By Chris Rumbles
The Secretary of State for Scotland is to be asked to clarify comments made on the UK’s membership of the European Union by the Scottish Parliament’s Europe and External Relations Committee today.
Alistair Carmichael, Liberal Democrats MP for Orkney and Shetland, will give evidence to the committee in his capacity as Scottish Secretary on the Scottish Government’s proposals for an independent Scotland within the EU.
Since replacing Michael Moore as Secretary of State for Scotland in October last year, Mr Carmichael has said an independent Scotland could ‘negotiate its way back in’ to the EU but that membership as part of the UK ensured Scotland retained favourable terms.
The Scottish Secretary has, however, given conflicting views on the prospect of a UK referendum on EU membership with his latest claims made at a National Farmers Union Scotland debate on independence this week contradicting those of his own party.
At the NFUS debate on Monday, Mr Carmichael said that the leaders of the three main UK parties were ‘completely committed’ to remaining part of Europe and that there was no real prospect of a UK referendum on EU membership because of there not being a ‘mechanism’ for the Conservative party to deliver one.
Mr Carmicheal said, to gasps of disbelief from the audience: “There is no question of there being a referendum. There is no mechanism for the Conservatives to deliver a referendum 2017. That is the hard political fact.”
However the Lib Dem MP’s own leader, Nick Clegg recently said his party were “now Britain’s only party of in” and that if the Conservatives were to win a majority at the next general election in 2015, they would then “have the democratic mandate” to put the UK’s EU status to a referendum in 2017.
An appearance on the BBC’s Sunday Politics in November last year saw Mr Carmichael being asked whether he could give a guarantee that the UK would be in the EU by the end of the decade. In his reply Mr Carmichael said “I don’t think anybody can give any guarantee.”
SNP MSP Christina McKelvie, convener of the Europe Committee, said Mr Carmichael had many questions to answer:
“Alistair Carmichael’s appearance in front of the European and External Relations Committee today is the perfect chance for him to come clean on his EU scaremongering.
“As part of the No campaign, he is guilty of repeated attempts to cast doubt on Scotland’s EU membership. Meanwhile, at Westminster, he and his Lib Dem colleagues are warning of the dangers of the Tory referendum that could rip us out of the EU.”
Earlier this month Labour leader Ed Miliband gave mixed messages on the party’s stance on an In/Out UK referendum. Though initially suggesting one was “unlikely” with a Labour government, Mr Miliband then promised he would “guarantee” one if the UK’s relationship with the EU altered.
Graham Avery, the European Commission’s honorary director general, gave evidence to the EER Committee earlier this year on an independent Scotland’s EU status and said some of the views emerging from Westminster on the issue were politically and pragmatically ‘absurd’.
He said: “It is obvious that the common sense solution would be for Scotland’s membership of the EU to be effective on the same day as its independence, and it is obvious that five million Scottish citizens, who have been European citizens for 40 years, should not be treated in the same way as people of non-member countries, or third countries as they are called in the Euro-jargon.”