By Mark McNaught
A recent poll conducted by the Guardian showed that 56% of UK citizens would ‘definitely’ or ‘probably’ vote to leave the European Union if given the chance in a referendum.
This should give great pause to those who gave Alex Salmond so much grief over comments regarding legal advice on continued EU adhesion in the case of Scottish independence.
Shrill unionists threateningly held that Scotland leaving the UK would be required to reapply and go through the whole convergence criteria, inferring that Scotland must stay with the UK if they wish to remain in the EU.
This poll, and the deafening euro-skeptic rumbling from Westminster, suggests that the opposite is true. A ‘yes’ vote is the only way to guarantee continuous EU adhesion for Scotland. It is increasingly apparent that if Scotland votes to stay in the UK in 2014 and there is a UK referendum held after 2015 over EU membership, as Cameron has hinted and seems increasingly compelled to propose, then Scotland could be yanked out of the EU against her will.
This would wreak havoc on Scotland’s sovereignty and constitutional future. Scotland would no longer be master of its own fate, even to the more limited degree to which it now is under the devolved government. If Scotland is part of the UK, which votes to withdraw from the EU, then Scotland must follow.
All of the benefits the Scotland currently enjoys as an EU member would be revoked: trading privileges, transnational law and order accords, immigration between EU states, regional subsidies, all. Applying separately for admission while still in the UK will be impossible.
There is no guarantee that any of these benefits could be renegotiated on a piecemeal basis after a UK withdrawal, and Scotland would be in no position to negotiate for them independently. It would have tied its constitutional fate to the UK through a 2014 ‘No’ vote, and would have no say in the matter of EU withdrawal beyond their small percentage of the overall UK population.
Were Scotland to become independent in 2014, then a rump UK were to subsequently vote to withdraw from the EU, this could prove to be a spectacular boon to business and jobs in Scotland.
Many businesses south of the border could be tempted to move to Scotland to continue to be part of the EU, and not lose the important benefits they derive from membership. Foreign firms wishing to invest in the British Isles and have access to the EU market could be lured to Scotland through its continued membership.
This demonstrates clearly that Scotland can only navigate its own constitutional and economic future if it becomes independent. Renewing its vows to a dysfunctional marriage through a ‘No’ vote in 2014 will shackle Scotland to Westminster perhaps for centuries to come, with no capacity to act as the sovereign independent country it aspires and deserves to be.
Setting Scotland free through a ‘Yes’ vote will accord Scotland the liberty to remain in the EU, and build bilateral relations with the UK through treaty consistent with the interests of Scotland, rather than have constitutional decisions thrust upon it against its will.
It is thus now incumbent on the ‘Better Together’ campaign to explain exactly how Scotland’s place in the EU can be maintained if their side prevails in 2014 and the rest of the UK ultimately votes to leave. They will not be able to give any guarantees.
If the ‘Yes’ campaign plays their cards right, they could make this the defining issue which could ultimately help to secure Scottish independence.
The argument boils down to this: either vote ‘Yes’ and allow Scotland to find its place among the great independent nations, free to choose alliances as befits their interests and promote their own economic interests. Or vote ‘No’, and forever chain a subservient country to a dysfunctional petulant actor on the European stage, depriving Scots of sovereignty and power over their destiny.
The choice is that stark.
Mark McNaught is a member of the Constitutional Commission, and Associate Professor of US civilisation at the University of Rennes 2 France, and teaches US constitutional law at Sciences-Po Paris.