently the Government’s standing to engage with them, it is correct. Instead, the error arises in its assumption that it should seek to remedy those deficits, on its own, through chronologies of Scottish history and society. It is natural for a government to offer its preferred interpretation of its country to potential partners. Provision of context and analysis of contemporary Scotland, including its politics, however, is better left to Scottish civil society – autonomous and independent from government. If the Scottish Government becomes concerned that prospective European partners are uncertain about its role and powers within the United Kingdom, it should simply reference the Scotland Acts and the Concordat on International Relations, not recount the European connections of Robert the Bruce.

Now that the TCA has passed its first anniversary, the Scottish Government should ask itself for how much longer it intends to front not just its opposition to Brexit, but its sequential Brexit narrative, in its European relations. We, in Scotland, are well familiar with this narrative, including the following elements: in the 2014 referendum, opponents of independence stated that Scotland should remain part of the UK to stay in the EU; in the 2016 referendum, Scotland voted “overwhelmingly” to remain in the EU (in fact, 62% is decisive, not overwhelming); the Scottish Government offered compromise proposals in which the UK would continue to be in the Single Market and perhaps the Customs Union (leaving aside the feasibility of some aspects of those proposals), which were ignored by the UK Government; the Scottish Government deplored the UK Government’s decision not to extend the post-Brexit transition; the UK Government recklessly chose to exit the transition in the midst of a pandemic; and the UK Government has undermined Scotland’s constitutional settlement, particularly with the UK Internal Market Act. The question at hand is not the resonance of this narrative within Scotland, but its relevance and utility to the Scottish Government’s engagement with the EU.

The reality, in 2022, is that this Brexit narrative of grievances no longer serves Scotland’s European relations, for two main reasons. First, the collective desire within the EU is to move on from Brexit, not to relitigate the past. Redirecting the Scottish Government’s complaints on the UK Government and its policies to EU actors is counterproductive. In particular, inaccurate comparisons between Scotland and Ireland, and Scotland and Northern Ireland, in respect of the outcomes of Brexit are unwarranted and diminish Scotland’s reputation within the EU. Second, continually recalling the ills of Brexit does not provide a pathway to meaningful interaction with European partners. At best, it can generate brief sympathy. Productive cooperation with EU actors will only result from implementing the principle of mutuality and addressing present challenges, not from reanimating recent history.

Moreover, as one part of an ex-EU Member State, Scotland will now have to strive proactively and continually for beneficial relevance and genuine interest in Brussels and national capitals. Sentiment alone, whether in Scotland or in the EU, will not suffice. General positivity towards Scotland within the EU and the pleasant veneer of cordiality from EU actors should not be mistaken for substantive cooperation or actionable influence. Pro-EU sentiment within Scotland has no practical value where not activated and channelled into strategy. In the immediate wake of the EU referendum, the chance arose to lay the foundations for a unique Scottish dynamic with the EU, regardless of the course of Brexit and its formal structural changes. That chance was not utilised and has long faded away. In the absence of constant and adroit investment, Scotland will continue on its present trajectory of fading into the European political background. Successful future EU relations demand pragmatic strategy.

Scotland’s European relations for this decade

Establishing a strategic approach to Scotland’s European relations requires a long-term perspective. Among its recommendations, Scotland’s Global Standpoint proposes that the Scottish Government’s strategy should envision its EU engagement for the rest of this decade (throughout which Scotland will likely not be part of the EU). Whether in the promised Global Affairs Framework or elsewhere, the Government should articulate a coherent post-Brexit vision for Scotland’s interaction with the EU (the institutions and the Member States at all levels). Credible and effective strategy should outline primary principles and objectives for European and international relations. It should be values-based, ensure alignment of internal and external action, and accord with Scotland’s current constitutional arrangements. It should recognise Scotland’s significant challenges to conducting productive EU engagement and respond to them. It should serve as the foundation for all related Government plans and facilitate the prioritisation of limited resources to achieve strategic objectives on EU relations.

