I am pleased to have the opportunity to make a statement on an independent Scotland’s continuing membership of the European Union and to respond to recent statements by the President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso.
Firstly, let me be clear that the Scottish Government believes that Scotland should continue to be a member of the EU; a view that does not appear to be shared by a UK government that is displaying ever increasing signs of Euro-scepticism. Indeed, in my view, it is the overtly hostile stance of the UK government – or at least significant parts of it – that presents the real risk to Scotland’s continuing membership of the EU.
This government believes that Scotland does benefit from EU membership and that the EU benefits – enormously – from having Scotland as a member. It is also our view that Scotland’s interests would be better represented in the EU by an independent Scottish Government, with a seat at the top table, able to speak up for our national interest without having to seek the prior permission of UK ministers; and a government able to work closely and constructively with partners across these islands, and across the EU, to advance our shared interests.
Presiding Officer, that is our ambition for Scotland’s future in Europe. It is positive and constructive – with Scotland’s and Europe’s best interests at its heart - and it stands in sharp contrast to the stance of the UK government.
Let me turn now to the recent statements of the President of the European Commission.
As head of the Commission, Mr Barroso’s opinion on this matter should be – and will be by this Government - treated seriously and with respect.
That is why I have written to him seeking an early opportunity to discuss the particular process by which Scotland would become independent and the implications of that for our continued EU membership.
However, in doing so, it is important that I also set out the following points.
Firstly, the European Commission, however important, is not the final arbiter of these matters. Mr Barroso’s statements do not constitute a ‘ruling’, as some have suggested. Nor does the Commission even claim to be specifically addressing the particular situation of Scotland.
Indeed, the President of the Commission himself made clear, in his letter to the House of Lords Committee, that ‘the European Commission has expressed its views in general…’
Second, there is absolutely no provision in the EU Treaties for the dis-application of those Treaties or the removal of EU citizenship from a country and its people when they exercise their democratic right to self-determination. And it would be extraordinary if anyone in this chamber - or indeed anyone else committed to the principle of democracy - was to suggest that there should be.
Indeed, Mr Barroso said in response to a question on 10 November 2012, ‘There are no provisions in the Treaties that refer to the secession from a member state.’
Therefore, what I want to outline to the President – and indeed hear his views on – is the specific process by which Scotland would become independent and the way in which we would seek to ensure that our intention to remain within the EU is achieved.
Firstly, let me deal with the process of independence. As a result of the Edinburgh Agreement that process is democratic, agreed and consensual and the result will be respected and implemented by both the Scottish and UK governments.
Following a ‘yes’ vote in 2014, a process of negotiation will take place with the UK government on the transfer of powers to an independent Scottish Parliament. As I said last week, it would be the intention of the Scottish Government to invite representatives of the other parties and of civic Scotland to contribute to that process. It is a process that we would intend to have completed in time for the next Scottish election in 2016. However, in the period between autumn 2014 and May 2016, Scotland would still be in the UK and, therefore, by definition, still within the EU.
In parallel to negotiations with the UK government, it would be our intention to negotiate the terms of an independent Scotland’s continuing membership of the EU.
And here I should point out that the need for negotiations with the EU was made clear by the Scottish Government in Choosing Scotland’s Future in 2007, in Your Scotland, Your Voice in 2009 and in Your Scotland, Your Referendum in 2012. And it is worth remembering that these are matters that are likely to be about political negotiation more than they will be about legal process.
Let me also pause here to reflect on the position of the UK in such negotiations. It would be interesting to hear those who argue that an independent Scotland would have to reapply for EU membership explain in some detail why that same argument wouldn’t also be true of the rest of the UK, given that the democratic process we are engaged in would lead to the dissolution of the UK in its current political form. However, since I do not believe that we would be in a formal re-application situation, I will not dwell on that point.
However, what will undoubtedly be the case is that negotiation on terms of continuing membership will be highly relevant to the rest of the UK which will require to determine, for example, its own number of seats in the European Parliament and its revised financial contribution.
So, I believe Scotland and the rest of the UK would have a shared interest in concluding such negotiations smoothly and quickly.
And I believe that such a sensible process of negotiation will result in Scotland’s continuing membership of the EU on terms that are reasonable. And by that I mean, for example, that just like Sweden, we would not join the Euro until and unless it was in Scotland’s interests to do so and we had satisfied the conditions for doing so. And, just like Ireland, we would not enter Schengen but would instead look to co-operate with Ireland and the rest of the UK in the Common Travel Area. Both of these positions are practical and justifiable and would, I am sure, be supported by all parties here in Scotland. And, given their approach in other circumstances, the evidence suggests they would be understood by our European partners.
I will cite two reasons for my view and, in so doing, I am very deliberately relying, not simply on arguments of law or process, but on arguments of common sense, reality and mutual self-interest.
Firstly, the EU is an organisation that welcomes new members. It wants others to join – it most certainly would not want to see existing parts of its territory leave.
Let me quote, again, the words of Mr Barroso, this time on 11 September – ‘I see no country leaving and I see many countries wanting to join.’
The EU is also an inherently flexible organisation – it adapts, as indeed it should, to the changing circumstances of its member states. To demonstrate that, we just have to look at how quickly and smoothly the former East Germany was integrated into the EU following re-unification. Indeed it’s instructive to read the press release issued by the Commission about East Germany in 1990. It said, ‘The community institutions have all done their utmost to bring about the integration of what was the German Democratic Republic as smoothly as possible and within the timescale allowed by the unification process.’
There was no direct precedent for what happened with East Germany – just as there is no precedent for what might happen in Scotland – but the EU found a solution that is consistent with the principle of sincere co-operation that lies at the heart of the EU Treaties. They adapted and they did it on the basis of common sense and accommodation of internal decisions taken by one of its member states.
My second reason for believing that Scotland would continue in membership of the EU is that it is overwhelmingly in the EU’s interests for us to do so.
And by that I don’t just mean that to go through the complicated process of putting Scotland outside the EU, just for us to be readmitted later, would be – as Graham Avery, an Honorary DG of the Commission, said – 'not feasible'.
I mean that Scotland’s vast assets – fishing, oil and gas, renewables; our value as an export market to other member states; our education system enjoyed by thousands of EU students every year; and our status as home to tens of thousands of EU citizens, mean that the economic, social and political interests of the EU would be best served by Scotland remaining in continuous membership.
Let us just look at some of that in more detail. We have around 90% of the EU's oil and gas reserves. We accounted for around two-thirds of EU crude oil and a fifth of EU natural gas production in 2009. An independent Scotland would be the largest producer of oil and the second largest producer of gas in the EU.
In 2010/11, there were more than 16,000 EU students enrolled at Scottish HEIs and 150,000 EU citizens living here by virtue of the freedom of movement that comes with us as being part of the EU.
We are an integral member of the EU and it is not credible to argue that the other nations of the EU would not want to retain access to the vast array of resources and opportunities that Scotland brings to the EU table.
Indeed, if the opposition parties have Scotland’s best interests at heart then – notwithstanding their opposition to independence – they will accept that, in the event of a ‘yes’ vote, the process I have outlined today would be in the best interests of Scotland, the UK and the EU.
As I said earlier, I have sought the opportunity to discuss the matter with Mr Barroso in the near future.
I will be happy to update parliament again following that discussion.