Should Scotland be in Europe?

Tomorrow is meant to be the biggest pro indy march in a very long time. A big march, in the capital, with the First Minister speaking and good weather predicted. What’s not to like?

Critics of the EU have pointed out first that a sizeable number of Yes voters voted Leave and also that the assumption that Scotland could and should re-join the EU is strewn with problems. Not least of all as Jonathon Shafi writes quoting the Scottish Government’s own report (‘Pro Brexit routes to Membership of the EU‘): “There may be areas in which Scotland, upon independence, is not ready to take on the full requirements of EU membership. Key among those is the currency question.”

Shafi continues: “Headline writers took the overall analysis to suggest that it would take 8 years to join. But even that is not entirely accurate. The process could only credibly begin after Scotland had established its own currency. By the SNP’s admission the period without a central bank after “independence day” has no timeline, given it would be subject to a variety of stringent tests. Yet none of this seems to matter. Humza Yousaf can quite happily say an independent Scotland will “keep the pound” as he did on Holyrood Sources without a hint of what this might mean for EU membership.

What does it matter, you might ask? After all, none of this is going to be put to the acid test for the foreseeable future. But supporters of independence should not expect the case to be this flimsy nearly a decade on from 2014. It is arguably weaker now than it was then. Beyond constitutional divisions, it speaks volumes as to the lack of public interrogation of the Scottish governing class.”

He is of course quite right. The currency strategy, such as it is, does cause considerable obstacles to automatic EU membership. The strategy needs resolved and upgraded, not covered-up or shrouded in vagueness.

But much of the antipathy to the EU stems from the left’s critique of the union, and all further analysis flows from here. But there are problems with this analysis.

First, although many Yes voters did vote Leave we have no figures on their change of heart (none that I’ve seen anyway). But if they are similar to voters in England, they are likely to be very large numbers of them disappointed with the reality of the Brexit they’ve witnessed versus the one painted on the side of the bus.

Second, Brexit, and specifically Scotland being torn out of Europe against our wishes, remains a strong motivator for people to support independence. Conter and their supporters may not agree with this, but this is simply true.

Third, as someone else said, this event is organised by Believe in Scotland & Yes for EU. WYSIWYG. If you don’t want to show up, don’t go. The wider, deeper question being raised is of course, should the SNP tie their cause to the EU at all? Should they make that assumption? I don’t think they should make that assumption, I think they should state that they would poll people on re-entry and make that very clear. The reality is, were they to do that now or in the future I think it would gain overwhelming support.

Fourth, I don’t think very many people will be staying at home because of the EU. Most people will be seeing this as the first big Yes rally in a long time and want to get out there after a year of disappointment, mismanagement and political failure.

The event is being billed as a test of ‘unity’ but this idea of unity is overblown and over-played. ‘Unity’ is a good thing if it reflects an actual reality, but not if it is manufactured for optics.

The mainstream Yes movement is fairly united behind a liberal social-democrat vision of Scotland that is pro-Europe and pro-EU. That might not be my cup of tea – and it may not be a politics that is up to the task of transforming Scotland and facing the many challenges we face – but it is up to those on the left and in radical circles to infuse that movement with ideas and vision.

The reality as said elsewhere is that post-independence Scotland will require ‘an ideological relationship with something bigger than the metropolitan parliament it is dominated by’. But could that be the wider ‘North’? Could we be a southern Scandic cousin, rather than a western peripheral nation? These questions, the how of being in Europe need to be explored and the currency question resolved for ‘Scotland in the EU’ to make sense, but tomorrow is unlikely to be the moment for that.


Comments (25)

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  1. Jacob Bonnari says:


    I think that Jonathon Shafi was correct to criticise basing the march on the EU. While I don’t agree with the left’s critique of the EU in full I do remember its treatment of Greece clearly. However since that time Brexit and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has meant that the EU has supported Ireland and the Baltics politically and that togetherness counts for a lot.