The Scottish Government’s efforts in this domain should be resolutely focused on practical and substantive bilateral and multilateral dialogue and cooperation with European partners. They should be formulated within the framework of the UK and entirely insulated from an independence agenda. Moreover, strategy cannot be credible where predicated on the presumption that Scotland will join the European Union in the near future, given that is not the case. Indeed, any government strategy on EU relations for this decade with forthcoming Scottish EU membership as its centrepiece would be deeply flawed. Shaping European relations on the basis of the present constitution, and not a hypothetical future, is the only means to rebuild disintegrated cross-party support within Scotland for the Scottish Government’s EU engagement. It is also a prerequisite for restoring better bilateral relations with the UK Government. In truth, it is disheartening that the Scottish Government has demonstrated little interest in pursuing either of these latter objectives since the Holyrood election.

In recent times, the Scottish Government has made some positive additions to its European policy. It speaks more of the importance of common European values, rather than just trade. It references the contributions which it envisages that Scotland can make to European progress, rather than only what Scotland gains from European integration. More recently, it has endorsed the principle that domestic policies and external action should be in alignment (what it says abroad should match what it does in Scotland). In that context, a significant concern should now be remedied: the Scottish Government’s lack of sufficient acknowledgement of the challenges facing Scotland’s European relations in the years ahead. At present, Government statements and documentation are saturated in overoptimism on Scotland’s relevance to EU actors as one part of the third country, its capacity for influence on EU policies and decisions, and its ability to sustain meaningful connectivity with the EU. Such an approach generates two main negative consequences for Scotland. First, it reduces the seriousness with which European partners will treat the Scottish Government, because they will not find one-sided positivity credible. Second, it limits the effectiveness of Scottish public policy, compared to what it could otherwise achieve, since challenges cannot be overcome if their existence is denied.

Within Scotland’s political system, the lack of Europeanisation is a multifaceted phenomenon. At its core, most participants in Scottish policy-making have comparatively minimal socialisation to the politics, institutions and functioning of the EU – at European level and within the Member States. The inevitable result is a monochromatic interpretation of the Union, normally in excessively rosy fashion, seemingly in ignorance of its profound internal debates over values, policies and future direction. The EU is a complex political union. It is not inherently progressive, successful or right; it is what people make it. In that regard, Scottish politics would benefit significantly from replacing uniform idealism on European integration with informed opinion on the substance of developing European unity in practice. Since Scotland is not part of the EU, it does not have a role in deciding the latter’s future. Yet, Scottish actors cannot conduct successful EU engagement in the absence of demonstrating learned awareness of the EU’s principal debates, the context behind them and their implications for Scotland.

Scotland’s general disconnect from the EU manifests itself in other ways. The Scottish Government, perhaps unconsciously, regularly projects Scottish internal politics into its European relations. For instance, reaffirming support for the existence of the Single Market and the free movement of people is undoubtedly met with bemusement by EU actors. The Brussels debate is not focused on whether the Single Market should exist, but how it will evolve, including in relation to its flanking policies and the Union’s wider internal and external challenges. In that case, the Scottish focus reflects the British debates on Brexit and the constitution, not the contemporary priorities within the EU. Moreover, the language of the Scottish Government reflects the same disconnect. It speaks of “European friends” – something those in Canada, Korea or Argentina would say – instead of “fellow Europeans”. It aspires for Scotland to be a “full member” of the EU; I have never heard of a “partial member” of the EU. Such points are not trivial – they evidence an absence of internalisation of the integral nature of European integration. The Scottish Government’s documentation on EU affairs also reflects a lack of awareness of audience. Public documents should make a robust distinction between what is deliberately said and what is not, especially where they are available and offered to EU diplomats and policy-makers.

Indeed, it is difficult to overemphasise the deleterious effect of intermixing Scotland’s constitutional debate and the Scottish Government’s European relations. If the Government truly aims to achieve measurable success in this domain, it will have to promote purposeful separation between them. It should not raise an independence agenda, even tangentially, with EU actors. It should not proactively explain the Scottish independence debate to them. It should not broach the subject of independence with them at all. More widely, no Scottish actors should seek to implicate EU policy-makers in the independence debate in any circumstance. Scotland’s political future is an internal matter for the Scottish electorate. Attempts to involve the EU institutions or the Member States on the question of Scottish independence would reduce the scope for cooperation and invite embarrassment. The evolution of Scotland’s European connections will depend on advancing relevant matters of mutual interest, not dwelling on Scottish constitutional politics. More to the point, the foundational purpose of official EU engagement should be to open doors for Scotland, not to close them. The Scottish Government should challenge itself to see how much more it can achieve in its European relations where it eliminates the erosion of opportunities caused by the inclusion of the independence debate.

