By a Newsnet reporter
The anti-independence campaign has been accused of “dishonesty” after it claimed new EU president Jean-Claude Juncker had said an independent Scotland would be cast into the EU wilderness for at least five years.
Deputy First Minister Nicole Sturgeon has written to Better Together leader Alistair Darling calling on him to “withdraw the No campaign’s false claims about Scotland’s future in Europe.”
The letter follows claims by the anti-independence leader that a speech by Mr Juncker on Tuesday meant an independent Scotland would be expelled from the EU and prevented from re-applying for membership for five years.
Mr Juncker’s spokeswoman has since rubbished the claims and said the new EC President was not talking about Scotland.
Mr Juncker had spoken of the need to suspend enlargement of the EU for five years, but had specifically stated this would apply to candidate countries already in a queue, such as those from the Balkans.
In her letter the Deputy First Minister accused the Better Together campaign of “dishonesty” and added: “At no point is Scotland mentioned, as this is an entirely separate issue.”
Immediately after Mr Juncker made hbis speech, the Better Together campaign published an article on their website, which said: “Alex Salmond’s dream of a separate Scotland quickly re-joining the EU lies in tatters today after the new President of the European Commission said there would be no new EU member states for 5 years.”
It added: “Unfortunately for Alex Salmond, Mr Juncker has indicated that a separate Scotland would face a difficult journey to join the EU,”
However the claims from the anti-independence campaign group were left in tatters after an official from Mr Junker’s office confirmed the EC President was not referring to Scotland when he made his speech.
In her letter Ms Sturgeon writes: “I am today calling on you to withdraw the No campaign’s false claims about Scotland’s future in Europe.
Better Together’s assertions about what the new President of the European Commission has said in terms of European Union enlargement are demonstrably false.
Your campaign deliberately misinterpreted those remarks by issuing a statement claiming that Mr Juncker had suggested an independent Scotland will not continue in EU membership.
That claim – as Mr Juncker’s office have now made completely clear – was totally without foundation.”
Accusing Better Together of making “bogus claims and false assertions” and of “blatantly misrepresenting Mr Juncker.” The Deputy First Minister adds: “This blatant dishonesty is a major blow to the credibility of the No campaign.
“In your desperation to talk Scotland down, your campaign is guilty of grossly distorting remarks by the newly-elected president of the European Commission, which is an extremely serious matter.”
She ends by saying: “The only threat to Scotland’s continued place in Europe is Westminster’s planned in-out referendum – and for the first time ever the UK now has a Foreign Secretary who has advocated withdrawal from the EU.
“You should withdraw your bogus assertions by immediately taking down your false online content and issue a public apology.”
Yesterday, EU sources told Newsnet Scotland that Mr Juncker’s remarks ‘clearly’ had nothing to do with Scotland – and that, on the issue of Scottish independence, they will ‘cross that bridge when they come to it’.
Earlier Mr Juncker’s official spokeswoman, Natasha Bertraud, had told Newsnet Scotland that the speech from the EC President was not in fact new.
She said: “Mr. Juncker’s presented his political guidelines for the next European Commission in front of the Parliament yesterday. It is in this context that he said that, after 13 enlargements in the space of 10 years, there will be no further enlargements of the European Union for the next 5 years.
“This is indeed not unexpected as this formed part of his electoral programme during the campaign (see juncker.epp.eu).”
On the independence referendum, Ms Bertraud added: “As for Mr Juncker’s position on Scotland, he has made this clear on numerous occasions – this is an internal matter for the UK and he will respect the result of the Scottish referendum.”
Despite their claims having been rubbished by Mr Juncker’s own office, Better Together remained defiant. In a statement to the Scotsman newspaper a spokesperson for Alistair Darling said:
“President Juncker’s comments lay bare the full extent of the problems we would face if we left the UK. The countries who have already started the application process to join the EU face a five-year wait. As President Juncker has made perfectly clear previously, if we leave the UK, we would then have to start the application process to join.”
The issue has also caused embarrassment for the BBC after the claims by Better Together were broadcast on flagship news programme Reporting Scotland.
Newsnet Scotland has asked BBC Scotland’s head of their referendum unit, Jim Mullin, to explain how the claims from the Better Together campaign came to be included as one of the top stories without any basic journalistic checks having been carried out. We are still waiting for a reply.