    The SNP could quite easily adopt a position which is EFTA, SM & CU now and a referendum on EU entry as soon as the entry conditions were met. That is (1) realistic that Scotland wouldn’t automatically meet the entry conditions on day 1 of indy, (2) keeps the option to join open and with the people (3) offers a route to repairing the economic damage caused by Brexit and (4) settles the issue until an independent Scotland.

    I’m EU-cautious rather than EU-sceptic and would be happy with the Norway option, but wouldn’t be upset if we went back in.

  2. SleepingDog says:

    It might depend on whether you view the EU as most like a framework, with room for manoeuvre and evolution, or as a fixed set of ideologically-neoliberal institutions under national government sway rather than democratic control. Either way, the EU may act as a reasonably-effective bloc against the overt power of, say, giant technology companies, national or transnational. Or not.

    Should an independent Scotland chose a biocratic constitution, that would seem to be self-excluding:
    but on the other hand a challenge to update EU membership rules to planetary-realistic ideologies (a test of whether it is a flexible framework or a rigid pile of dinosaur bones).

  3. John says:

    I agree with you Mike that many of the electorate in Scotland currently do feel happy about being taken out of EU after voting nearly 2:1 to Remain after being told that staying in UK was best guarantee of staying in UK in 2014. Many voters would have accepted that having voted as part of UK that we had to leave EU but the implementation of a ‘Hard Brexit’ leaving Single Market on a 52/48 vote and lack of any concessions to leaving deal as a way of reflecting Scotland’s different view (as opposed to NI) has left many voters in Scotland feeling bitter and disaffected. Independence is probably not going to happen within next decade and it is questionable whether Brexit will be such a big issue then especially if the next Westminster government begins the process of developing closer relations with EU.
    With regards to independence the main lessons I have taken from Brexit, I am sorry to say, is that a newly independent Scotland will face a neighbour who will be and feel diminished and there will be hostility to Scotland whipped up by the media. This will require Scotland to forge alliances with EU, and others, to be able to be better able to deal with RUK on a more level playing field. I would cite the UK’ s fairly hostile attitude to Ireland over NI in Brexit negotiations and the level and effectiveness of support Ireland received from EU helping to bring about an agreement to support this argument. This is also why it is essential that any vote for independence is clear and not only acknowledged but supported by international community.
    Though Scotland may not be able to enter EU for a few years, and EFTA may be a better initial grouping, this should not preclude them from working closely and forging alliances with EU before entry to help us navigate the first fe, potentially difficult, years as an independent country and to ensure we have support required to enable us to reach fair agreements with RUK which will be essential for the longer term prosperity.
    I think it is reasonable to take the 2016 vote as a mandate to negotiate with EU but think that democratically if (when) an independent Scotland were to re-enter EU there should be a vote to ratify agreement.

  4. 230902 says:

    And if and when a future Scottish government surrenders some of its sovereignty and rejoins the supranational Union, it should use the influence it will have over its governance in virtue of Scotland’s celebrated ‘soft power’ to reform its institutions. I appreciate that Eurosceptics on both the right and left doubt the Union is capable of being reformed, but it’s always better to be in the game than left standing on the sidelines.

  5. Niemand says:

    Of course Scotland, England, whatever, are part of Europe and presumably always will be. It is the EU that UK is no longer a member of, a trade and political union of sorts of some European nations but by no means all. I was watching a podcast the other day of some activists who set it up as a counter to anti-EU British tropes, which is great, but they also kept referring to the UK not being in Europe any more. It is a very basic error for those so apparently clued up. Being anti-EU is really not the same as being anti-Europe. The culture of all of the nations of Britain is steeped in European history, going back way before the Union, as part of European culture and remains so.

    1. John says:

      On one level you may be technically correct but having EU citizenship enabled people from UK to work, study and live in a large part of Europe in EU and this is bound to affect the cultural mixing between UK citizens and Europeans eg there has been a lot of unease about how much more difficult it is for UK artists from UK to perform in EU countries. If you look at countries in EU this constitutes a large part of western and central Europe with several other countries being eager to join so EU is increasingly encompassing Europe.