Once the detail of the Scottish Government’s present EU engagement is considered, the imperative for credible and effective strategy becomes obvious. Since the Holyrood election, the Government has professed the need to increase Scotland’s global voice. To say what? Suitable strategy would provide the answer. The Government is committed to engaging with each successive EU Council presidency. To achieve what? Some presidencies are more important than others, and success derives from connecting Scotland’s established strategic priorities to each presidency, not from chasing a changing six-month agenda. The Government intends to expand its representative network by opening new offices in Copenhagen and Warsaw. The only public rationale which it has offered for these new offices and their locations is an aim to increase Scotland’s “visibility”. On a comparable level of vagueness, the Government could increase Scotland’s visibility by opening a social media account, so much stronger reasoning is demanded – and cogent strategy would form the basis for it. Since no strategic objectives have been articulated, it is impossible to assess whether these proposed offices would further them. However, if the objective were to promote strategic connectivity with the EU, Rome, Madrid and The Hague would be the logical choices, given their significant roles in the EU and the surprising lack of investment by the Scottish Government in bilateral relations with them.

Effective strategy ensures the optimisation not only of personnel and finance, but attention and diplomatic capital. For instance, given the UK Government’s decision that the UK will not participate in Erasmus+, and the European Commission’s clarification that it will only accept the participation of states, efforts by the Scottish Government to secure a degree of unique access to Erasmus for Scotland are not a strategic allocation of resources. Similarly, the prospects of “extending the free movement of people” to artists are extremely remote and thus it does not merit substantial investment. Instead, the Scottish Government should focus its energies on strategic priorities for EU relations which should, by definition, be feasible to achieve. In doing so, the Government should address the recurring premise that its representation in Brussels is the central command for its entire engagement across the EU. In fact, headquarters in Edinburgh must be the centre of its European relations, as only it can provide unified coordination of related Government activity, singular aggregation of actionable EU intelligence and constant connection to the Scottish political level.

Since the EU referendum, the Scottish Government has regularly declared its support for EU citizens living in Scotland – a worthy aspiration. Separate from its desire for control of migration policy (in some respects), which is highly unlikely for the foreseeable future, the Scottish Government can act most productively in this regard by ensuring that public bodies in Scotland uphold the rights afforded to EU citizens and others under the Withdrawal Agreement and the Separation Agreement. The Government has also deplored the collapse in the number of EU students attending Scottish universities since the expiration of the Brexit transition. Given that this collapse has surely been driven primarily by the imposition of overseas fees, which most affects EU citizens on undergraduate degrees (as most would previously have been entitled to free tuition), the Scottish Government’s decision to offer modest funding for new postgraduate scholarships for EU students, but not for undergraduate scholarships, does not accord with the realities attached to its stated opinion.

The hope must be that the new Global Affairs Framework proves a significant improvement on the International Framework, the Scottish Government’s relevant governing document currently in force. The latter framework, which dates to 2017, has substantive text totalling 857 words – of which 122 words are dedicated to relations with the European Union. At present, the Government’s European and international relations receive minimal scrutiny from the Scottish Parliament. Assessing post-Brexit EU-UK relations and intra-UK intergovernmental relations is entirely different from reviewing the Scottish Government’s own EU and international policies and engagement. Standard practice is for the Parliament to concentrate on the former, and to conduct a general inquiry on the latter every three to five years. Oversight on the Government’s own relations should be significantly enhanced, not least in view of its aspiration to increase its EU and global profile even further. Ultimately, the Parliament would have to decide to exercise its agency and develop its expertise and practice.

Much greater debate is also warranted on the democratic and logistical implications of future Scottish alignment with EU laws and policies, which the Scottish Government has promised in general terms. Yet, as its recent report confirms, the Government has to date never used the powers under the Scottish EU Continuity Act to maintain alignment. Even where such alignment is voluntary and backed by political support, it nevertheless involves implementing EU policies which Scotland has no role in making. In fact, given the lack of Europeanisation of Scottish politics, most Scottish policy-makers will probably even be unaware of the EU discussions which result in the creation of those policies. While the outlook for Scotland’s European relations for the rest of this decade is uncertain, the current trend is that its European debate will remain mediocre and its EU connections will fade. If Scottish society wishes to avoid that fate, it will have to work collectively to build an alternative.

