Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy suggested that an independent Scotland would have to apply to become a member of the EU from the outside, contradicting the official nationalist position.
Speaking at a media conference during a summit with French President François Hollande on Wednesday (27 November), Rajoy said that if a "region" opted to leave a member state, then it would "remain outside the European Union".
It would then require the agreement of all 28 EU members before it was allowed to join, he said.
The Scottish government aims to negotiate entry from within the EU, according to its White Paper on independence, which was published on Tuesday (26 November). This would be done in the 18 months between a Yes vote and formal secession from the UK, the paper said.
“We have detailed a process which will see Scotland negotiate its position as an independent member of the European Union from within,” the White Paper explained.
Rajoy sees dangerous parallels between Scotland, Catalonia
Rajoy's comments came as a warning to the Spanish region of Catalonia, whose autonomous government also wants to hold a vote on independence. The Spanish government has refused to allow a referendum in Catalonia, northeastern Spain.
"I respect all the decisions taken by the British, but I know for sure that a region that would separate from a member state of the European Union would remain outside the European Union and that should be known by the Scots and the rest of the European citizens,” said Rajoy.
But the Catalan government says it plans to announce the date of its referendum, and the referendum question to be put to Catalan voters, before next year.
The Spanish prime minister’s position on European regional secession appeared to reflect the official Commission position.
Rajoy did not say if he would seek to block an independent Scotland's entry to the EU if it chose independence.
Scotland’s Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the Scottish government recognised that EU membership would require negotiations with other member states and institutions.
This negotiation can be achieved from within the EU in the period between a Yes vote in September next year and day one of independence in March 2016, she argued.
“We note that the Spanish Prime Minister has said he has not read our proposals, but Mr Rajoy has previously indicated that he considers the Scottish and Catalan situations are 'absolutely and totally different',” a spokesman for Sturgeon said.
Scotland and the UK signed an agreement on 15 October 2012 to open the way for a referendum on independence in autumn 2014.
Scotland has been a nation within the United Kingdom since the UK was founded in 1707. The current Scottish Parliament was founded in 1999 as part of the process of devolution within the UK, which created regional assemblies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, to give the regions greater autonomy. The Scottish Parliament has control over some parts of policy, such as education and health, and can create its own laws on these issues.
The Scottish National Party (SNP), which leads the devolved government, is campaigning for Scottish independence. The SNP claims that Scotland needs a stronger voice in Europe and beyond to properly represent its social, political and economic interests.
Scottish ministers complain that issues important to them are often sidelined by London.
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