      I would also contend that a large number of people who voted on either side of Brexit referendum did do based on identity and how much affiliation they felt for Europe.

      1. 230903 says:

        I agree, John; many people did base how they voted as UK citizens on whether or not we should leave the EU on identitarian thinking. Identitarianism is any ideology that asserts the right of some identity to some territory that it claims belongs exclusively to it (‘Scotland for the Scots’, ‘Israel for the Jews’, ‘England for the English’… sort of thing).

        Unfortunately, many people also based how they voted as Scottish citizens on whether or not we should leave the UK on the same baleful kind of thinking.

        Brexit was a triumph of identitarainism. It operated through a Gramscian ‘metapolitics’ (the social diffusion of ideas and cultural values for the sake of provoking profound, long-term, political transformation) rather than by parliamentary means. It was an exercise in populism rather than parliamentary democracy.

        Perhaps Scottish nationalism would be better served by taking a leaf out of the English identitarian book and pursuing a similar Gramscian metapolitics or populism.

      2. Niemand says:

        To call 1500 years or more of cultural development a technical point shows how much we have become obsessed with the EU, a body that has existed for abut half a century. The fact freedom of movement has been curtailed in the UK, after what, a couple of decades of it being possible does not alter the fact of what Europe as a place and idea is at all. And that idea is not the same as the idea of the EU. We don’t have to ‘identify’ as European, we are European by default of where we live and the deep roots of the culture we enjoy which is to a high degree, ‘European’. The idea that exchange of patterns of culture and thought between European nations would somehow be at some kind of end because the UK has left the EU despite the fact it has managed to happen for century after century prior to its formation is ultimately an ideological position with which I (a remainer) profoundly reject.

        1. 230903 says:

          The term ‘Europe’ was first used to denote a distinct cultural sphere (in contrast to both its ancient use in denoting a purely geographical territory and its modern use in denoting a political unit) in the Carolingian Renaissance of the 9th century. It covered the sphere of influence of ‘Christendom’ (the Latin Church), as opposed to both the Eastern Orthodox traditions and to the Islamic world. In terms of content, it signified the ‘cultural condominium’ that was creates by the confluence of Germanic and Latin culture, defined partly in contrast with rival condominiums of Byzantium and Islam. At that time, Europe as a cultural concept included northern Iberia, the British Isles, France, western Germany, the Alpine regions, and northern and central Italy.

          The concept is one of the lasting legacies of the Carolingian Renaissance. It gradually evolved into our concept of ‘Western civilisation’, which groups together the shared cultural values of the nations into which the Holy Roman Empire of medieval Christendom dissolved, as well as their colonies and former colonies throughout the world.

          The British people are most definitely culturally and geographically ‘European’ even if they are no longer politically European. Brexit did nothing to change this, any more that Scexit would make the Scottish people any less culturally and geographically ‘British’.

    2. 230902 says:

      Aye, it’s the auld difference, which you used to find in school atlases, between ‘physical’ and ‘political’ geography. Scotland will always be physically part of Britain, which will always be physically part of Europe, however we draw our borders and demarcate, overlap, and/or separate our various political jurisdictions.

  6. stuart says:

    it ended up as big as well the one in Glasgow in May so start and end of summer celebrations, oh well.

  7. John Wood says:

    Agreed. Surely independence from Westminster and EU membership are two different things and an independent Scotland needs to be ftee to decide its own policy.
    The choice isn’t limited to full Brexit or full EU membership. Having seen the way the EU has acted (eg in Greece, Italy, Catalonia) I’m not convinced we should retrieve our sovereignty just to give it (or some of it) away again. Surely Scots should be offered a public debate and able to decide? I think a Norway -style arrangement might be worth looking at?

    Too much is made of the currency issues however. We could issue our own currency very quickly if there was a political will to do it

  8. Karl says:

    Good to see another showing of intent since AUOB marches around our country over the year. I guess since Believe in Scotland up to now have left it to AUOB to hold marchs and rallies they seem to have got sidetracked on EU membership instead of focusing on the process of becoming an independent country.