Scottish EU membership under independence

Scotland’s independence debate will continue for years to come, and it is evident that potential EU membership will be a central component of that debate. Given that Scottish EU membership has been a continuous feature of public discussion since at least 2012, it should be a subject on which all participants in Scottish politics are fully versed. In reality, the Scottish conversation on joining the EU is laughably dismal. At its core, it exposes how remarkably little most Scottish political actors know about the institutions and functioning of the EU. The perpetual recycling of the same inaccuracies, by those on both sides of the constitutional divide, is truly dispiriting. The greatest heights Scotland’s EU membership debate has ever reached are the basic questions of whether Scotland could join the EU and whether it should join the EU. To the former, the brief answer is that it is beyond doubt that Scotland could join the EU, after independence resulting from agreement with the UK Government. To the latter, Scotland’s future relationship with the EU would be a matter for the Scottish electorate to decide, though, in view of its pro-EU majority, EU membership would seem the probable choice.

By contrast, an informed debate on potential EU membership would extend far beyond the first level of whether to be part of the EU or not. It would incorporate substantive discussion on the major policies of the EU, Scotland’s possible positions on those policies and a Scottish perspective on the future of European integration. It would foster serious reflection on Scotland’s relationship with Economic and Monetary Union, including the missing advocacy for Scotland joining the euro, like the large majority of EU Member States. It would include realistic consideration of Scotland’s pathways for influence and success within the EU, along with the principles that should define its approach to EU affairs. That standard of debate, which Scotland has to date never achieved, requires sufficient understanding of the EU, accurate knowledge of its policies and cogent opinions on them.  It cannot exist in an environment in which the EU is simply either idolised or rejected. Pro-EU Scottish political actors (the vast majority) would have to learn how to disagree with the EU’s prevailing direction of travel, where that was the case, and to stake out alternative paths with realistic chances of success.

While the catalogue of misinterpretations on EU membership in Scotland is vast, certain elements are particularly necessary to dispel. If Scotland sought to apply for EU membership as an independent state, it would follow the normal EU accession process. A “special” process does not exist and the EU would not create one just for Scotland. At present, a nebulous concept circulates in Scottish politics that, after an independence referendum endorsing independence, the Scottish Government would immediately negotiate with the EU on accession. The reality is that Scotland would not “negotiate to negotiate”. It would follow the EU’s well-defined rules on becoming a Member State. In that regard, it would be inadvisable for the Government of Scotland to argue with the EU about its own rules. Any suggestion from the Scottish side that Scotland should be treated uniquely because it is “different” from other candidates and potential candidates would be undiplomatic and insulting. More to the point, Scotland would be strongly placed to meet the Copenhagen Criteria, and it would not need a special route to membership. The only aspect of Scotland’s membership perspective that should be bespoke is its pre-accession relationship with the EU. In Scotland’s EU Blueprint, I propose an EU-only association agreement. The outcome would depend on the EU, and the UK before independence.

For its recurring preoccupation with how long Scotland’s EU accession process would take, Scottish politics has never generated an honest conversation on the subject. In Scotland’s EU Blueprint, I thoroughly assess that Scotland could reasonably take 44–78 months, and probably 48–60 months, to join the EU, from the point of application to the point of accession. As the Treaty on European Union makes clear, Scotland could only apply to join the EU after it had become an independent state. Moreover, it would be unlikely to apply for EU membership at the exact moment of statehood. In consequence, the commencement of a Scottish EU accession process would be several years after the foundational independence referendum. Another oddity percolating in Scottish politics is the notion that the Scottish Government would negotiate the length of the process with the EU. That concept betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of EU accession. Its duration is not negotiated; it simply results from the length of time taken for the candidate to fulfil the acquis and for both sides to undertake their institutional preparations (alongside any political considerations that may arise). The most important factor to the length of Scotland’s accession process would be Scotland itself: how well the Government prepared before its application; how constructively it engaged with the EU institutions and the Member States; and how rapidly it satisfied the EU’s outstanding requirements.

