By Martin Kelly
Media reports suggesting Ireland’s European Minister has said that an independent Scotland would be forced out of the European Union and have to apply for membership have been denied by the Minister herself.
Lucinda Creighton has said that remarks she made on Friday in response to questions from BBC Scotland reporter Raymond Buchanan had been “misconstrued”.
She said: “I certainly did not at any stage suggest that Scotland could, should or would be thrown out of the EU.”
Ms Creighton was responding to questions after reports broadcast by BBC Scotland throughout Friday claimed she believed that an independent Scotland would be forced to apply for European membership and that subsequent negotiations could be “lengthy”.
However, asked by Newsnet Scotland if she had indeed given this view, Ms Creighton replied that she had merely answered a question on “hypothetical negotiations with the EU” and that her reply she believed was “largely in line with that of the Scottish Government”
The Irish politician told Newsnet Scotland: “I was asked about the future of negotiations with the EU in the event that Scotland votes for independence. I thought that my reply was largely in line with that of the Scottish Government. I certainly did not at any stage suggest that Scotland could, should or would be thrown out of the EU. Scottish people are citizens of Europe.”
The comments from the Irish Minister are sure to cause controversy following Friday’s news reports on BBC Scotland. According to the broadcaster, Ms Creighton’s opinion “chimed” with that of Scottish Secretary Michael Moore who himself said that an independent Scotland would be “outside the EU having to negotiate its way back in”.
Speaking on Radio Scotland’s Newsdrive on Friday, Raymond Buchanan said he had asked the Irish Minister: “what Ireland’s view would be if an independent Scotland wanted to stay within the EU”.
According to the BBC Scotland reporter, Ms Creighton responded to the question by saying that “If Scotland were to become independent, Scotland would have to apply for membership”.
In a later BBC broadcast Mr Buchanan told listeners that the opinion of the Scottish government that “EU membership would be automatic although there would need to be some negotiations” was “not the view held by Ireland’s Europe Minister” and that an independent Scotland “would have to apply first”.
Mr Buchanan was in Ireland in order to report on a visit by Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon who gave a speech to the British-Irish Chamber of Commerce’s annual conference in Dublin. In the speech, Ms Sturgeon said that EU membership is a major factor in attracting business investment to Scotland and that the announcement by UK PM David Cameron of a referendum on EU membership was a threat to thousands of Scottish jobs.
However the BBC Scotland reporter’s interpretation of Ms Creighton’s comments, according to the Irish Minister, are at odds with her actual views.
She added: “As SNP Westminster Leader, Angus Robertson said ‘Negotiations on the terms of membership would take place in the period between the referendum and the planned date of independence’, and that ‘The EU would adopt a simplified procedure for the negotiations, not the traditional procedure followed for the accession of non-member countries’.” … “I think that sums up the situation quite well.”
Commenting, an SNP Spokesperson said: “We warmly welcome this clarification from Ms Creighton that her view on an independent Scotland’s continued membership of the EU is in line with that of the Scottish Government, that negotiations would take place after a Yes vote in 2014 – but before Scotland becomes independent in 2016 – and therefore by definition from within the EU.
“In recent weeks we have heard a number of other important opinions on this matter – including those of David Edward, a former Judge in the European Court of Justice, and Professor David Scheffer, who profoundly supported the Scottish Government’s common-sense view.
“The truth is that the real threat to Scotland’s EU membership – and our access to the single market of half a billion people – comes from a No vote in 2014, which would leave us at the mercy of a Westminster Government which is steadily pushing the UK toward the EU exit door.”
The clarification from the Irish Minister is a significant blow to the anti-independence Better Together campaign which seized on Friday’s reports and claimed that the independence referendum is placing the Scotland’s EU membership in doubt.
It is also potentially embarrassing for BBC Scotland. Appearing in front of a Holyrood Committee earlier last week, Mr Buchanan’s visit to Ireland was cited by BBC Scotland News and Current Affairs Chief John Boothman as evidence of the quality and in-depth reporting by the broadcaster of the referendum debate.
Mr Boothman said: “Later this week, I’m sure it’s not a secret – the Deputy First Minister is going to Dublin and my colleague Raymond Buchanan will be there as she speaks to the British-Irish Chamber of Commerce.”
However, there will now be doubts over the ability of BBC Scotland reporters to provide informative, accurate and in depth coverage of the independence referendum in light of the comments from Ms Creighton who said that “I regret that my words seem to have been presented or taken out of context.”