Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Joseph Johnson.)
Good morning, Mr Crausby. It is a great pleasure to have you chairing this important debate.
The 2014 referendum on Scotland’s future is a landmark in our constitutional history, although it is extraordinary that support for the proposition is steadily declining, even before the introduction of the enabling legislation at Holyrood. The fact that it is occurring at a time of increasing volatility, at home and globally, makes the arguments for and against even more contentious. I shall return to volatility later in my remarks, but let me make one observation at the outset: we most definitely will witness in the next two years a period of relentless tricky questions. I noted at the weekend that the university of Dundee is launching a project on “5 Million Questions”, which may take us up to the end of the current century although it is certainly a worthwhile programme. The vast majority of Scots are clearly unconvinced by the proposition of separation, and will be asking many complex, multifaceted questions about the effect that such a move would have on them, their families, their communities and their nation. Ironically, however, in the Scottish Government are masters of avoiding tricky questions. In the political arts, they could win numerous plaudits for their ability to body swerve many difficult areas of policy over a sustained period. That has served them well up to now, but those days are over and, as was evidenced at the Scottish National party annual conference this year, many of its own members are in for a difficult and unsettling experience.
My colleague, Catherine Stihler, one of Scotland’s Members of the European Parliament, asked a deceptively simple question in a freedom of information request last year, but it has been explosive in its effect and deeply revealing about the lack of transparency at the very heart of the Scottish Government. Regardless of how anyone views the European Union, everyone in the Chamber today agrees that whether Scotland would automatically be an EU member if it separated from the rest of the United Kingdom, and whether it would be required to renegotiate the major terms of its membership are both key questions on which the public require clear information.
About 70% of Scotland’s exports are to other EU nations. Let us not forget that if Scotland were not part of the EU, it would probably also face renegotiating entry into the World Trade Organisation, which is responsible for setting the criteria for just about all the remaining 30% of our export markets, including our valuable whisky market.
My hon. Friend has already made a compelling case in the first few minutes of her contribution. Will she also reflect on the fact that recent Scottish Enterprise figures show that two thirds of Scotland’s “exports” actually go to the other component parts of the United Kingdom?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. If Scotland were not part of the EU in a post-separation scenario, obviously its trading relationship with the rest of the UK would be in question—what criteria, tariffs and so on would be in force? Scotland’s economy relies heavily on having a stable export market, and many thousands of jobs depend on foreign trade, but the manner in which the Scottish Government have twisted and turned at every corner to avoid a clear answer as to what legal advice they had on such questions can only corrode public trust. I shall give way in the hope that the questions may be elucidated.
I am listening carefully to what the hon. Lady is saying but, given the increasing Euroscepticism in the UK population and what is happening in this Parliament, how can she even be sure that the UK—with or without Scotland—will be a member of the EU in the next five to 10 years?
The hon. Gentleman may be surprised to know that on that issue I am united with them. The quality of our alliances and partnerships is what will allow Scotland to succeed, which is why I want to be part of a strong European Union, as much as I want to be part of a strong United Kingdom.
Let us return to the question of our status in Europe. Every time that the Scottish Government have been asked about the question of status, they have always sought to give the firm impression that continued EU membership was guaranteed and that no real material change in membership obligations would result from separation. One example of that sorry story is the interpretation of the Scottish Government ministerial code. That document was apparently altered—in a way that begs even more tricky questions—between the FOI request being made and the truth being forced out last month. Paragraph 2.35 of the code states, and I emphasise the first sentence:
“The fact that legal advice has or has not been given to the Scottish Government by the Law Officers and the content of any legal advice given by them or anyone else must not be revealed outwith the Scottish Government without the Law Officers’ prior consent. The only exception to this rule is that it is acknowledged publicly that the Law Officers have advised on the legislative competence of Government Bills introduced in the Parliament…Views given by the Law Officers in their Ministerial capacity are not subject to this restriction.”
I am grateful for the comments made by Ian Smart, the former president of the Law Society of Scotland, in a recent blog, which points out the revelation that legal advice given by “anyone else”—not the Scottish Law Officers—does not require the consent of the Law Officers; only the content of that advice must not be disclosed. Ian Smart said:
“And that is, on any view, deliberately the way the code reads for otherwise the first sentence would be the much simpler.”
The First Minister, however, in his interview on “Scotland Tonight” four weeks ago stated:
“That’s quite clear in the Ministerial code. It’s both the fact of whether it exists, and the content. I would need to clear it with the Lord Advocate if I wanted to say that I had not sought legal advice.”
That is simply not the case if we read the code accurately. Given the outcry about his remarks in the now famous TV interview with Andrew Neil back in March, we might have thought that the First Minister would have taken the opportunity to reread his own ministerial code before rushing into the TV studio. The tricky question that needs to be answered now is whether the First Minister sought legal advice from “anyone else” before that FOI request or his interview with Andrew Neil in March. If so, who was that from and what was said?
There may be some clues. On Tuesday, 30 October, the Lord Advocate wrote to Ruth Davidson, MSP. The third paragraph of that letter contains an interesting statement:
“As was made clear by the Deputy First Minister the Scottish Government has now requested specific legal advice from the Law Officers on EU membership. As you will be aware legal advice on many issues is provided by the lawyers in the Scottish Government Legal Department…but in relation to certain matters the Government will seek a legal opinion from the Law Officers. That is what is happening in relation to the matter of EU membership.”
That same afternoon, Nicola Sturgeon, the Deputy First Minister, summed up a debate on this very matter and, soon after 16.38 in the Official Report, said:
“Clearly, if ministers have sought legal advice, the law officers will provide that legal advice, so to reveal that legal advice has been sought from the law officers reveals the fact of such advice and puts us in breach of the ministerial code.”—[Scottish Parliament Official Report, 30 October 2012; c. 12755.]
Both of those statements cannot be true, however. Catherine Stihler’s inquiry remains whether the Government have been given any legal advice, and on that point there is still deafening silence.
The First Minister and his colleagues may argue that, when they make contentions on EU membership, they are speaking about evidence from a variety of experts—“in terms of the debate” is the phrase most commonly used—but that is not the same as legal advice. They know the difference. Some of the people quoted are not lawyers; some have died; and most of the statements seem to have been made prior to the Lisbon treaty, which made fundamental changes to the European Union’s constitution. None of those represent a legal opinion, and just as many eminent people disagree with those expert opinions, including no less a person than the current EU President.
Here is one simple question the Scottish Government should clarify urgently. Have they already had legal advice from their legal directorate? It is difficult to imagine that, when the Scottish Government issued their White Paper, “Your Scotland, Your Voice: A National Conversation” in 2009, they did not run it past their own legal department. That document contains examples of ambiguous phrasing in its comments about EU membership. I draw hon. Members attention to page 110, paragraph 8.12:
“Settling the details of European Union membership would take place in parallel to independence negotiations with the United Kingdom Government”.
That phrase sounds as though it were written by a lawyer, and as I am a lawyer and a member of the Law Society of Scotland, I speak with some experience. Will the Minister confirm whether his Department has received any information about whether the legal department was consulted on that document, and whether it asked his office for advice or information about EU membership if Scotland were to separate?
That brings me back to volatility. As other hon. Members have said this morning, the EU is undoubtedly experiencing the most challenging and volatile period in its history. Its fiscal policies are under constant stress, there is significant unrest in many regions caused by massive hikes in unemployment and cuts to public services, and there are major differences of opinion in the political leadership. That is where legal opinion hits realpolitik.
