By Derek Bateman
For the media camped outside the government offices at St Andrews House there was a early reward just after 7 am when the First Minister arrived grinning and carrying a sheaf of papers.
He held them up: “Messages from 20 different countries around the world,” he declared. “They came in overnight. Each one congratulating the Scots and saying: Welcome to the club of Nations” He turned at the door, looked at the cameras and said in a serious voice: “The Independence Project starts today.”
SNP Ministers began arriving and word emerged that after a congratulatory phone call, David Cameron had agreed to come to Edinburgh on Monday morning to discuss the details of the handover of power. However, he was upstaged by his own side when a two-man team from the British Treasury arrived just after nine. They didn’t speak to the media but at lunchtime Mr Salmond’s adviser briefed reporters.
“We thought they were coming to warn us again that there would be no support for us using the pound. In fact, it was completely the opposite. They said the currency question had been commandeered by the politicians – by that we presume they meant the Chancellor – and as soon as the idea of Scotland using the pound was put to the civil servants they jumped at it. To them it made perfect sense.
If Scotland was to leave the UK, the last thing they wanted to see were barriers to trade and movement as it was against the rUK’s national interest. There was a significant amount of cross-border trade which would be compromised by currency changes and bureaucracy, and they had been heavily lobbied in private by the CBI and British business to ensure the pound was in use in Scotland,” he said.
They also revealed in discusssion that the Foreign Office had intervened to say that, if there was a Yes vote, it was essential for Britain’s overseas image that Scotland and the rUK shared a common currency. They recognised that losing Scotland was a blow to the credibility and perception of what remains of Britain and everything must be done to shore up that image.
One of the strongest ways of doing that was for diplomatic staff around the world to be able to say something along the lines of: “The Scots have exercised their ancient right to independence but they are still securely within London’s sphere of influence. They are, for example, using our common currency and meeting our compliance standards. We get the benefit of the oil and gas to the balance of payments and we sign off on their spending plans so in a meaningful way, Britain still operates as a unit.”
The second team of visitors was from Brussels. A small group representing both the European Commission and the Council flew in yesterday and stayed overnight to watch the vote. They met John Swinney, Fiona Hyslop and Humza Yousaf and were joined later by Mr Salmond.
The First Minister’s spokesman outlined what had been said. “Like the Treasury, they said the time for politics was over. They said there had been the inevitable political games before the vote but now the people had spoken they wanted to impress on the government that there was unanimity across all member states and the institutions that Scotland must be accommodated as a full member of the EU.
They were very keen to cast doubt on the possibility of overtures being made to EFTA and said it was essential that steps begin immediately to ensure Scottish membership. The Council representative gave us details of the membership plan to be adopted for our entry, which they are not calling Enlargement which is a specific legal process requiring unanimity but Inlargement which is a different process evolved specially for Scotland and which only requires qualified majority voting. It cannot be used for any other part of a member state like Catalonia as they are not yet party to a process recognised by the Spanish state, unlike London’s recognition of Scotland.”
By the time the EU team left, it was clear that Scotland would remain technically a member through the UK’s membership until London and Edinburgh reached an agreement which Brussels could accept. The specific terms of Scottish membership including financial contributions would be negotiated as part of this process from within the EU.
“They said they couldn’t throw us out even if they wanted to,” said the spokesman. “There is no treaty provision for expulsion and no time nor desire to create one. Equally they confirmed what the treaties say: That all member states agree to the principle of the common currency but no one can be forced to use the euro.” However Scotland had to brace itself for losing some UK opt-outs. Brussels will accept keeping the Schengen derogation because the UK-Ireland travel zone works well but the Thatcher budget opt-out is non-negotiable.
“We will have to let it go,” he said. “But recognising the difficulty that gives us both financially and politically as a new member, the EU team will propose a phased withdrawal starting over the seven-year life of the budget to minimise the impact. It’s the principle they want to establish because it irritates the other members and this way it puts pressure on London.”
To cap a promising start to the prolonged negotiating stage, Mr Salmond emerged to announce that he had been called by the NATO secretary general Anders Rasmussen who said it was unthinkable for Scotland not to be in NATO as it would threaten security in Northern Europe particularly in the Greenland Gap (Giuk) which the UK was failing to police properly. It was through that route that any airborne or maritime invading force from Russia or China would come.
Asked about earlier claims that a country could not gain membership if it had an unresolved issue with a current member, for example with Britain over Trident, Mr Salmond smiled. “As soon as we agree and London agrees, there is no dispute, according to the Secretary General, and the way is clear for our membership.”
That is being taken to mean that a lease deal to allow nuclear-armed submarines to continue to use the Faslane base for a specified time will be struck almost certainly in return for a write-down in Scotland’s share of the UK national debt.
It was a positive and promising start to Day One of the Independence Project. Through the drizzle and the evening lights of Princes Street, saltires waved and drums thundered as the thoroughfare was closed to traffic to allow the all-night street party which is expected to bring out 100,000 delighted Yes supporters.
Courtesy of Derek Bateman