Scotland in the EU
27 February 2016
Firstly, let me make clear that I accept the scenario described below is unlikely, but it's worth thinking about.
We like to think of the EU as a fairly clear-cut organisation - a club of 28 member countries - but it's a lot messier than that.
Due to the colonial history of many of the 28, the EU extends to Caribbean and Indian Ocean islands, French Guiana in South America, the Spanish cities of Ceuta and Melilla on the African coast and Gibralter (through its relationship with the UK).
The EU doesn't however include the Isle of Man, the Channel Islands, the UK's RAF bases in Cyprus, the Faroes (still part of the Kingdom of Denmark) or Northern Cyprus despite being considered by everyone except Turkey to be part of the Republic of Cyprus.
Well, I say it doesn't, but each of these regions has differing relationships to the EU. Jersey for instance "is treated as part of the European Community for the purposes of free trade in goods, but otherwise is not a part of the EU."
And there are areas which are parts of the EU but which have their own special relationships. The Canaries are part of the EU, part of Spain but not part of the EU VAT area. The French Overseas regions are part of France but not part of the Schengen agreement. The Mount Athos region of Greece is in the Schengen area but with a special exemption allowing it to ban over 50% of EU citizens, as no women are allowed to set foot there.
There are lots of other oddities - a road which is part of Russia, but which connects two Estonian towns which is inside the Schengen area, German and Italian villages which are part of the EU but inside Switzerland and use the Swiss Franc, Finnish islands which held their own referendum on joining the EU.
It's a mess, but each of these 'special relationships' is evidence of how hard the EU will work to find solutions which allow it to expand and maintain its borders.
That's why I had no doubt that had Scotland voted for independence a way would have been found to ensure it stayed within the EU despite all the claims to the contrary by the Better Together campaign during the Indyref.
Which brings me to the point of this article.
Polls suggest Scotland will vote strongly in favour of remaining part of the EU. Telephone polls suggest remain is in front in England, though to a lesser extent. Online polls put the vote in England around 50:50, and this article suggests the online polls are more likely to be correct.
So the possiblity exists that the UK as a whole will vote to leave the EU even though Scotland votes strongly to stay.
It has been mooted by many, including Nicola Sturgeon that this would be a big enough change to the circumstances that people thought they were voting for in Indyref to allow for a second independence referendum in short order. I have sympathy for this, but the UK govt won't allow a referendum unless they are forced to, and the SNP don't want one unless they're sure they'll win. There would have to be a huge upsurge in popular feeling about this before it could happen.
So, later this summer we in Scotland may find ourselves watching the start of a process of negotiating the departure of the UK (including Scotland) from the EU, a long and complicated process, especially since the UK wants to keep many of the advantages of being part of the EU.
But is there another option? This article quotes Professor Sionaidh Douglas-Scott who suggests there may be.
What if only parts of the UK leave the EU?
For the sake of argument, let's suppose the electorate of England and Wales vote to leave the EU, whilst those in Scotland and Northern Ireland vote to remain. We should negotiate on the basis that the UK will remain in the EU, but part of it (E&W) will withdraw, perhaps entirely, or perhaps just from most of the EU's rules.
For Northern Ireland, this would resolve the issues which could be caused by being outside the EU but sharing a border with the Republic. For Scotland the opportunities could be huge.
As a kind of buffer zone or free trade area between the EU and rUK, many British and European companies will find it useful to have offices here. The Scottish government, currently largely ignored by EU institutions would become much more important than the UK government in our relations with them, all to Edinburgh's benefit at the expense of London. We'd be very close to being independent whilst still being part of the UK and EU, with the pound as our currency but part of the European free market. Perhaps the closest comparision would be with Hong Kong - the gateway from one giant economy to another.
This may all seem far-fetched, but as I've explained above the EU is not averse to performing somersaults in order to maintain its borders and would be keen to do anything it could to limit the damage caused by a Brexit. The UK government may weigh up the possibility of irresistable calls for a second Indyref against a partial Brexit and decide it makes sense.
I believe the Scottish government should be carrying out preparatory investigations into this scenario, enquiring at Brussels and amongst academics like Professor Douglas-Scott and promoting it as feasible to the public. Whether it would aid or hinder the cause of independence, I don't know, but it seems worthwhile to me in either case.
Who knows, within Scotland this might be a plan which independence supporters and pro-EU unionists can support together?