Yes Scotland’s latest leaflet states without reservation:
“We can all see the one thing holding us back—we let someone else take decisions for us.”
lf the Scottish Government want our country to remain part of the EU come what may—that seems to be what the hon. Member for Angus (Mr Weir) said—the painful truth is that other people will make decisions for us on how long the application process will take, the conditions for membership, the size of our contribution, our entry into the eurozone, and our entitlements under the common agricultural policy and the common fisheries agreement. As one small nation in 28, our negotiating position, at best, will be fairly weak.
That is all very interesting, but has the hon. Lady bothered to listen to the news from Europe, where the Prime Minister is going to discuss the European budget? It seems that the rest of the EU is ganging up to cut the UK out of the EU, and to cut the famous rebate that everyone goes on about.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for proving my case about volatility and disputes in the European Union. Any union or partnership that lasts a long time has difficult phases, and this is one. He has proved my point that the negotiations will not involve simply providing a list—that is what the First Minister always seems to suggest—saying what Scotland would like and expecting people to nod and say, “That’s fine. Don’t worry. That’s okay with us.” That will not happen, and any attempt to try to prove the opposite shows the weakness of the argument.
On the national central bank and financial regulators, Croatia’s recent entry negotiations show that they are not tick-box exercises, and again there is no guarantee that other EU members would be attracted to the solution that the Scottish Government prefer at the moment of relying on another EU member to provide both important institutions, and that is if that EU member agreed to that in the first place.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful argument. I remind her that the most recent entry to the EU, Croatia, had to satisfy stringent tests about guaranteeing bank deposits, the independence of its central bank, monetary policy and financial security. Does she see anything in any of the plans produced by the Yes Scotland campaign that deals with any of those points?
My hon. Friend raises a good point. It is understandable, given the financial and economic crisis that the EU has suffered over the past five years, that it would take a precautionary approach on any banking issue and financial regulation particularly. The Scottish Government’s proposals are untested. They have never been used by another EU member in the way proposed, and we have no idea how they would work, because we have received no details in response to the many questions that the Scottish Government have been asked. Apparently, we must wait until autumn 2013 for the revelation, apparently in tomes. The questions should be asked now if we want a proper analysis and expert opinion not only in our own country, but throughout the EU. We need that information now.
As far as I know, Croatia does not have a particularly large international banking presence—I hope that I am not being unjust—but Scotland is still the headquarters not just of some UK banks, but of international banks. Does that not emphasise that in any new treaty, if Scotland were to become independent, the EU would be keen to ensure that proper regulatory arrangements were in place for the Scottish banking sector?
My hon. Friend has spent much of his time campaigning on financial services, because they are relevant in his constituency. He hits the nail on the head, because we have a significant financial services sector in Scotland. It is the second largest outside the City of London, and has many jobs, not just in banking, but in other financial services, such as equity markets and insurance funds. Many of the people who use those funds and many investors live not in Scotland, but in other parts of the United Kingdom.
There are many questions to be asked about the currency that will be used, and the regulations. We can take it as certain that the EU will take a precautionary approach, and will ask for those issues to be tested and examined in great detail. As yet, the Scottish Government have not produced a comprehensive document setting out the proposals. At the moment, they seem to think that the rest of the UK will continue to act as the financial regulator, but there is no guarantee that it would be tempted to do so. Why would it take on the risks and responsibility for institutions outwith its borders and over which this Parliament would have no direct control or responsibility? The UK Parliament’s risk would increase.
Given the gridlock of other membership requests, and that other EU states are much less relaxed about national referendums for secession, there is every risk that the application and negotiations could drag on with consequent risks and uncertainty to our economy and particularly our financial services. I would be interested to hear today the Foreign Office’s perspective on such a scenario. Will the Minister confirm what the legal standing of a separate Scotland would be with the World Trade Organisation if at the point of secession it was not a member of the EU? Have the Scottish Government ever asked his Department for information about that? Has there been any formal dialogue with the EU Commission on the proposal for another EU member’s central bank to be Scotland’s bank of last resort?
We have discovered in the last few weeks that the truth can be difficult to admit, but surely anyone who believes that a country’s citizens should be able to make the right choices also believes that they should be provided with full answers to those tricky questions, because they will not go away.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Crausby, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Ann McKechin) on securing the debate. Although it may not be a regular occurrence, I concur with a lot of what she said.
I confess that I have always been puzzled by the Scottish National party’s policy of independence in Europe, or whatever its particular slogan is at the time. Although I profoundly disagree with independence for Scotland, there is logicality in believing that Scotland should be a master of its own destiny: that it should break away from a currency, a monetary and fiscal union, and a political union, and decide matters for herself. I do not agree with that, however. I think that the union has been one of the most successful political, social and economic entities that the world has ever seen, and it would be a tragedy if Scotland split away from it. There is, however, logic in saying, “We want to be masters of our own destiny and decide policies for ourselves.”
What I find illogical is the argument that being in one union is so disadvantageous to Scotland that we should split away, destroying 300 years of shared history and experience, and then rush straight into an even bigger one. That is illogical, and I contend that in such a union, Scotland would have a far weaker influence than it currently has in the United Kingdom.
I do not understand the hon. Gentleman’s argument. The UK is part of the European Union and has surrendered some sovereignty to joint decision making, but that is different from an encompassing political union, which some in the EU want. I presume that he is very much against that, but that is the position in which Scotland finds itself within the EU, and there is nothing illogical in seeking to get out of the United Kingdom in order to join together with other nations in the EU, to a restricted degree.
I am tempted to go down the path of having a debate on the wider issue of the EU’s direction—I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash) would be only too happy to join in—but I think I might exceed my five-minute allowance. The point is that if Scotland became an independent member of the EU—I will come on to why that will not be a straightforward process—it would be joining an ever-deepening union. I do not want the United Kingdom to be part of that, but that is what Scotland would be forced to sign up to. Under the terms of the EU treaties, all new member states are obliged to make the political and legal commitment to join the economic and monetary union, and to adopt the euro as a currency.
That is simply not the case. Under the EU treaties, a nation has to join the exchange rate mechanism II before moving on to the euro. ERM II is voluntary, and in the case of Sweden, it has made it clear that it is not moving towards the euro, although it joined the EU later. Scotland would be in the same position. There is no obligation on Scotland to join the euro.
I profoundly disagree with that analysis. Sweden is obligated to join the euro once it has satisfied the economic conditions. That is the position, and I disagree profoundly with the hon. Gentleman’s position. He has said nothing that dissuades me from the view that an independent Scotland would be sucked in to a full economic and monetary union, and that would not be in Scotland’s interests.
It is far from certain that Scotland would become an automatic, independent member of the EU. There is no precedent for a current EU member state splitting up into constituent parts, with the part that broke away becoming a separate member. Therefore, we must look at what the treaty on European Union says, and article 4.2 is clear that the EU must respect the fundamental, constitutional and political structures and the territorial integrity of a member state, which has exclusive competence in such matters. The EU cannot therefore recognise a unilateral declaration of independence by part of a member state. Furthermore, according to article 49, the hypothetical new state would need to request membership and attain the unanimous support of the European Council for that request, and have its membership approved through an accession treaty, to be ratified by the Parliaments of all member states.
