The Scottish Divorcé and the EU

17 Feb

On the 16th of February, José Manuel Barroso, European Commission president, said it would be “difficult, if not impossible” for an independent Scotland to join the EU.

This is no surprise to anyone apart from diehard independence-seekers, like Alex Salmond and the SNP. Salmond, in particular, has gone on the attack after Barroso’s statements, claiming that Scotland could keep the pound and join the European Community. But, in doing so, he betrays the same lack of awareness of international realities as shown by many other independence-seekers throughout history.

The European Union (and the currency union) is fundamentally a political project. If anyone was in any doubt about it, they would be well-advised to consider the circumstances in which Greece, Spain, Portugal and Ireland were allowed to join the EU, adopt the Euro and then cause major financial problems that – because of the shared currency – were far from localised. Greece, in particular, should not have been allowed to join; indeed, the financial and political data from Greece and the other countries were carefully massaged to suggest that they were cleaning up their act. The financial problems that have bedevilled the EU since 2008 are proof that they failed to clear up their act.

And so, regardless of Scotland’s ‘right’ to be an EU member (and that is arguable), the decision about Scottish membership will be a political one. Why should the EU accept Scotland as a newcomer to the club?

I can give several reasons against it, if you like. Britain is hardly the only EU country with a significant nationalist movement seeking independence. Spain, for example, is facing comparable problems in the Basque region. Why exactly should Spain support Scotland’s passage into the EU when it will harm Spanish national interests? Instead, I would expect the Spanish to demand a high price from Scotland, purely to make it clear to their own separatists that independence would come with a very steep price.

Or, if you think that the EU wouldn’t be so spiteful, consider this. The EU took in members who literally could not uphold their commitments. Does anyone think that the EU would care to repeat the experience? I would expect the EU to be very careful about accepting new members in future, probably forcing Scotland and any other potential candidates to open the books and allow the EU to conduct a full investigation of Scottish financial affairs, just to make sure Scotland isn’t lying to them. I confess, given how poorly the Scottish Parliament has handled money matters in the years since it’s inauguration, I rather doubt it will pass with flying colours.

In short, we could expect to pay a heavy price for joining the EU. Our independence would be badly compromised. Would we really be independent at all? At worst, we would be trading dominion by London (never mind the fact that two Prime Ministers in recent years have been Scottish) for dominion by Brussels. And, of the two of them, I prefer London.

But there are other problems. Would we keep the pound? George Osborne says no – and Salmond seems to have no alternative in mind. Assuming we did keep the pound, we would be at the mercy of the English treasury, just as Greece was at the mercy of the EU after the financial crisis began.

Salmond’s attitude seems to be that everything will change, but nothing will change.

This is delusional. Scotland and England have been linked closely ever since King James VI and I succeeded Queen Elizabeth I, uniting the crowns of the two nations. Politically, Scotland and England have been united since the Act of Union in 1707. Scotland and England have been linked so closely together that families such as my own include members from both Scotland and England (as well as Malaysia and Ireland). We have hundreds of thousands of ties from banking to the military and educational establishments.

Separating the two nations once again would be a divorce on an unprecedented scale, far outmatching the separation between India and Pakistan. It would be hideously costly – if nothing else, we probably couldn’t afford it. We would be paying the bills for Salmond’s desire to become President of an independent Scotland for years to come.

And do we really want to be independent?

Let’s be honest here. There are nationalities in this world that probably should be independent, because they are often abused quite badly by the nations playing host to them. The Kurds, the Sikhs, the Tibetans … but Scotland? Is our nation really an occupied state?

I don’t think so.

So let me pose this question again. Do we really want to separate ourselves from the United Kingdom?

In my view, the answer is no.

11 Responses to “The Scottish Divorcé and the EU”

  1. David Power February 17, 2014 at 10:38 pm #

    The can of worms which would be opened if Scotland left the UK and failed to join the EU as non-eu migrants,requiring visas. Would scottish citizens already working in the UK or other EU countries be forced to retro-actively apply for work visas? Would the EU require the UK to set up border controls with Scotland?

  2. k findlay February 17, 2014 at 11:16 pm #

    It really comes down to the legality. That the EU can suddenly state that 6 million of it’s citizens are no longer able to be EU citizens. There own law court will not take it lightly and so we end up with the possibility of a country of EU citizens where the country is not a member of the EU but the citizens are with all the rights. Actually this sounds like being the idideal situation for a new country to be.

    • chrishanger February 18, 2014 at 11:16 am #

      It would be a headache, yes. Scots would probably no longer be EU citizens if Scotland was no longer deemed part of the union, any more than American colonials were British after winning independence. Chris Date: Mon, 17 Feb 2014 23:16:53 +0000 To:

  3. Dave February 18, 2014 at 7:33 am #

    The legality of the situation is , to my mind, of secondary importance. These matters will come down to negotiation.

    How strong would an independent Scotland’s negotiating position be versus the EU, never mind rUK? It is difficult to conclude that it would not be in the weaker position and have to make significant concessions.

  4. G Cheal February 18, 2014 at 7:50 am #

    Firstly I shall apologise for my ignorance concerning this. . . I imagine Scotland would be as independent as it is now. I doubt that the UK would sever it completely and would still pay taxes to fund an army, health, education etc etc. However they would be screwed over by the eu. If they became independent would we invade to secure our fuel supply? Do they really want independence? Or do they actually just want cultural recognition? Again apologies

    • chrishanger February 18, 2014 at 11:13 am #

      Hi! The SNP’s current stance, I believe, is ‘independence in Europe.’ Which translates as no independence at all. Chris Date: Tue, 18 Feb 2014 07:51:01 +0000 To:

  5. David Matthewson February 18, 2014 at 8:49 am #

    Well said Chris…

  6. Germán Quintero March 4, 2016 at 6:57 pm #


    I am an avid reader of your books. I’m also Spanish. And an economist. You need to do your homework about Spain’s government debt before the crisis. At the time of accession to the EU, Spain’s debt was really low compared even to Germany. As late as 2008, Spain’s government debt amounted to 60% of GDP. MUCH lower than Germany’s or Britain’s for that matter. You cannot put Spain in the same bracket as Greece, for instance. We have had fiscally responsible governments for decades now and we were running a government surplus until 2007, when the crisis hit. You really need to research that aspect.

    • chrishanger March 4, 2016 at 10:51 pm #

      I probably will do more reading at some point.

      The impression I had was that Spain went into a massive build-build-build phase before the crunch, including wasting money on airports and suchlike. Much of this was supposed to be underwritten by the EU (or people believed it would be) and then the shock hit when it became clear that there was no money to service the debts. (Or not enough money.) I’m not sure you can call a government that did that ‘responsible’ in any way.

      What’s your take? Why did it happen?



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