Scotland on the Road to EU Membership

As the dust settles on the 2021 Scottish parliamentary election, the Scottish National Party once again walks off as the undisputed victor, and with a few more seats on hand to boot. The party has fallen just short of an overall majority, but its amicable alliance with the Greens should enable it to govern with some compromises. The issue of independence, however, is one where both parties share common ground; over time, it has become increasingly difficult for Westminster to ignore calls for a new referendum. Nevertheless, the question of whether a Scottish republic would be welcomed into the European Union quickly and with open arms, as many SNP supporters would allege, remains a matter of discussion.

For one, it is important to highlight that Scotland is a few technicalities away from meeting the EU’s baseline membership criteria. These relate to the existence of institutions capable of upholding democracy and the rule of law, an economy able of competing with the rest of Europe, and the willingness to adhere to wider bloc goals. The first requirement is fulfilled by the Scottish parliament but is just out of reach due to the absence of a foreign ministry and central bank. Nevertheless, such institutions could be developed with relative ease during a post-independence transitionary period. When it comes to economics meanwhile, the nation stands firmly above average of the EU27 in terms of GDP, and its petroleum, chemical and seafood industries would make it a competitive player within the bloc. Admittedly however, economists have warned that Scottish independence would inevitably precede a period of stagnation. The EU might would have to be ready to assist the new member state much in the same way it did with Southern Europe during the Eurozone Crisis, at least for a few years.

This possibility speaks to the wider issue of bureaucratic and legalistic roadblocks placed in the path of Scotland’s membership to the bloc, which are undoubtedly causing more headaches than the debatable lack of robust institutions. The first of these relates to the country’s relationship with the United Kingdom, as the divorce from Westminster would have to be conducted legally and with consent from both parties. Indeed, if Scotland’s independence is disputed by its neighbour, it is very unlikely that EU states like Spain would accept the nation as a member. This is because doing so would legitimise illegal separatism under bloc jurisdiction, something the country that repressed the Catalonian independence movement in 2017 would seek to avoid. Thus, before Scotland even considers EU membership, it will have to guarantee a working relationship with the UK.

Another factor which could derail Scotland’s accession into the EU will be the extent to which the UK decides to drift away from bloc standards over the coming years. International trade deals, environmental regulations and fishing rights are all issues where the two are bound to butt heads, whether Scotland wants to or not. The nation runs the risk of finding itself isolated on the world stage if it fails to convince the EU as to the viability of its realignment over the course of a hypothetical transitionary period. At the same time, should the country fail to retain presence within the UK’s trade circle, it will run the risk of lodging itself in a political and economic limbo.

All of this might signal challenging prospects for Scotland over the coming years, but the nation would be in a more advantageous position than most others vying for EU membership. Bloc representatives are certainly open towards the idea, with Swedish MEP Erik Bergkvist commenting: “We know a lot about Scotland. It has a good track record. So I see no problems for Scotland [in joining]”. Some, like Terry Reintke, have gone a step further, expressing outright favouritism: “If Scotland was to be an independent country at some point, then we would obviously be really favourable to Scotland re-joining the European Union”. Thus, whilst the Scottish institutions and economy remain a work in progress, the nation’s path to EU membership might present less challenges than anticipated.

Featured photo by Emphyrio. Available on Pixabay under Pixabay License

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