If one looks at the political reality of other member states in Europe, that is far from a foregone conclusion. Would Spain, for example, agree to it with its issues in Catalonia and the Basque country? Would Belgium, whose constitutional integrity is under question, agree? I do not believe that that process would be automatic. I am not suggesting that Scotland could not become an independent EU member, but I ask at what time and at what cost. Croatia’s accession to the EU has been mentioned, and that has been going on for over 10 years. Slovenia made an objection to that process, and although it was overcome, it took time.
I ask again what the cost to Scotland would be. What uncertainty would be created for business at a fragile time for the global economy? What else would she have to surrender to get membership agreed? I believe that euro membership would be inevitable. What about Scotland’s budget contribution, which is a topical issue? The SNP contends that Scotland has a budget surplus in the United Kingdom. I think that issue is far from settled, but for the purpose of the argument, let us accept that the SNP is correct and that Scotland pays more into the United Kingdom coffers than she receives from it. Does that not mean that Scotland would be forced to pay a much higher contribution to the EU budget? Has that been factored into anyone’s calculations? I do not believe so. What about other issues, such as Schengen and the common fisheries policy? What influence would Scotland have to protect her current freedoms? It is all uncertain.
As the hon. Member for Glasgow North said, the Scottish Government are making it up as they go along. There is no certainty, which I believe we should have. The United Kingdom should remain strong and intact. The debate about our position in the EU is a broader question; personally, I want to get us back to more of a common market, and certainly not into a deeper political and monetary union. However, we are better off fighting this together and not splitting up into component parts, when we would have no certainty and Scotland’s interests would be subsumed into the wider interests of Europe.
I welcome you to the Chair, Mr Crausby. I am sure that when you got up this morning you realised you had picked the short straw in chairing this debate, given some of the dreary contributions that we have heard thus far. I sometimes think that we should reorganise the furniture when we are debating Scotland’s constitution, given that so many hon. Members agree, and that everything seems to be put to the Scottish Government and the SNP. I feel, sometimes, that we should be sitting in the Minister’s place—perhaps that would be more helpful, in terms of responding to the debate.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Ann McKechin) both on securing this morning’s debate and on turning up on time. We were all here two weeks ago, practically in the same spot. It was a shambles. We were ready to go, but the hon. Member who had secured the debate came rushing in several minutes late. It sometimes seems as though Labour cannot organise a Euro-rant in a Belgian brewery.
Listening to hon. Members’ contributions today, there is not exactly the warm glow of positivity—more like the deep chill of relentless negativity, which is what characterises these debates.
I am not giving way to the hon. Gentleman. There are 640 of you guys and only six of us, so I will use my time, if that is all right.
Over the past few weeks, the debate has fallen to a new all-time low, with some appalling personal attacks. Things were said in the Scottish Parliament that would never have been allowed by you, Mr Crausby, or the Speaker, and yet, the guys who made such remarks complain about the comments in the online section of The Scotsman sinking to such a low spectacle. What are they saying? Not only are they saying that we will not get European membership, but according to the former Prime Minister, we will be little more than a British colony. According to the right hon. Member for Edinburgh South West (Mr Darling)—their campaign leader—independence would be nothing more than the road to “serfdom”. People cannot say too poor, too weak and too stupid any more; they know that that is not a great way to enlist the Scottish people’s support. They only hint at that now. The most comical remark, the one that I have enjoyed most in the last two weeks, was that the music that I had spent 15 years making would no longer be my music—British music would not be ours any more—as if music, the ridiculously free-spirited and wonderful thing that it is, has frontiers or boundaries, but that is what these people are saying. They are scaremongering on culture. Welcome to the positive case for the Union.
Of course, the plat du jour this week is scaremongering on Europe. That is what they are doing, and doing well. Barely a day goes past without another instalment in the scaremongering stories, always in association with their friends in the press. Their message to the Scottish people when it comes to Europe is, “You cannae dae this, we’re no gonna let you do that and don’t even think about this!” If I have got their position right, it is something like this: “You’re not going to get into Europe. You’re going to go to the back of the queue behind all the accession states.” That is their position; I think that that is their top line. But if we do somehow manage to get into Europe, it will be on the worst possible terms and conditions. I think that I am right in saying that this is their position. Then if we do manage to get into Europe and on the worst possible terms and conditions, we will be forced to join the euro—but do not worry, because we will not get into Europe anyway.
I said that I was not giving way.
These people need to get their act together on the scaremongering, so that we can understand what they are saying.
The subject of this debate is the constituent parts of the UK and EU membership. Scotland is a constituent part of the United Kingdom. We are currently a member of the European Union. After independence, we will continue to be a member of the European Union. We are in the European—
I am not giving way to the hon. Gentleman.
We are a member of the European Union because the UK took us into the European Union, the old EEC, back in 1973, but the European Union is not the only union. The UK is a union. It is based on the Act of Union, which brought together the Scottish and English Parliaments three centuries ago, so when Scotland secures its independence, the Act of Union falls and there will be two successor states. That is what will happen. Whatever happens to an independent Scotland will happen to the rest of the United Kingdom. It will be just like what happened with Czechoslovakia: the Czech Republic and Slovakia were treated as two new nations. These people sometimes like to use the example of Russia—
I am not giving way to the hon. Lady.
These people sometimes use the example of Russia when it comes to these situations, but not even the most rabid cybernat has ever compared the United Kingdom to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. That is how ridiculous their argument has become. When it comes to European membership, whatever happens to an independent Scotland will happen to the rest of the United Kingdom, but let me reassure all the English Members who are sitting here today: their European place is safe. There is simply no precedent or process to kick a constituent part of the European Union out. That just does not happen—there is no way. This fox was effectively shot by Graham Avery of Oxford university, who is a senior adviser at the European Policy Centre in Brussels and honorary director general of the European Commission, when he said to Westminster’s Select Committee on Foreign Affairs:
“For practical and political reasons the idea of Scotland leaving the EU, and subsequently applying to join it, is not feasible.”
It is not feasible.
I am not giving way to the hon. Lady.
There is only one part of Europe that has left the European Union—the hon. Member for Stone (Mr Cash) will recall this—Greenland. It took something like two years for Greenland to get out of the European Union, and it wanted to go. It had a vote that said that it wanted to leave the European Union. It was only after complex negotiations that it was allowed to go.
These people believe that somehow Scotland will be stripped of its European Union membership and all the European rights that we have built up in the course of 40 years. Scotland is actually enthusiastic about Europe, unlike the hon. Member for Stone and his hon. Friends. It is absolutely absurd to suggest that an independent Scotland would not be welcomed with open arms to the European Union. We are talking about oil-rich Scotland, fisheries-rich Scotland, renewable-energy-rich Scotland. Scotland complies with every single piece of European legislation and is enthusiastic about its European membership. The idea that Scotland would be kicked out of the European Union is totally absurd.
These people also say that we will be forced into euro membership. That was blown out of the water by Dr Fabian Zuleeg, chief economist at the European Policy Centre, who reminded the Scottish Parliament’s European and External Relations Committee that euro membership is based on strict criteria. My hon. Friend the Member for Angus (Mr Weir) is absolutely right about this. There are five conditions for joining the euro. One is membership of the exchange rate mechanism. Joining the ERM is voluntary. That is why Sweden is not in the euro. I do not know how many times we have to explain this to Labour Members. Scotland will not join the euro, because Sweden has not joined the euro, because it is based on ERM membership.