    Good start though and I look forward to more of this before the next election with a vote for any independence party a vote for independence. Clarity on their marches and clarity in manifestos for the single issue independence is the best chance to get us there.

    1. 230903 says:

      It’s not a sidetrack. Aligning ‘the cause’ with renewed membership of the EU is seen by the promoters of that cause as a vote-winner among the Scottish electorate.

      1. Karl says:

        When we are an independent country we have many things to decide that only independent countries can decide. What voters must have for independence to happen is a single question vote on independence. Anything else will not be recognised by the international community and will alienate voters who have not yet made their mind up whether to join the EU directly or become a member through EFTA. That can only be decided when we are independent, being the right time to decide such things as an open and inclusive country. Tacking that decision onto a vote for independence is not inclusive and more importantly does not need to be decided now.

        1. 230903 says:

          Indeed! But what I’m saying is that promoting ‘independence’ as a route back to EU membership is seen by its promoters as a vote-winner in any future referendum on independence.

          And indeed, to be seen as legitimate by the international community, any future treaty between an independent Scotland and the EU, by which the Scottish government would surrender some of its sovereignty to that supranational polity (which is what membership of the EU involves), would of course require ratification by the Scottish parliament under the advice of a popular referendum. But there’s large (around 2:1) support for EU membership among the Scottish electorate, which is why the independence movement is wise to hitch itself to that particular star in its campaigning.

          1. Karl says:

            That only works if all independence parties have Independence as their number one priority at election time. Any ‘hitch’ing of EU membership to elections is not appropriate, otherwise they are lying to the Scottish electorate who voted for Britain ( not Independent Scotland) to remain in the EU. Only when Scotland is independent can that question be properly asked that allow discussion of the options that might better suite Scotland as an Independent country.

          2. 230804 says:

            I know, Karl. But, tactically, it’s still expedient for the independence movement to exploit the current discontent with Brexit in Scotland. Holding out the prospect of EU membership to the Scottish electorate is a potential vote-winner in any future referendum on leaving the UK.

  9. Paddy Farrington says:

    “The currency strategy, such as it is, does cause considerable obstacles to automatic EU membership. The strategy needs resolved and upgraded, not covered-up or shrouded in vagueness.” I’m not convinced that the SNP’s currency strategy is the obstacle you say it is to EU membership (not that EU membership would ever be ‘automatic’), or that it is possible or indeed desirable to ‘resolve and upgrade’ it so as to remove any uncertainty.

    The twin tracks of SNP policy are that Scotland will have its own currency in due course, and that it will seek to rejoin the EU. The detail of how to achieve those policy objectives will depend on the political and economic climate at the time, the level of support independence has achieved, the attitude of the UK and of EU member states. Any attempt to chart the course now will necessarily be hedged with uncertainty about all of these, and is likely to be worth than useless. In my view, it’s far better to state the objectives, and work out the precise details closer to when they are needed. Let’s not forget that an independent Scotland – especially one in which independence has gained strong majority support – will prove attractive to the EU, and that in the past, the EU has taken a pragmatic approach to its own rules (including with Brexit). I foresee a period of several years in which an independent currency and EU membership are pursued in tandem via an agreed process with the the EU and UK.

    Erecting this, as Jonathon Shafi does and you seem to go along with, as some insuperable roadblock to independence gets us no further forward at all, and keeps the focus on unresolvable detail rather than on pursuing broader political objectives. At its heart, it seems to me to reflect a technocratic take on the issues which, coming from Bella, I find a bit surprising. Yesterday’s march and rally displayed the strength and positivity of the kind of progressive alliance politics between the SNP and the Scottish Greens which we need far more of, and which we need to find the way to extend further into the reaches of Scottish civil society, notably the labour movement.

    1. Cathie Lloyd says:

      Agree with Paddy. There’s too much rigid thinking about what might happen when… but the key factors are going to be the amount of support we have for independence at the point where rejoining the EU is relevant. Doesnt it make more sense to keep building that support?

