I thought I’d expand a bit on the idiocies that Unionists are excitedly telling themselves in an effort to persuade one another that Scottish independence is a non-starter. It’s bad enough when they tell one another nonsense of course, but Unionist nonsense has a habit of appearing in the pages of a newspaper and on the screen of a national broadcaster as unvarnished truth. Because when it comes to exercising the critical faculties certain media outlets are more like couch potatoes than marathon runners where claims made by the Unionist establishment are concerned. On the other hand, claims made by independence supporters, when the same same Unionists deign to notice them at all, are subject to a dissection that is all but indistinguishable from reductio ad absurdum.
The claim du jour, there’s me coming over all European, which is terribly appropriate for the topic at hand, is that an independent Scotland would have to go to the back of the queue for EU membership. This is true because a right wing Spanish MEP said so. He might once have been besties with Ruth Davidson, but the fact is that Esteban González Pons no more speaks for the EU or the European Parliament than the SNP’s Alyn Smith does. Although that doesn’t prevent any pronouncement from a minor Spanish political figure being plastered all over the pages of Scotland’s Unionist press. Funnily enough these same publications don’t treat Alyn Smith’s pronouncements on Scotland’s chances within the EU with the same degree of gravity. They don’t even treat pro-Scottish statements from very senior EU figures with the same degree of gravity as statements from right wing Spanish MEPs whose influence is limited even in their own offices. Instead they drop them to the bottom of a very deep and dark well and hope no one notices.
It’s worthwhile looking at this latest claim in detail. The claim is that an independent Scotland would have to go to the back of the queue for membership, behind Albania, Serbia, and Turkey. There are a number of assumptions in this assertion, none of which are well founded. Which is a kind way of saying that Unionists who make the claim are really ought to be paying more attention to the Trumpton firemen’s theme song, which is pitched at approximately the same intellectual level as people who swallow the claim. The reality is that the EU queue is Unionist woo, guff, barf, drivel and crud.
Firstly the claim assumes that Scotland will not hold an independence referendum until after the UK has formally left the EU. This is by no means certain. In the increasingly likely circumstance of a second independence referendum being called, it will be held before the UK formally leaves the EU. That means at any time within two years of Theresa May invoking Article 50 and giving the EU formal notice of the UK’s intention to leave. If Scotland votes in favour of independence in a referendum held within that time frame, the UK will still be a member of the EU, and so will Scotland.
Given that Scotland will have voted for independence while the UK isn’t yet out of the EU door and therefore the UK is shortly to become two states, there is absolutely no reason at all why the EU can’t decide that for the purposes of EU membership, iScotland inherits the UK’s existing membership. After all, it would be pretty nonsensical for the EU to insist that Scotland needs to leave along with the rest of the UK only to make an application to join later. Scotland is already in full compliance with EU membership requirements, and it serves no one’s interests to insist that iScotland leaves then rejoins. The EU has already proven that it can be flexible where circumstances demand it, such as when the former East Germany was admitted as a part of an existing member state.
This scenario has the added advantage of by-passing any possible Spanish objection. The EU could simply say that if a member state is leaving the EU, but a part of that member state is becoming independent and wishes to remain a member, it can do so. Since there is zero prospect of Spain, one of the most pro-EU countries, voting to leave the EU, Spain could agree to this then say that it’s an entirely separate set of circumstances which has no effect on its stance versus Catalonia.
But even supposing that an independent Scotland ended up outside the EU, that still doesn’t mean that we go to the back of the queue and would have to wait for the applications of Turkey, Macedonia, or Albania to be processed before ours could be considered. The queue for EU membership is not like a queue in the chip shop, where the person who has been waiting longest gets annoyed when a newcomer barges in and demands to be served with a special fish supper and acquis sauce right away.
In fact it’s safe to say that the queue for EU membership is not a queue at all. New member states are admitted when they meet the membership requirements, they are not admitted in order of application. Turkey applied to join the EU in 1987. Since then Poland and Hungary have been admitted even though they hadn’t applied to join in 1987. In fact the EU has since admitted a slew of countries which weren’t even independent sovereign states when Turkey first made its application, Slovenia, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia spring to mind.
The fact is that Scotland is a highly developed Western European democracy which is already in compliance with the EU’s membership requirements, and would continue to be in compliance with them even if we became independent a couple of months after the UK as a whole had formally exited the EU. Harmonising a country’s domestic legislation with EU laws and regulations takes many years, but Scotland is already there. That means that our application for membership of the EU would be relatively simple and straightforward. We’d be at the head of any queue, such as the queue is, not at the end of it.
The bottom line is, if you genuinely believe that the EU won’t admit an independent Scotland into membership until Turkey is already a member, then you have the IQ of a doner kebab and you really ought to stop embarrassing yourself.
Audio version of this blog post, courtesy of Sarah Mackie @lumi_1984 https://soundcloud.com/occamshaver/wee-ginger-dug-31st-jan-2017-2
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