The Scottish government dismissed claims the country would have to apply to join the European Union should it vote to leave the U.K., after Spain warned membership wasn’t guaranteed.
Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo said yesterday that an independent Scotland would have to pass through the same process as other candidate countries. The semiautonomous administration in Edinburgh, which is campaigning to break from the U.K., reiterated its stance that Scotland would automatically remain within the EU. A minister said earlier in the day it was seeking legal advice on its status.
“Scotland is part of the territory of the European Union and the people of Scotland are citizens of the EU -- there is no provision for either of these circumstances to change upon independence,” a government spokesman said in an e-mailed response to questions last night. “Scotland will inherit exactly the same international treaty rights and obligations as the rest of the U.K., as equal successor states.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron and Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond agreed this month to hold a referendum on independence scheduled for 2014. With the debate so far mainly focused on the economics of Scotland going it alone, polls show voters are roughly two-to-one in favor of staying in the U.K.
The Spanish government meanwhile is facing its own constitutional challenge as Catalan leader Artur Mas pushes for greater autonomy. The region will hold elections on Nov. 25.
Scotland “would have to get in line and secure unanimous support,” Garcia-Margallo told the Spanish Senate in Madrid. It would have to wait before being granted membership, he said.
“These comments have been overtaken by events because we now have a clear process by which Scotland can become an independent country, signed up to by both the Scottish and the U.K. governments,” said the spokesman in Edinburgh, who declined to be named in line with policy.
Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told the Scottish Parliament yesterday the government is seeking legal advice on its EU status and has dropped a legal challenge against a ruling by the Scottish Information Commissioner to disclose whether or not it had done so already.
“The government has now commissioned specific legal advice from our law officers on the position of Scotland within the European Union if independence is achieved through this process,” Sturgeon, who is spearheading the “yes” campaign for the vote, said yesterday.
Salmond, who leads the pro-independence Scottish National Party, said Scotland would be underpinned by North Sea oil and renewable energy, and he plans to keep the British pound, Queen Elizabeth II as head of state and EU membership.
Two SNP lawmakers opposed to nuclear weapons quit yesterday over the party’s decision to keep Scotland within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization should the country become independent. The policy to be a non-nuclear member of NATO was passed at the SNP’s conference last week.
“The argument they’re running at the moment is that everything will change and nothing will change,” Alistair Darling, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer who is leading the campaign to keep Scotland in the U.K., told a House of Lords committee hearing in Edinburgh today. “It’s increasingly obvious no thinking has gone into this until very recently.”