Scotland seeks legal advice on EU status as independent nation

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Scotland has formally asked for legal advice on its position in the European Union if it votes for independence from Britain in its 2014 referendum, the government said yesterday (23 October). 

"I can confirm that the government has now commissioned specific legal advice from our law officers on the position of Scotland within the European Union if independence is achieved through this process," Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told Scottish lawmakers.

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron and Scotland's pro-independence First Minister Alex Salmond signed a deal in Edinburgh last week for a referendum which could end the 300-year-old union (see background).

But the vote has raised the question of Scotland's status within the current 27-member EU if it decides to split.

One of the big questions is whether Scotland would be obliged to introduce the euro as a new EU member. All the twelve countries which joined the EU in 2004-2007 had the obligation to join the Union’s common currency provided they meet the criteria. A majority of Scotts favour retaining the British pound for their currency, although it remains unclear under what terms this would be possible.

London has also raised other questions about a break-up of the United Kingdom.

Last week it said that an independence vote could threaten British security, with enemies of Britain likely to try to exploit any instability. Scotland is hosting the UK fleet of Trident nuclear submarines, which Salmond wants removed. The Scottish leader recently said he wanted Scotland to remain part of NATO, but pledged to make nuclear weapons illegal if his country was to win independence from Britain.

The announcement of the request for a legal advice triggered a political storm in Scotland, with Salmond facing accusations of having lied, back in March, when he said in an interview that he possessed advice from the Scottish Law officers on the issue of Scotland’s independence.

Scottish Labour MEP Catherine Stihler called Salmond a “liar” and said he must “pay for his deceit”. According to her, such a legal advice never existed.

“The Scottish government," she said, "has previously cited opinions from a number of eminent legal authorities, past and present, in support of its view that an independent Scotland will continue in membership of the European Union – but has not sought specific legal advice.”

“Thousands of pounds later and now we are told they are seeking legal advice. … Today we found out [Salmond] lied about receiving legal advice on EU membership of an independent Scotland. What else is he lying about?”

Scotland and the UK signed an agreement on 15 October opening the way for a referendum on independence in the 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 the UK government based in London, and representation for Scotland is lost or diluted when the interests of the UK are represented internationally. 

The Scottish government has put forward several issues on which it believes the interests of their nation would be better served as an independent state within the EU, including diplomatic relations, energy policy, fisheries and environmental policy. 

  • 5-8 June 2014: European elections (dates to be confirmed)
  • 24 June 2014: 600 years from the Battle of Bannockburn, referendum set to coincide with the anniversary
  • Autumn 2014: Scottish referendum

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