Joint approach to EU urged in light of Electoral Commission recommendations


  By G.A.Ponsonby
An MEP has written to key players in the independence referendum urging them to make a joint approach to the EU in order to clarify the situation should Scotland vote Yes in the 2014 independence referendum.
SNP MEP Alyn Smith (pictured) has urged Prime Minister David Cameron, Scottish Secretary Michael Moore and Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to seek clarity from the EC.

The letter follows recommendations from the Electoral Commission that both Governments should work together in order to clarify what will happen after the independence referendum, whichever side wins.

The European Commission has already made clear that it will respond to questions only if they come from Westminster.  However, despite publicly committing to accept all of the Electoral Commission’s recommendations, the Westminster government has signalled it will not seek clarity.

Mr Smith also urged Tory MEP Struan Stevenson, Labour MEP Catherine Stihler and Liberal Democrat MSP Liam McArthur to add their own names to the letter at a European hustings-style debate at Edinburgh University yesterday evening.

In his letter, the SNP MEP writes: “As four politicians elected in Scotland from four different parties, we believe that the best way for the Scottish and UK governments to secure EC opinion specifically about Scotland’s membership of the EU as an independent country is for the UK Government, as the existing member state, to formally seek such an opinion.

“In line with a key recommendation of the Electoral Commission, which calls on the two governments to agree a `joint position` on the consequences of both a Yes and No result `so that voters have access to agreed information about what would follow the referendum`, we urge the Scottish and UK governments to agree an approach to the EC on the question of EU membership.”

However, early indications were that the Unionist MEPs would not join Mr Smith’s call for a joint approach.

According to the Herald, Lib Dem MEP Mr McArthur responded by attacking the SNP, claiming the party was “trying to hang a picture that has not been painted”.

Labour MEP Ms Stihler criticised the Scottish Government stance over her freedom of information request for legal advice on Europe.  The request was fought by the Scottish government who went to court in a bid at blocking the move, despite no specific advice existing.

Mr Smith said of the decision that it “put us in a very unfortunate position”.

Apparently sympathetic to the Labour MEP, he said: “It was the best letter that Catherine ever wrote and it was a very fair question.

“In our defence, it is a convention across all governments worldwide that the existence of legal advice is not admitted to one way or another.

“The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office has done the exact same thing over the existence of its legal advice, and you’ll be hearing more about that in the weeks to come.”

Tory MEP Mr Stevenson dismissed the call from the SNP MEP and said: “We’re in the middle of a eurozone crisis and we’re having debates like this adding more red tape and more bureaucracy.”

Commenting on the responses to his letter, Mr Smith said: “I challenged my MEP colleagues and Liam McArthur tonight so that this important information is available to Scots to have before we vote for independence in autumn 2014.

“I think that the Scottish and UK governments are well placed to ensure, through joint working, that a sensible and considered request goes to the European Commission.

“I strongly urge the anti-independence parties to settle this verbal ping-pong and urge the two governments to work together in the best interests of the Scottish people and obtain this Commission opinion.

“The letter urges co-operative action between the Scottish and UK governments to seek EU clarification just as the Electoral Commission has urged.”

Prime Minister David Cameron has refused to bow to pressure to seek clarity from the European Commission on the aftermath of a Yes vote in 2014.  The refusal follows a pledge by the PM to hold an In/Out referendum on EU membership if the Conservatives win the next UK general election.

Recent polls show that Scots are more supportive of remaining in Europe by almost two to one, whilst south of the border those wanting out of Europe are neck and neck with those wanting to stay.

The pro-independence campaign has claimed that Scotland’s future membership in the EU is threatened by remaining in the Union.  Supporters have suggested that Scots who vote yes to EU membership could find themselves forced out of the EU should England vote to leave.