Scotland’s best chance of getting back into the EU is through independence. Kirsty Hughes, the director of the Scottish Centre for European Relations and an expert on EU matters, has said that the EU would welcome the membership of an independent Scotland but would be far more wary should the UK attempt to rejoin. In other words, if Scotland wants a closer relationship with the EU, as consistent majorities of the Scottish electorate say they would like to see, the quickest and easiest way of achieving it will be as an independent nation.
There is broad sympathy for Scotland throughout the EU. The mood music from Europe is now very different to what it was in 2014 when the EU saw itself as a representative of the interests of one of its most important and largest member states, the UK. In 2014 we saw a succession of EU figures lining up to pour cold water on Scottish hopes of EU membership as an independent nation. Most of these figures were allied to the British Conservatives in the EU Parliament, although their ties to the Tories were never made explicit to the Scottish public by our media.
We won’t be seeing that again. The EU is no longer in the business of working in the interests of the British state. Indeed, the experience of Brexit and the lies, dissembling, dishonesty, and lack of good faith of the British Government have left a very bitter taste in the mouths of many in Brussels. The next Scottish independence referendum will see a very different style of messaging from the EU. It will not actively intervene in support of independence, but there will be a very different and more positive tone, and there will be many more EU figures who are prepared to make statements which are favourable to Scottish membership.
Scotland is seen as a normal northern European country, one whose values and ideals are far more closely in alignment with the European norm than the exceptionalism of the UK. Our European friends understand that Scotland did not vote for Brexit, and that we have been torn out of the EU without our agreement. Those who follow British politics more closely also understand that Scotland has not been permitted any input or influence into determining the shape that Brexit takes. At every step along the way Scotland has been marginalised, ignored, and trivialised by the British Government. This generates a considerable sympathy for Scotland’s position amongst our European allies.
Meanwhile the British state has burned through what remained of its credibility. Britain is seen as deeply untrustworthy, unstable, and prone to a delusional exceptionalism. The EU would only consent to the UK rejoining the EU if it was sure that it was no longer going to be the perennial thorn in the side of other EU member states that it was during the UK’s first period as a member. There will be no more toleration of British exceptionalism, no appetite for special deals or exemptions for the UK. And above all, the UK will only be allowed back into the EU if the EU sees that it has genuinely changed and is now willing and able to cooperate as a member instead of demanding special treatment. There’s very little sign of that happening in a UK which is going ever further down the rabbit hole of British exceptionalism.
Both the Conservatives and Labour are now parties of Brexit, but even if the UK did elect a party at the next General Election which was committed to rejoining the EU it would take many years and long and protracted negotiations before Britain was allowed back in again. You don’t quickly reinvite a house guest who vomited all over your carpet during their last stay and trashed your living room. There is a need for a long period of rebuilding trust, and that’s a currency which the British Government has squandered and devalued. The EU has learned that they don’t call it Perfidious Albion for nothing.
On the other hand a Scotland which had achieved independence legally and constitutionally, as has always been foreseen by the Scottish Government, is a Scotland that the EU would welcome back with open arms. Scottish politics are not disfigured by the lurch to right wing populism that currently defines the UK political scene. In Nicola Sturgeon we have a leader who has the respect of other EU member states, unlike the boorish bragging bluster of Johnson.
It is of course up to the people of Scotland to decide the nature of the relationship that they want with the EU. There is a certain body of opinion within the independence movement which doesn’t want EU membership. We must not go into an independence referendum which is predicated upon EU membership for an independent Scotland, rather we must be making the point that it should be up to the people of an independent Scotland to decide whether they wish Scotland to be in the EU, or what sort of relationship that they want Scotland to have with the EU if we are not to be a full member.
However there is little doubt that there is currently a majority within Scotland which hopes to rejoin the EU, and even amongst those who wish to remain outwith the EU there is an appetite for a closer relationship with Europe than we’re going to get with the no-deal Brexit that Johnson and his cronies have in store for us.
What independence supporters need to make loud and clear to no voters who wanted to remain in the EU is that the quickest and surest way back into a closer relationship with the EU is through independence. If you valued freedom of movement throughout Europe, independence is the quickest and most reliable way to restore it. If you believe that the single market is vital for Scotland’s economic prospects, independence is the most direct route to getting it back. This is an issue which will loom even larger in people’s minds after the end of this year, when the transitional period ends and Johnson and his lying Brextremists have got what they wanted.
Scotland is a European nation, our future and our natural place in the world has been taken away from us by British nationalist exceptionalists. We can’t get it back by appealing to those same British nationalist exceptionalists. Only independence can achieve a normal Scotland. The EU will welcome us with open arms.
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