      1. John says:

        I don’t think there is any chance of rejoining EU before we are independent.
        Do you honestly think the EU will want or trust UK as a member in future?
        The fact that our best (probably only) chance to rejoin EU is as an independent country will be a big factor in boosting support for independence, especially amongst younger voters who voted overwhelmingly to Remain in EU.

        1. 230903 says:

          I do think the EU would welcome the UK back into its membership with open arms (though probably not under the same generous conditions that the UK enjoyed prior to Brexit.

          The EU project is to integrate the independent nation-states of continental Europe into a political and economic union (not unlike the UK in Britain) through through a hybrid system of supranational and intergovernmental decision-making, and (very unlike the UK) according to the principle of conferral, which says that it should act only within the limits of the competences conferred on it by the treaties, and the principle of subsidiarity, which says that it should act only where an objective cannot be sufficiently achieved by the member states acting alone. Laws made by the EU institutions are passed in a variety of forms. Generally speaking, these laws can be classified into two groups: those which come into force without the necessity for national implementation measures (regulations) and those which specifically require national implementation measures (directives). Clearly, therefore, EU regulations overrule the national sovereignty of its member states, since they are immediately enforceable in all member states ,while its directives do not, since the need to be implemented in the domestic legislation by the parliaments of its member states.

          Some of us believe the model of the European Union would be a much better model than that of the current UK for a British Union. Confederation is much more democratic than either federation (the US model of unionism) or incorporation (the UK model).

          The inclusion of the UK in this pooling of national sovereignty in its supranational union has always been seen by the EU as key to this project. The geopolitical and economic ‘heft’ that the UK would bring to the EU is something that European leaders (apart from de Gaulle in the 1960s) have always valued. It’s extremely doubtful that they would reject a future application from the UK to rejoin the Union out of spite.

          1. John says:

            The EU will not welcome UK back until it is convinced that both major parties and significant majority of UK public are committed to EU project. In other words the other EU countries will not, with good reason, want to welcome a member who has left back in until they are convinced that member will not want special treatment and potentially want to leave again within a few years. This is not the EU being spiteful but merely protecting its own interests and integrity. I see no indication that the Tory party will suddenly become pro EU in next 10-15 years or so as this would cause the party to disintegrate. So barring the complete collapse or break up of Tory party and it not being replaced by a Eurosceptic party as major right of centre party there is IMO no possibility of UK being readmitted.
            I would suggest that Scotland becoming independent in next 10-15 years is a more likely scenario (by no means a certainty I admit) hence my contention that for voters in Scotland who wish to become EU citizens again independence is a far more likelier route than readmission via UK.

          2. 230804 says:

            And those conditions for readmission would be met by a reversal of the result of the 2016 referendum in some future referendum on EU membership, which would commit a majority of the UK electorate to the EU project and the UK parliament to implementing the general will expressed in that referendum.

            In a sense, the UK parliament was always committed to the EU project, as evidenced by its ratification of the Maastricht Treaty (which established that project) and all of its subsequent amendments. It was only bounced, kicking and screaming, into ratifying the Withdrawal Agreement by the clever boxing of the Eurosceptics, who successfully exploited popular discontent with the status quo generally by harnessing it to its opposition to the European union in particular in classic Gramscian fashion.

            There’s a lesson here for Scottish nationalism surely: if Scottish independentistas could successfully harness popular discontent with the status quo generally in relation to issues like social and environmental justice (as these a variously conceived) to their opposition to the British union, they too might create a kind of Gramscian ‘popular front’ that could bounce Scotland into leaving the UK.

  10. Jamie C Conner says:

    Scotland definitely should be independent. Why not ? Scotland has many resources for energy and are resourceful in farming, fishing and whiskey as well as in Tourism
    Scots are very fortunate which is the real reason Westminster won’t let go !. Scotland has a vision which is in accordance with the Scottish people where Westminster Govt has not a clue ! Scots are embraced and accepted across the world as a welcoming country , so why would Scotland stay where they are treated abismally by Westminster? What have Westminster done for Scotland ??

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