There is a threat to Scotland’s European membership. It does not come from an independent Scotland. It comes from the Union; it comes from the Westminster Tories, because they are at it again. They are even prepared to defeat their Government to ensure that they get this country out of the European Union. I looked at William Hill yesterday. It is offering odds of 2:1 that by 2020 there will be a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU—a straight in-out referendum. It is offering odds of 6:1, which I think are very generous, that the UK will be out of the EU by 2020. That is the threat to Scotland’s EU membership. It does not come from an independent Scotland; it comes from the Westminster Tories. Westminster Tories are running absolutely terrified of the UK Independence party, which is now odds-on favourite to win the next European election. That is what is informing Government policy when it comes to Europe. What we have now is a surly, sulky UK as a member of the European Union. That is what Scotland has to put up with as it secures its EU membership. The UK is looking for the “Out” door—
I am not giving way to the hon. Lady; I have told her that.
That is what we have in terms of Scotland’s EU membership represented by the UK. What would be better? An independent Scotland, independent in Europe and seated at the top table. Our number of MEPs would be increased from six to 13; there would be 13 champions putting Scotland’s case. That is what Scotland needs; that is what Scotland requires.
There is a clear choice facing the Scottish people when it comes to European Union membership: independence in Europe, a seat at the top table, our own representation in Europe, or isolation in a United Kingdom that is on the way out of the European Union and almost relaxed about its decline and failure. I know the choice that the Scottish people will make in 2014. It will be the positive choice—it will be for Scotland’s independence and national liberation.
I am fascinated by the line that has just been taken with respect to the situation of the United Kingdom in relation to the European Union. There are many of us who believe that the time has come not only to have a referendum, but to leave the existing treaties. The reality is that 56% of the British people have recently indicated that that is what they would like, and that raises very interesting and very important questions. It is also highly relevant to what is going on here in this debate today with respect to Scotland. Of course, there is also the question of Northern Ireland and of Wales, neither of which has even been touched on so far in the debate. One thing that we have to remember is that the—
Does the hon. Gentleman agree with me that, having listened to the very eloquent disquisition on the place of Scotland at the top table, and given this week’s announcement about the G8 coming to Northern Ireland, we can look forward, in the halcyon days in the future of Scotland’s independence, to a G9 coming to Northern Ireland, with Scotland at the top table?
That is an extremely apposite remark, and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for it.
One thing that needs to be considered is the implications that would arise for the European Communities Act 1972, which has not yet been mentioned, because of course if we have a referendum and if the vote is yes—at the moment, that seems extremely unlikely, but I will not presume to say that it will not happen—the reality is that that in itself will not create the legal and constitutional consequences that would flow from that political decision. The reality is that we then have to look at the 1972 Act. All the obligations under section 2, through our own enactment here, of which Scotland is currently a part, would have to be dealt with. It will be an extremely complex business to deal with the issues between the United Kingdom and Scotland, let alone between Scotland and the European Union or the United Kingdom and the European Union.
I would like to refer on the record to the extremely good—extremely well written—note from the House of Commons Library. I mention that on the record because I think that many people who will want to consider this question will do well to look at that note if they can get access to it. It draws together a lot of the complications that arise in international law and constitutional law. It includes a lot of discussion about the allegations made against the First Minister; I will not enter that debate, but simply say that there are complex questions.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart) pointed out, there is no provision in the European treaties for the secession of states. He mentioned article 4.2 and the unanimity of all 27 member states. The European Commission made some comments on that in response to an MEP, but that was on the basis of the thinking then. If I may say, having read all the papers, I do not think that there is a settled view about what would happen.
The hon. Member for Glasgow North (Ann McKechin) is right to say that there would be massive uncertainty. For example, in respect of financial regulation, the jurisdiction has been already transferred, extremely unwisely, to the European institutions, but the consequences are that it is already being done in relation to the City of London with serious consequences, of an unlawful nature, for voting rights between ourselves and member states in the eurozone. There are so many uncertainties that the issue will have to be given much more consideration. There is also the question of the repeal of the Act of Union. None of the legal consequences of the referendum, even if there was a yes vote, are capable of being unravelled until we have got to grips with the constitutional implications of the matters I mention.
Despite the fact that we have one and a half hours, going into all the questions today would be far too complicated, so that is all I want to say. I put down a marker that a yes vote will be monumentally bad for the UK, monumentally bad for Scotland and monumentally bad for the people governed under the Act of Union. I and many others take that view, and I think it will prevail.
There are implications for the European Scrutiny Committee, in that it must look at all the legislation as it applies to the UK, in respect of those matters that apply to it under the Standing Orders. I will leave my contribution at that. The complications regarding Scotland have not been thought through. It is not only an emotional question or even a purely political question, but a question of grave uncertainty. The more the vote tends towards no—the direction that public opinion seems to be going—the better.
Thank you for that challenge, Mr Crausby. I thank you for presiding over the debate today and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North (Ann McKechin) on securing this important debate. I am pleased to follow the previous two contributions and the rant from my neighbour, the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart). I must admit that there is significant confusion in many people’s minds and I hope that the Minister will take the opportunity to blow away that confusion when he gets to his feet.
We have already heard that Scotland benefits from being part of the EU through the UK’s membership, but it is not clear whether an independent Scotland would become a member of the EU, and the contributions from SNP Members today do not make it any clearer. A long list of people, whom I feel that I should be able to trust, suggest that Scottish membership would not be automatic and might be subject to application, queuing, objections and delays. Those individuals include: José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission; Romano Prodi, a former President of the Commission; Joe Borg, a former European Commissioner; Dr Jo Murkens, European and constitutional law expert; and Professor Robert Hazell, University college London. Will the Minister say whether those are trustworthy sources and whether their comments are appropriate, or should I trust the contribution from the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire?
As has been said, the First Minister wants to retain the pound sterling. We all know the potential difficulties and drawbacks that would have for monetary policy in an independent Scotland. If Scotland becomes independent, and an EU member at some point in future, perhaps the First Minister will not get his way. Is it the Minister’s understanding that between 2004 and 2007 every accession state also agreed to join the euro?
As has been mentioned, we recently discussed the accession of Croatia to the EU in the House. In the negotiations, significant emphasis was placed on Croatia being able to regulate its own financial institutions. How can Scotland do that? Alex Salmond wants to retain the pound and rejoin the EU, but if he keeps the pound, he will not have an independent national central bank, because he wants to use the Bank of England. That in itself may prevent him from using the pound and force an independent Scotland into the euro on day one.
People appreciate the benefits of our opt-out from the Schengen agreement, which was touched on this morning. If and when an independent Scotland is successful in its application to join the EU, I am concerned that it will have to comply with the agreement. Will the Minister confirm that new EU member states are bound to implement the Schengen agreement as part of the existing body of EU law? If that is the case, surely Scotland would have to make all the efforts it could to police its borders to ensure security, not only for itself, but for the rest of the Schengen-operating countries. Because the rest of the UK is not signed up to Schengen, that would mean border controls between Scotland and the remaining UK, including the land border with England.
That issue was raised in a debate I took part in recently in Scotland. Keith Brown MSP, the housing Minister in the Scottish Government, went out of his way to tell the audience, in no uncertain manner, that an independent Scotland would not implement the Schengen agreement. Like so many other assertions made by the SNP on European issues, it seems that it was an assurance that the SNP is perhaps unable to effect. If my interpretation of the matter is wrong, I am sure that the Minister will be delighted to point out the folly of my ways.