In order to secure sustainable public support, proponents of Scottish EU membership would have to offer a convincing rationale for why Scotland should be part of the EU. Such a rationale would not succeed if it were based solely on economics and trade. Indeed, it is inconsequential that the EU Single Market is multiple times the size of the UK economy. We all know that, at present, Scotland’s principal trade dependency is on the UK, not the EU. Moreover, it is baffling how frequently Scottish natural resources are mentioned as an apparent attribute in relation to EU membership. Scotland’s EU accession would depend on whether it satisfied the acquis, not whether it generated wind power. To ensure high public confidence in EU membership, a positive national story would be required on how joining the EU would accord with Scotland’s values and interests. Advocates for that option should never assume that pro-EU sentiment in Scotland will be eternal. The case for European unity would have to be continually renewed. In that light, it should be evident that a Scottish EU accession referendum (after the conclusion of the negotiations) would provide vital democratic legitimacy to EU membership. If the Government of Scotland instead sought to avoid such a referendum, EU actors would surely wonder why it believed that it would lose and what it revealed about Scottish politics.

Given that Scotland is an advanced democracy with a developed free market economy, it should satisfy the political and economic dimensions of the Copenhagen Criteria fairly straightforwardly. Instead, the primary task would be to fulfil the institutional dimension, in connection with the establishment of the Scottish state. While the European Commission would determine the extent to which Scotland met the acquis at the point of its initial assessment, it is already clear that Scotland does not meet all of it today. Such a scenario would be impossible in the current context: Scotland lacks distinct state institutions required under the acquis; entire chapters of the acquis are reserved matters; and Scotland, along with the rest of the UK, is on a path of divergence from the acquis. Any suggestion that Scotland satisfies the acquis in full at the present time would therefore be highly disingenuous. Indeed, the realities of Scotland’s readiness for EU accession would derive from the facts that it has not been a state for centuries and it has never been an EU Member State in its own right. In those regards, it would be far more accurate to label Scotland’s journey as “joining” the EU rather than “rejoining” it. The preference for the latter reflects domestic political expediency.

Alongside potential EU membership, Scotland’s relationship with the UK, as separate states, would command significant attention. Yet, Scottish political actors appear to significantly underappreciate the extent to which Scotland-UK bilateral relations would be defined by the EU-UK relationship, if Scotland became an EU Member State. Contrary to some claims, the Government of Scotland would manifestly not negotiate trade and border arrangements directly with the UK Government. Instead, it would apply the Trade and Cooperation Agreement, or its successor, and any relevant negotiations would be conducted either in cooperation with the European Commission or by the Commission in consultation with Scotland and the other Member States. Moreover, it would be highly advisable to ensure, at the time of their conclusion, that state establishment agreements between Scotland and the UK were compatible with future Scottish EU membership. More fundamentally, Scottish actors would need to fully internalise that, upon accession, Scotland would become an integral part of the EU. Since it is a political union, and not a trade body, Edinburgh and the rest of Scotland would be “the EU” as much as Brussels or Strasbourg. The Union would become part of Scotland’s internal politics.

Scottish EU membership under independence would be a strategic constitutional decision, and it would transform the nature of the Scottish state. Such a consequential subject deserves a substantive and nuanced debate. At present, however, the debate on EU membership is superficial, repetitive and uninteresting. In the absence of positive change, the inevitable outcome is that this question will be inadequately addressed in a future independence referendum campaign. That situation would be disadvantageous for voters seeking to make an informed decision. It would be disastrous if a referendum returned a majority for statehood and Scottish EU membership had to be realised on that basis. It would be a grave error to assume that, in such an eventuality, all of the pieces of successful statebuilding and EU accession would fall into place on their own. With its current politics, Scotland would most likely experience a fractious EU accession process, of its own making, and become a relatively passive EU Member State with at best modest influence. Many Scottish political actors have passionate views on Scotland’s constitutional future and its relationship with the EU. Yet, passion is not a substitute for substantive debate, or an excuse for its absence. Since this subject will endure for years to come, the collective aspiration for Scottish society should be to jettison its dysfunctional debate on potential EU membership and to establish a quality one which confronts the realities of Scotland’s situation and inspires credible discussion on its possible futures.

Anthony Salamone FRSA is Managing Director of European Merchants

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