Nicola Sturgeon is working hard in her quest for a European Scotland. The First Minister has been holding a series of high profile meetings in an attempt to press her case for keeping Scotland in the EU. On the morning on 29 June, she met with Martin Schulz, the European Parliament President, Gianni Pitella, the leader of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament, and Guy Verhofstadt, the former Belgian Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal group at the European Parliament.
They all declared themselves sympathetic to Scotland’s situation, but also voiced their belief that Brexit is an issue that will need to be solved with the UK in its entirety, Scotland and Northern Ireland included.
Donald Tusk, the European Council President, refused to meet Sturgeon, saying that it would not be appropriate at this time. This refusal is almost certainly due to the fact that Mr Tusk represents the interests of the heads of the different EU states, who still remember the 2014 Scottish independence referendum and the threat it represented to the national unity for many European countries.
Ms Sturgeon, however, managed to book a meeting with Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission President. Mr Juncker, who on 28 June morning had a heated exchange with then UKIP leader Nigel Farage in the European Parliament, said that Scotland had won the right to be heard in Brussels and that he would listen carefully to Ms Sturgeon’s arguments but that neither he nor Donald Tusk would “interfere in the British process”, adding that this “is not our duty and not our job”.
The First Minister pointed out that Scotland is “at a very early stage of this process. I’ve set out very clearly Scotland’s desire to protect our relationship with the European Union but I don’t underestimate the challenges that lie ahead for us in seeking to find a path.”
The biggest challenges could indeed be represented by fellow EU members. Both France and Spain expressed their opposition to negotiating a potential EU membership for Scotland. Spanish Premier Mariano Rajoy said: “Spain opposed any negotiation by anyone other than the government of United Kingdom. I am extremely against it, the treaties are extremely against it and I believe everyone is extremely against it. If the United Kingdom leaves… Scotland leaves”.
This sort of arguments suggest that a separate Scotland would have to start life outside the EU and have to negotiate entry, a process that could take years and involve adoption of the Euro and a hard border with England.
It is easy to see how certain countries, and Spain in particular, would be especially determined to take a hard line with Scotland, in an attempt to discourage their own internal separatist movements. “Britain’s departure from the EU will boost a Catalan independence movement that is currently in crisis,” said Andrew Dowling, a specialist on Catalan and Spanish history at Cardiff University.
The reluctance to get involved in bilateral talks with Ms Sturgeon was later echoed by a series of member states, such as Denmark, the Czech Republic, and Estonia. The German government told the Glasgow Herald that Scottish independence was an “internal” British issue and declined to comment further when asked if it would engage directly with the Scottish Government. Only Slovakia seemed to be more open to talks about a Scottish membership, underlying its pro-EU attitude.
Following this trail of half rejections, then Prime Minister David Cameron stressed the importance of keeping the United Kingdom together, pointing out that “the best way to secure Scotland’s place in the single market is for the United Kingdom to negotiate the closest possible relationship with the European Union, including in my view, the closest relationship with the single market”. This last prospect may no longer be true, given remarks by the German Chancellor Angela Merkel that controls on immigration would impede UK’s access to the single market.
The prospect of Scotland inside the UK but outside the EU has been growing so unpopular that it quickly raised the prospect of another independence referendum, such that US bank JP Morgan has said it now expects Scotland to vote for independence and institute a new currency by the time Britain leaves the European Union in 2019.
Francesca Tripaldi is a PhD student in Mathematics at King’s College London. She the President of the Education Policy Centre at King’s Think Tank in AY 2015/16, focusing on education inequality within the UK and the problems behind the new regulations of the Tier 4 Student Visa.