My third and final point is linked to the UK’s general opt-outs and rebate. Professor Hazell says:
“An independent Scotland would not inherit the opt-out the UK negotiated for the Treaty of Maastricht.”
There are also the benefits to the UK from the 1984 rebate negotiations, which, according to a House of Commons paper, result in Scotland’s contribution to the EU being £16 per head. It would be more than £90 per head without the rebate. It is unreasonable to assume that Scotland would benefit from similar treatment on rebates.
SNP Members’ claims of automatic entry into the EU, which they presumably feel would happen on the same day as any transition to an independent state, do not seem to have the support of the people needed to make it happen. The President of the Commission does not agree with them. The vice-president of the European Commission and Commissioner for Justice does not seem to agree with them. The Spanish Foreign Minister does not seem to agree with them. Cyprus does not seem to agree with them. That does not appear to be a very good start.
Alex Salmond is desperate to ride roughshod over the Electoral Commission’s role in the forthcoming referendum, and he appears to feel that he can do the same with Europe and EU membership or take the Scottish people for mugs. He cannot be a player and a referee in the referendum. I tell Members here and now that there is no way that the powers of Europe will allow him to carry on in his delusional approach to future European negotiations, and there is no way that the Scottish people will be conned by that shambolic and disrespectful approach to such an important issue for Scottish economic prosperity.
The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) published a speech that he would have made, entitled, “The Speech They Feared”. The scariest thing about it is that his incoherent, negative rants are actually scripted. He is fond of attacking the pro-UK cause as “negative”, but unbelievably that speech attacked the negativity of others before they had even made their contributions. We will take no lessons today from the SNP about talking Scotland down, when he does just that in a prepared speech.
Today, I want to be as clear as possible about Scotland’s future in the EU and to bust some of the myths put about by the SNP—myths dressed up as reality and opinion dressed up as fact. Let us start with some words from the hon. Gentleman’s speech:
“When Scotland becomes an independent nation Scotland will remain a member of the European Union.”
He did not write that Scotland might have to apply, that there will be a process and that the process carries risks, but that,
“Scotland will remain a member”.
That is an assertion, not a fact. It is an opinion and nothing more.
That is a completely different position from that of Graham Avery, a senior member of St Anthony’s college and a senior adviser at the European Policy Centre, whom the First Minister and the hon. Gentleman have quoted. The SNP asserts that his comments justify its position. Indeed, it positively hangs on the man’s every word. I see the hon. Gentleman nodding in agreement. The First Minister has said,
“I have read out Graham Avery’s credentials. Given that he is an honorary director general of the European Commission, I suspect he knows rather more about these issues.”—[Scottish Parliament Official Report, 1 November 2012; c. 12926.]
I agree with the First Minister, so let us examine what Graham Avery actually said. First, he has said:
“The EU has no historical precedent for dealing with Scottish independence.”
Uncomfortable as it is, we now know—if we did not already—that anything the SNP says on the question of EU membership is based on opinion, not fact or precedent. He has also said:
“Scotland has been in the EU for 40 years; and its people have acquired rights as European citizens.”
Note that Mr Avery is very clear in his choice of words: the people of Scotland might well have acquired rights, but that is not the same as the legal entity that would be the separate state of an independent Scotland.
In his next paragraph, Mr Avery said that
“negotiations on the terms of…membership would take place in the period between the referendum and the planned date of independence. We do not know at this stage how long that period would be; complicated negotiations…would have to take place”.
Therein lies the rub of any deal: six words to ring alarm bells in the heart of the pro-separation camp—
“negotiations on the terms of…membership”.
For even if we accept everything that anybody in the SNP has ever said about Scotland’s being welcomed as a member of the EU following an application to join, it is the terms of membership that are important. Those terms are crucial to the rights of our citizens and the security of our borders, and are essential for determining whether we use the euro. For no one—not the hon. Gentleman nor even Alex Salmond—can say with certainty what will happen.
Let us refer again to Mr Avery. He said:
“In accession negotiations with non-member countries the EU has always strongly resisted other changes or opt-outs from the basic Treaties”.
The expert on whom the SNP is so fond of relying is holing its argument below the waterline. What terms would Scotland be forced to accept on application? Not the SNP’s terms, but those of other member nations. The common theme that runs through such contradictions is that nationalists assume the right to make their own rules and that everyone else will abandon theirs to abide by those of the nationalists, and that every member state will act not in its own country’s or citizens’ interests, but in the interests only of Scotland. We all know that the opposite is true.
That means that Scotland might well be forced to join the euro. I accept that it may not, but it might. That is not good enough for the people of Scotland or those who do business in Scotland. It is not good enough for the SNP to say, “Maybe it is aye; maybe it is no.” It is not good enough for them not to be straight and honest with the people of Scotland on the risks of independence. It might also mean, although we cannot be sure, Scotland losing its opt-out on Schengen. For people listening or watching outside this House who are not familiar with what that would mean for Scotland and Scots, let us be clear: the Schengen opt-out means that travellers from EU states entering the UK are subject to border and passport controls, and losing that opt-out would mean free entry into Scotland with all the implications of that.
There may or may not be controls, and the hon. Gentleman and Alex Salmond cannot be sure whether or not there will be—they cannot state it as fact. For the 800,000 Scots living in England and the thousands of Scottish families with relatives in England or Wales, “not sure” is simply not good enough. Whatever else happens in the debate on Scotland’s future, the people of Scotland deserve answers, honesty and transparency, and a debate based on facts, not assertions, and on reality, not myths.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Crausby. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North (Ann McKechin) on securing the debate. I associate myself with the comment by the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) when he congratulated her on turning up on time this morning.
Scotland’s membership of the EU has been discussed in pubs up and down Scotland during the past few weeks. That is not, sadly, because it has been in the news, but because of the Scottish Government’s failed attempt to keep secret the fact that the First Minister lied to the Scottish people about seeking advice on the matter. In fact, he did not just lie about seeking legal advice. We know that he was told by his Lord Advocate and Solicitor General that a separate Scotland would not automatically be an EU state. Not only Scottish Government lawyers say that. In the past two weeks, a plethora of expert opinion has confirmed what everyone, including the SNP, already knows—that Scotland would not be guaranteed membership of the European Union.
It was incredibly kind of the hon. Gentleman to give me and the entire world advance notice of his speech today. He did not stray far from what was on his website two weeks ago, when he published even the well-rehearsed bad jokes that we were robbed of the chance of hearing. In publishing that, he single-handedly wiped out any lingering notion of the SNP’s ears being open to the facts. His only intent in this debate has been to propagate his party’s myths. His speech was without substance when he wrote it two weeks ago, and it had not matured well by today. I cannot understand why he still feels that a Scotland separate from the UK would automatically be a member of the EU, when everyone outside his party disagrees.
Most of the people in this room are here because they share my love and concern for Scotland, when we have a Scottish Government who have repeatedly been caught being dishonest about the facts that will inform voters’ choice in 2014. They simply cannot be trusted. Scotland benefits from being in the UK in the EU, and Scottish people deserve to have laid before them the actual facts, rather than the Scottish Government’s version of them. It is their responsibility to provide clarity and evidence about their proposals for the future, not to waste taxpayers’ money on unnecessary court cases. The First Minister misled the Scottish people, but now we are expected to trust him.
