Posted on Nov 08, 2019
The current impasse over Brexit centres mainly on the issue of how to avoid a "hard-border" between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, a situation that all concerned are anxious to avoid. However, one party does seem keen to create a hard-border - between England and Scotland - the Scottish National Party (SNP), writes Gary Cartwright.
Having failed to secure support for Scottish independence in the "once in a generation" referendum of 2014, the SNP, now under the leadership of Nicola Sturgeon, wants another poll now.
She feels that the Scots would rather be a part of the European Union than of the United Kingdom, and so she feels that in the context of Brexit her party's latest call for an independence is justified. It should be pointed out that calling for independence is the SNP's primary raison d'être. The party is something of a one-trick pony, and it plays heavily on anti-English sentiment north of the border.
Should this much cherished dream be realised, according to the SNP narrative, Scotland would then join the EU as an independent state, and all would be well.
What is never discussed, however, is the fact that any aspiring EU member state, in order to reach the stage of accession, is obliged to accept what is known as the acquis communautaire, the accumulated legislation, legal acts, and court decisions that constitute the body of EU law. All of it. There are no opt-outs now, in means completely in.
So, during any pre-accession negotiations, the Scots will be compelled to agree to becoming members of the Schengen zone, meaning that any EU citizen, or any non-EU citizen, from anywhere in the world with a visa allowing them to travel in the zone will have the absolute right to travel to Scotland. Any aspiring Scottish government needs to start thinking about a robust deportation process at the earliest opportunity - taking care, of course, that it is fully compliant with EU law.
The UK and the Irish Republic are not members of the zone, as both were able to opt-out: but remember, there are no more opt-outs. Scotland has missed that boat.
This is where it gets interesting, and this is the first of two major problems an independent Scotland will have to deal with should it seek EU membership.
Travelling from the Schengen zone into a non-Schengen country requires border checks. Just to spell it out, that will necessitate border checks between England and Scotland. It means a hard border. A sort of a high-tech Hadrian's Wall, with passport checks, visa requirements, etc.
National identity cards, sufficient when travelling within the EU do not suffice when travelling from the bloc to a non-EU country, therefore Scots, like all EU citizens, would require passports to travel to England, Wales, Northern Ireland, or the Irish Republic.
Aspiring members of the EU are also required to begin preparing their economy for economic and monetary union - in short, scrapping their currency and switching to the Euro.
The fact that post-Brexit UK will - eventually - be outside of the customs union while Scotland will be inside it is another, and equally powerful factor in the hard-border debate. Even given the special circumstances in the Irish case - all parties are in total agreement on the importance of protecting the Good Friday Agreement - this issue still seems intractable. There are no such special circumstances in the Scottish case, this is another illustration of why a hard border border will be necessary.
Has Nicola Sturgeon mentioned any of this to her electorate? Her predecessor certainly never did: in fact he brazenly denied it.
During the run up to the 2014 independence referendum Alex Salmond gave the impression that should Scotland withdraw from the UK it would remain a member of the EU as an independent state in its own right.
During this period questions were asked of the then European Commission President José Manuel Barroso on this matter. Speaking in the European Parliament in Strasbourg in response to questions from MEPs he confirmed the fact that Scotland was a member of the EU only by virtue of its place in the United Kingdom. Should it leave the UK, it would cease to be a member of the EU, and would have to go through the same pre-accession process as any other aspiring member, and yes, it would have to sign up to both Schengen and the single currency.
Scotland has a population of 5.4 million, which means that under the current system of seat apportionment, it would be entitled to just 13 of the 751 seats in the European Parliament.
The SNP is a member of the European Free Alliance, a pan-European political party, and also one of the political groups in the European Parliament, and so should the situation arise it can be assumed that this will be their political home in the EU institutions. They would be most welcome there, as the group - a minor one with just 74 members, which include the European Greens and the Pirate Party - currently has just one MEP more than Marine Le Pen's Identity and Democracy group and will lose the UK's Green MEPs after Brexit.
There is also the question of EU funding during the pre-accession phase. Scotland currently receives EU funds on the basis of it's current membership as a part of the UK. This will cease at the moment of Brexit.
Aspiring member states can receive, for example, structural funding to bring infrastructure up to EU standard. However, it would likely be assumed that having been a full member of the EU for so long already, Scotland's infrastructure is already at a higher level than, say, Albania, Moldova, et al, and so there may be little or no scope there.
The SNP paints a rosy picture of an independent Scotland and a swift accession to full EU membership: but as politicians are so fond of saying, "It's a lot more complicated than that".
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