By a Newsnet reporter
It was revealed last night that the Westminster Foreign Office believes that the rump-UK could veto Scottish membership of the EU. In a leaked memo, the Foreign Office raises the possibility that a vengeful David Cameron could prevent Scotland taking up EU membership as a means of scaring Scots into line prior to the independence referendum.
However the Scottish government believes that Scotland is already a member of the EU, and upon independence would remain so. The position of the Scottish government is that the UK was formed by a parliamentary union between Scotland and England, and therefore upon Scottish independence both Holyrood and Westminster would inherit equal status as the parliaments of successor states. The UK Foreign Office insists that this would not be the case, as Scotland would be treated as an entirely new state and would have to reapply to join the EU.
However this stance causes Westminster serious problems in other aspects of its arguments against Scottish independence. Were Scotland to be considered an entirely new state, which does not inherit any of the obligations or rights of the UK, then neither would Scotland inherit any portion of the UK national debt as the debt would remain with the rump-UK, the sole successor to the UK’s obligations. Although international and constitutional law is a notorious minefield, it is remarkably clear on this point.
In effect, Westminster has just told Scots the country could walk off without taking on a penny of the UK’s £1 trillion national debt. Were Scotland not to be considered a successor state to the UK, Scotland would inherit only those UK assets which are on Scottish soil or in Scottish waters, naturally these include the oil and gas deposits in the Scottish sector of the North Sea and off Scotland’s north west coasts.
However the picture is even worse for Westminster. Since a recent report from the Ministry of Defence highlighted Westminster’s fear that new storage facilities for Trident warheads and missiles could take 10 years to construct, an energy rich Scotland would find itself debt-free and in sole possession of the UK’s nuclear deterrent, as Westminster would be forced to leave this behind in Scotland. Scotland would be prevented by nuclear non-proliferation treaties from selling the missile system to any other country, including the rump-UK, so this would spell the end of Westminster’s pretensions to be a global power. Westminster’s threatened veto would come at a very heavy price.
In yet another apparently contradictory position, the Foreign Office memo then raises the possibility that Westminster would raise frontier barriers to prevent free movement between Scotland and the rump-UK, citing the need to prevent illegal immigrants from using Scotland as an entry point. The memo claims this could be necessary as Scotland would become a member of the Schengen Free-Travel area, which the UK has opted out of.
However this would only occur if Scotland was a part of the EU, which Westminster claims Scotland would not be, and if Scotland chose to sign up to the Schengen accords guaranteeing passport free travel. The memo also assumes Scotland would withdraw from the common travel area currently consisting of the UK, the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man and the Republic of Ireland. The Channel Islands and the Isle of Man are not members of the EU.
The Foreign Office document, entitled An independent Scotland and the EU, discussed the fear that the UK’s voting strength in Europe would be reduced after Scottish independence. The memo also raises questions over whether what it terms the “remaining UK” would be forced to renegotiate its membership of the EU. The UK’s much prized “EU opt outs” could be at risk.
The Westminster report also claims that Scottish membership could be vetoed by Spain, Belgium or Italy.
However Spanish Foreign Minister José García-Margallo recently denied reports in the British media that Spanish officials had told their British counterparts that Spain was considering vetoing Scottish membership of the EU. Mr García-Margallo said that the reports were “absolutely false” and stressed that in the eyes of the Spanish government, the constitutional settlement within the UK and the possibility of Scotland becoming an independent nation has “no parallel” to the Spanish situation. Spain’s constitution defines Spain as a single nation and denies that the Basques or the Catalans are nations with a right to self-determination. The UK constitution clearly defines Scotland and England as distinct nations within a parliamentary union.
The Foreign Office memo also insists that Scotland would be forced to adopt the euro as its currency. This position is contradicted by the experience of the Czech Republic, which joined the EU in 2004, after the adoption of the euro as the common currency of the 11 EU members which formed the original Eurozone. The Czechs have expressed their unwillingness to join the single currency, but unlike the UK and Denmark do not have a specific opt-out guaranteeing non-membership of the Eurozone.
In January this year, Czech Prime Minister Petr Nečas stated that the country did not require a special opt-out in order to retain the koruna as its currency, as member states cannot be forced to join the ERM II mechanism, a prerequisite for later adoption of the euro. Candidates for euro membership must sign up to ERM II for at least two years before adopting the euro as currency, however it is entirely up to the discretion of each individual member state when to sign up to ERM II and member countries can legitimately delay this indefinitely. Mr Nečas said: ““No one can force us into joining the euro … We have a de facto opt-out.”
This approach has also been adopted by the government of Sweden which has likewise declined to join the Eurozone but has no negotiated opt-out.
A spokesperson for the Scottish government said: “All the claims these inept Whitehall sources are making against an independent Scotland would apply equally to the rest of the UK – and they are equally ridiculous.
“The cast-iron position is that an independent Scotland will continue to use the pound – even the Scottish Secretary in the UK Government has said that, so the Westminster coalition is totally incoherent.”