In contrast, the UK Government have made it clear that they have received legal advice. They have stated that, in the event of Scotland separating from the UK, the residual UK would be considered by the EU to be the continuing state; and Scotland would legally be a seceded, new state and therefore not a member state. I would appreciate it if the Minister confirmed that he agrees with the President and vice-president of the European Commission that a new state wanting to join the EU has to apply like any other.
No, not the residual UK.
Earlier this year, Salmond declared that
“the negotiation on Scotland’s representation would be conducted from within the European Union.”—[Scottish Parliament Official Report, 19 January 2012; c. 5500.]
That is not impossible, but it is not automatic, and it would be a difficult negotiation. There is no need to take only my word for that; notable members of the European political community and academics have said the same over the past few months.
Accession would need to be approved by all 27—soon to be 28—member states. Although Spain has not confirmed that it would block an application from Scotland, it has said that we would need to join the queue. It is difficult to see how the Spanish Government could reconcile their position on Catalonia with a new Scottish state joining the European Union.
There is also the issue of the euro. Contrary to the proclamations of the hon. Member for Angus (Mr Weir), all new EU member states have been required to sign up to the eurozone. Sweden joined the EU in 1995, but it is still obliged, when conditions are met, to join the euro.
No, I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman, because his colleague, the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire, did not have the courtesy to give way to any of mine.
The UK is one of only three countries that currently benefit from an opt-out. The SNP has said that a separate Scotland could opt out of the euro, but the evidence suggests otherwise. There is also the small matter of the Schengen agreement, and of many other opt-outs from which Scotland now benefits as part of the UK. The Schengen agreement would involve passport controls at the border with England, as we have heard in the Scottish Affairs Committee. The SNP has simply dismissed that as scaremongering, because that does not fit with its campaign strategy, but the evidence again suggests otherwise.
In conclusion, this issue is too important for the people of Scotland to be continually misled from one side of the debate. I hope that today’s debate helps inform them, and helps them make an important decision in two years’ time.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North (Ann McKechin) on securing this debate and on speaking with such authority and passion in her opening remarks. One of my best decisions since being elected to this House three years ago was last November when I asked the Commons Library to publish a paper on the implications for Scotland of the debate around separation, in particular what it meant for continuing—or perhaps not continuing as we have uncovered in this debate—EU membership. Indeed, many of the points in that document will form the basis of the rest of the debate today.
As a member of the Labour Movement for Europe, I care passionately about our having a positive engagement with the European Union. Scotland can best protect, embrace and progress its national interests as part of a large state—the United Kingdom—which has a good degree of influence, and which, under the new arrangements, will have proportionately more votes within the Council.
The process for new accession countries—which Scotland would clearly be, according to the consensus of advice coming from the European Commission and the important statement from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office a couple of weeks ago—is arduous. As we explored in a debate in the main Chamber a couple of weeks ago, Croatia went through stringent steps in establishing the independence of its central bank, to show that proper procedures were in place to control its financial system, and to prove that it had a system to regulate and guarantee deposits. None of those concepts has been dealt with in the proposals from those who argue for Scotland to separate from the rest of the UK. Indeed, none of the countries that has acceded to the European Union has relied on the central bank and financial institutions of another state to show that it has sufficient financial independence in its own territory. The position put forward by the Scottish Government simply does not add up.
I want to put on record a couple of points that are important in relation to international constitutional law—perhaps a reference back to my old life before I became a Member of this House. The Scottish Government have relied on a couple of arguments: one in relation to the Vienna convention; and the other in relation to EU citizenship.
First, on the Vienna convention, the Scottish Government have said that Scotland would sign up to all the treaty commitments that the United Kingdom has at the moment, but, frankly, that is fatuous. The Vienna convention is primarily concerned with the process of decolonisation. Indeed, the International Law Commission withdrew a category of quasi newly independent states to deal with cases of secession. A new state is not entitled automatically to become a party to the constituent treaty and a member of an organisation as a successor state simply because at the date of secession, its territory was subject to the treaty and within the ambit of the organisation. That principle, which is recognised in article 4 of the Vienna convention and is the declared legal opinion of the International Law Commission, is entirely contrary to the position of the Scottish Government.
Citizenship of the EU is not distinct from being a citizen of the member state. It does not provide a legal basis for re-entry to the European Union. As other Members have said, that must come about as a result of a process of negotiation and unanimity with what will soon be 27 other member states. When the Soviet Union was dissolved, only Russia was able to succeed to most international agreements. [Interruption.] I am not saying that the United Kingdom is remotely like the Soviet Union. It would be absurd for any Member of this House to make an assertion that the two states were in any way comparable.
This debate matters hugely. The referendum must proceed on the basis of fact and law, not assertion and bluff. The debate has been important in distinguishing those two characteristics this morning. I care passionately about our future. If we want Scotland to thrive within Europe, that means that we will continue—and I hope that people will vote to have us thriving—within the United Kingdom.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North (Ann McKechin) on securing this important debate today. It is not surprising that those who have different views on the relationship between Scotland and the UK should also try to find different arguments to support their position about Scotland’s relationship within the European Union. There are arguments on both sides that draw on various legal authorities. The arguments put forward by people such as my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North East (Mr Bain) are much stronger than those that have been put forward by the SNP. None the less, I accept that arguments can be found from various sources to support different positions in the debate. Of course this is not just a legal and constitutional argument. Ultimately, whatever the legal position is, it is also a political issue that the European Union will have to face if Scotland were to become independent. Whatever side of the argument one takes, it is inevitably the case that if Scotland were to be independent, whether or not one regards it as one of the successor states to the UK or as a new state, there would have to be a new treaty. That is undoubtedly the case whatever one’s legal analysis of the position.
The new treaty would require a negotiating process, and we have heard today a number of the issues that would have to be clarified and resolved in that process. There are the institutional relationships and structures of the EU, internal matters such as the rota for which country takes over the presidency, and the number of MEPs and the number of votes. Even those matters have in the past been the subject of many years of negotiation in relation to new treaties.
There are also much weightier issues, such as the UK rebate and whether Scotland would succeed to some share of that, which would require substantial negotiation. There is also the common fisheries policy. Given the SNP’s position on fisheries issues over recent years, one assumes that it would want to see the repatriation of the common fisheries policy towards an independent Scotland. One cannot imagine that that is something that can be simply agreed within negotiations in a matter of weeks or months. It will clearly require considerable and lengthy negotiations as part of a new treaty. The same could be said of many other issues that have been referred to in this debate.
Such issues may eventually be resolved. However, in trying to resolve them, there are two factors that will have to be taken into account. As a strong supporter of UK and Scottish membership of the EU, I can say that the EU does not do things quickly. We all know that it does not resolve outstanding issues quickly, because it is a complex organisation with many member states.
Following the precedent of Greenland, will the hon. Gentleman not accept that even if he is correct and there will have to be negotiations, those negotiations will be done not outwith the EU but within, as happened with Greenland when it wanted to leave the EU. Scotland will still be a constituent part of the EU after independence until negotiations are complete.
