Not So Brave?

by Andrew Stuttaford

Last week was a tricky one for Scots who had been telling themselves that there would always be a safety net under the attempt to build an independent Scotland (there will be a referendum on independence in September).

First, London explained that there would no currency union between Scotland and what was left of the U.K., and then came this (via the Guardian):

It would be “difficult, if not impossible” for an independent Scotland to become a member of the European Union, the European commission president, José Manuel Barroso, has said.The statement will be seen as a blow to the hopes of the Scottish nationalists who claim the country would join the EU in the event of a yes vote in September’s referendum. Barroso told the Andrew Marr Show that member states seeking to prevent their own semi-autonomous regions from seceding would almost certainly block Scotland’s membership. He said Scotland would have to apply for EU membership in the usual way.

“It will be extremely difficult to get the approval of all the other member states to have a new member coming from one member state…We have seen that Spain has been opposing even the recognition of Kosovo, for instance, so it’s to some extent a similar case because it’s a new country and so I believe it’s going to be extremely difficult, if not impossible, a new member state coming out of one of our countries getting the agreement of the other [existing member states]…”

Barroso, whose mandate as head of the EU executive ends in October, has previously said that any newly independent state would have to reapply to join the EU.

Madrid’s real worry — nothing to do with the Balkans — is that Scottish independence will rile up Catalonia even more than it already is. The ‘easier’ that Scottish independence can be said to be, the more likely it is that the Catalans, already hammering at the exit door from Spain, will want the same thing.

Writing in The Spectator, Hamish Macdonell sees these developments as injecting a welcome note of uncomfortable reality into the debate:

Scots have been told that an independent Scotland will actually have to be independent. It will not be the ‘same-but-slightly-different’ vision that [Scottish Nationalist leader] Salmond has painted for so long.

An independent Scotland will be independent. It will have to have its own currency – whether or not that can be pegged to the UK pound – and Scotland will be stranded outside the EU, probably for years and possibly even for decades….

For those who want independence to actually mean something, those two bugs ought to be features (ask the Icelanders), but most Scots do not feel that way:

There has undoubtedly been a feeling in Scotland that voting Yes didn’t carry much of a risk. We would still be attached to the UK, at least in part. We would have the same currency, we would be able to rely on the Bank of England to bail us out if we got into trouble and we would still be in the EU so could trade as normal with everyone.

But now, all that has changed. The independence debate has shifted. It has moved on, substantially so. Everything has become starker and it now should be clear to everyone in Scotland just how high the stakes are.

Good. 

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