That is an arguable position. I will not go into that debate now. My point is that there will have to be lengthy negotiations whatever happens. Moreover, wherever those negotiations take place in an organisational sense, they will be the subject of horse-trading and of give and take. Let us take, for example, the fisheries policy. If the SNP wanted to achieve its objective in relation to the fisheries policy, another country somewhere in the EU would demand something else. If the SNP were to get the opt out of Schengen, which it seems to want, someone else in the EU would want to achieve something else. Even with goodwill on all sides, which may be a matter of some question given that other member states might not wish to encourage easy secession, to put it mildly, from another member state, this is a process that will be lengthy and complex. That is why it is right to point that out and right to ask the question, “At the end of the day, would the benefit from leaving the UK be worth the substantial negotiations and the period of time that would be spent in undertaking those negotiations?” More importantly, it also means that it is only reasonable to ask another question: “What would be the outcome of this process?”
For the SNP to suggest that even asking those questions is in some sense disloyal to Scotland does a disservice to the people of Scotland, who are asking those questions themselves. They want to know at the end of the process what will be the relationship of Scotland with the EU? To know what that relationship would be, we need to ask the questions and we need to try to get some answers from the Scottish Government and the SNP. We then need to find out from debates and discussions with other European states what the likely response would be to the demands coming from the Scottish Government and the SNP if independence were to be supported in a referendum.
Once we have that information, the Scottish people can decide in the run-up to the referendum whether they should support independence or oppose it because of what I believe is the situation—the fact that we would be worse off in a smaller member state, even if that smaller state were able at the end of the day to enter into and complete negotiations, than if we were part of a larger member state, with all the negotiating strength that we have at the moment and that I would not want to see us lose.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Crausby, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North (Ann McKechin) on securing this debate.
It is the passionate belief of the Labour party that the United Kingdom is stronger together and that the United Kingdom is stronger in the world as a member of the European Union. The referendum on Scottish independence in 2014 is an incredibly serious matter that will affect all of us in the United Kingdom and, as has been stressed by several of my hon. Friends, when the Scottish people vote in that referendum they deserve to have at their disposal the full facts about the implications of a separate Scotland.
Unfortunately, far from providing clarity about the facts, the Scottish Government have created a great deal of confusion about the potential consequences of Scottish separation for Scotland’s relationship with the European Union. It is pretty extraordinary—indeed, it beggars belief—that, as has already been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North, in response to a freedom of information request from one of our colleagues in the European Parliament, the Labour MEP Catherine Stihler, the Scottish First Minister initially said that he would not disclose legal advice, only for him to be contradicted by the deputy First Minister of Scotland who said that such legal advice had not even been sought, let alone received.
Just in the last hour, it has been announced in the Court of Session papers regarding that FOI request that the Scottish Government stated that to reveal whether or not they had received legal advice would cause mischief. That is an extraordinary statement, given the Scottish National Party’s supposed links with the people of Scotland and given their ability to know what the facts of that case are. Does my hon. Friend agree that that lack of transparency, which included taunting people for the number of FOI requests that they had put in to the Scottish Government, is indicative of a Government who are actually scared of telling the truth?
That lack of transparency is of concern to all of us, and it has blown a hole in the credibility of what the First Minister has said on this issue.
The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) has made a speech today, which I have had the fortune—or misfortune—to have read before the debate, in which he made some strange references to giant pandas and “The X Factor”, but remarkably he made no reference to the European treaties and perhaps more tellingly he also did not refer to any other European Union member state. If he had cared to take a look at them, he would have seen that those treaties make it very clear that new member states must apply for membership of the European Union. Article 52 of the treaty on European Union lists the members of the European Union, including the UK, and article 49 of that treaty states that new member states must apply for membership of the European Union. Moreover, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ochil and South Perthshire (Gordon Banks) has made clear, the European Commission President has also stated the clear facts. He has said recently:
“A new state, if it wants to join the EU, has to apply to become a member of the EU, like any state.”
The hon. Lady keeps going on about new states, but the point is that Scotland is already a member of the EU. We have already cited the position of Greenland. Scotland is not a new state; it is already a member of the EU; we have rights as European citizens, as has been said by other experts; and we will not be starting from the same place as Croatia, which keeps being mentioned by Labour Members.
I beg to differ with the hon. Gentleman. The four nations of the United Kingdom are a member of the European Union, by virtue of being part of the United Kingdom. I will quote another European Commission President, Romano Prodi, who was a very respected President. He confirmed that
“a newly independent region would, by the fact of its independence, become a third country with respect to the European Union and the treaties would, from the day of its independence, not apply any more in its territory.”
Beyond the pronouncements of European Commission Presidents current and past, there is the brutal truth that the SNP must face up to—that this decision about a separate Scotland’s membership of the European Union would be a political decision and one taken by all of the other 27 member states, who are soon to be 28.
I have to say to the hon. Gentleman—he should listen to this carefully—that, as has already been stressed in this debate, the pronouncements by the Spanish Foreign Minister are not encouraging. That is hardly surprising. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North has already pointed out that the context in which we find ourselves in the European Union is one in which we are going through the most challenging and volatile period in European history. In September, 1.5 million Catalans took to the streets in Barcelona in an independence rally.
I will give way, in a minute.
It is therefore unsurprising that the Spanish Government are concerned about any precedent being set and it is equally unsurprising that the Spanish Foreign Minister recently told the Spanish Senate that an independent Scotland would need to “join the queue” and negotiate its accession as a new member state. In addition, as the hon. Member for Milton Keynes South (Iain Stewart) set out in his very eloquent speech, there are other EU member states that would also have great concerns about any precedent being set by Scotland; Belgium is one of them. Furthermore, the EU member states that do not wish to recognise the independence of Kosovo—namely Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Spain—would be concerned about a precedent being set by Scotland. It is within that context that the framework of any hypothetical case in which an independent Scotland—if there were one—applied to join the European Union must be seen.
Unfortunately—I say this with regret—there is enlargement fatigue in the European Union. For example, France has said that for any future accession beyond that of Croatia there will be a referendum in France. Two weeks ago, we discussed the case of Croatia and we know that for a period of 10 years there has been negotiation about Croatia’s accession, and the last member state to join the EU in less than five years was Finland, which joined in 1995.
Consequently, it is absolutely clear that the SNP and the Scottish Government have no basis on which to make the claim that Scotland’s membership of the European Union would be automatic. They also have no basis on which to make the claim—made by the First Minister in the interview with Andrew Neil earlier this year—that a separate Scotland would also inherit the United Kingdom’s opt-out from the single currency and Schengen. The facts fly in the face of that assertion. There has been no member state since 1973 that has negotiated an opt-out, since the agreement in Maastricht, from the single currency. With regard to Schengen, an opt-out from that agreement would have to be negotiated.
It is also clear that Scotland would have to negotiate its own contribution to the European Union budget, and according to the House of Commons Library—[Interruption.] Maybe the SNP Members want to listen to the objective facts, as set out by the Library. According to the House of Commons Library, without a rebate Scotland’s contribution to the European Union is likely to rise from £16 a head to £92 a head.
Leaving the United Kingdom would leave a separate Scotland in limbo in Europe. There would be no automatic accession and no automatic opt-outs. Instead, there would be a sensitive and difficult negotiation with the 27—soon to be 28—other member states of the European Union.
It is a pleasure to serve under you this morning, Mr Crausby. May I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Ann McKechin) on securing this important debate? May I also congratulate hon. Members on both sides on their contributions and on the insight they have provided on this critical issue?
I need not remind hon. Members that the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union touches the lives of all our citizens. Much of our trade is with the EU: our total exports to the EU in 2011 were worth £234 billion. The single market underpins a large portion of our economy, allowing our businesses to trade freely across a market of half a billion people. The EU facilitates collective action on issues that are too big for any one nation to tackle on its own. It magnifies our voice in the world on pressing international questions, such as the current situation in the middle east and our concerns over Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
It is the United Kingdom, of course, that is the member state: it is named in the European Union’s fundamental treaties as such. It is the Government of the United Kingdom that must therefore negotiate in the EU’s various formations in the best interests of all its citizens. That means that we take into account the interests of the devolved Administrations when formulating the UK’s position on EU negotiations that touch on areas of policy that fall to the Scottish and Welsh Governments and the Northern Ireland Executive. That is good for people in businesses in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, as well as in England; it means that they all have a strong voice in the formulation of policy that matters to them.
Will the Minister give way?
The hon. Gentleman was not even in the debate.
The voting weight, capability and credibility of the UK’s negotiations in the EU are mobilised in the service of all UK citizens. However, that does not mean the devolved Administrations are involved in EU policy only when we are coming up with an agreed negotiating position for the UK. The Government have been open to having Ministers from the devolved Administrations in the room, where appropriate, during the negotiations themselves.
The current devolution arrangements allow the special circumstances of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales to be championed by one of the largest and most influential member states. Scottish independence, with a complex accession negotiation and no guarantee of favourable terms of membership at the end of it, would inevitably put a stop to that. Those advocating splitting off from the UK need to be clear about what that means in practice and to use evidence to set out their position.
As we have heard this morning, some advocate a fundamental reworking of the existing constitutional settlement that so benefits the people of the UK. Those who argue for an independent Scotland suggest that only independence will give their nation a voice in Europe. Their argument is underpinned by the assertion—it is only an assertion—that an independent Scotland would simply continue in membership of the EU, automatically inheriting the same arrangements that pertain to the UK now.
We learned only a few weeks ago, and we heard again this morning—the SNP was forced to reveal this following a freedom of information request—that it had not previously commissioned any legal advice on an independent Scotland’s place in the EU. Yet, the SNP has been making assertions that it had for several years while in government. Many will find it absolutely astonishing that while seeking to make its case for splitting Scotland from the UK, the SNP has been basing its case on unfounded assertions, rather than cold facts.
The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), whom I like very much indeed, referred to his earlier musical career in Runrig. He will remember a song, which he may have written, called “The Message”. It says:
“You take your message to the waters
And you watch the ripples flow”.
Perhaps it is time he and his colleagues made sure that that message was backed up by substance and fact.
I do not need to remind hon. Members that the UK has, over the years, managed to negotiate exemptions from membership of the euro and the Schengen common visa area, ensuring that the UK can maintain control over its monetary and border policies.
I am afraid I have no time. I will at the end if I have time.
In addition, hon. Members will be only too aware of the importance of the UK’s rebate, negotiated with great skill and determination more than 25 years ago. The rebate continues to ensure that the UK taxpayer is relieved of some of the burden of supporting some of the most imbalanced parts of the EU budget, which is of great concern to us all at the moment.
The UK therefore has a permanent opt-out from the euro and from the Schengen border-free zone; a permanent rebate on our net contributions to the EU budget; a choice whether to join new EU laws in justice and home affairs; and a protocol on how the charter of fundamental rights applies to the UK. However, if Scotland left the UK and applied to join the EU, all those issues would be subject to negotiation, and there is no guarantee whatever that it would obtain any of the special rights the UK currently enjoys.
It is precisely the UK’s weight and influence as one of the largest member states that has helped us to succeed in negotiating such arrangements. Scotland, like England, Northern Ireland and Wales, derives enormous advantage from them. I can see why the SNP is so keen to suggest to those voting in the referendum before the end of 2014 that those arrangements would simply continue in the event of independence, as if nothing had changed. However, the fact is that if Scotland became independent, everything would change. Independence is not simply an extension of the devolution arrangements that have worked so well; it is not merely a further point on the constitutional continuum; it is a fundamental change—a definitive split from the rest of the UK, and an irreversible step. Independence would bring devolution to an end.
As set out in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office memorandum to the Foreign Affairs Committee inquiry into a separate Scotland, independence would create a new state, one that would have to take its place on an already crowded international stage. England, Northern Ireland and Wales would continue the international legal personality of the UK; Scotland, having decided to leave the UK, would start afresh. The overwhelming weight of international legal precedent underscores that point. There are many examples. One is India and Pakistan: following independence, India continued the UN membership, and Pakistan joined the UN as a new state. Another, as we have heard, is the USSR: Russia continued the legal personality of the USSR, and the other former Soviet Union states were treated as new states. There are also Ethiopia and Eritrea, and Sudan and South Sudan.
The new state would need to decide which international organisations it wanted to belong to, in the context of its overall foreign policy. Obviously, it could not simply assert its membership of any of those organisations. The most likely scenario by far is that an independent Scotland would have to apply to join the EU as a new state, involving negotiation with the rest of the UK and other member states, the outcome of which cannot be predicted.
Scotland would no longer be represented through a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. Nor would a separate Scotland qualify for the G8 or the G20. In answer to the question from the hon. Member for Wolverhampton North East (Emma Reynolds) about the WTO, there have been no discussions with the Scottish Government on the issue. We are not in the business of pre-negotiating, as we do not believe the people of Scotland will vote for independence.
The UK Government are not alone in taking a factual and legally based approach to the issue. José Manuel Barroso, the President of the European Commission, made clear:
“A new state, if it wants to join the European Union, has to apply to become a member like any state.”
Recent correspondence between the Spanish Government and Commissioner Reding on the issue also supported that interpretation.
In simple terms, an independent Scotland could not just assert that it would be a member of the club; the other members would need to agree as well. The comments of the Spanish Foreign Minister, José Manuel Garcia-Margallo, to the Spanish Parliament on the 23 October must be noted:
“in the hypothetical case of independence, Scotland would have to join the queue and ask to be admitted, needing the unanimous approval of all Member States to obtain the status of a candidate country.”
The Spanish Foreign Minister was referring to the list of candidate countries wanting to join the EU, which include Iceland, Serbia, Montenegro and Turkey. Those are the remarks of a Foreign Minister of a major EU member state with an obvious interest in this issue. The Scottish Government must be prepared to respond and to be up front about the uncertainties surrounding their position.
An independent Scotland would not, therefore, simply continue automatically in membership of the EU. The EU treaties would have to be amended to allow it to join, and that would involve a negotiation. What terms would Scotland secure? Would it be able to avoid the commitment to join the euro or the Schengen area, which every new member state since 1992 has taken on? The simple answer is that we do not know—none of this is clear.
In contrast to the SNP, the UK Government are taking a transparent approach to analysing the legal issues, including by engaging with eminent legal experts. On 2 October this year, the Advocate-General for Scotland—one of the UK Government’s three Law Officers—delivered a speech at the Edinburgh Centre for Constitutional Law, setting out the Government’s initial view on the legal questions. The Government have also made it clear that we will provide detailed evidence and analysis so that people in Scotland can make an informed decision about whether to stay in the UK and about the implications of leaving it. We will publish that analysis over the course of 2013.
It is the clear position of the UK Government that Scotland is better off in the UK, and the UK is better off with Scotland in it. We are backing up that position with a robust programme of analysis and evidence. Those advocating independence for Scotland are making assertions and pursue their argument with no solid foundation in fact.