Smith: ‘A Brexit would reopen the question of Scottish independence’

Alyn Smith [European Parliament]

Alyn Smith warns that a Brexit could lead Scotland to leave the United Kingdom.  According to the MEP, an exit from the EU should only be considered if backed by a majority in all four nations of the UK.

Alyn Smith is a member of the Scottish National Party and has been an MEP since 2004. He is a member of the European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs.

Smith spoke to EURACTIV France’s Cecile Barbiere.

The European Union is facing the most challenging refugee crisis in its history. David Cameron has offered to take in 20,000 refugees over the next five years. What do you think of the British government’s response?

The UK is debating the number of refugees that could be received, but the numbers are very small. The UK is not willing to be part of the European solution! I think this is the latest example of the British problem of wanting to be slightly distanced from the European framework.

We have called on the UK government to do more.

What we have in Syria and Iraq – the two countries were most of the refugees are coming from – is a humanitarian disaster, with millions of people displaced. The refugee crisis has only just started, so it is vital that we come up with a European response and show solidarity between member states.

The leader of my party, Nicola Sturgeon, has clearly said we are in favour of European refugee quotas. We held a summit in Edinburgh with the Scottish government and representatives from local governments. Every local authority in Scotland is coming up with a number of refugees they can take in immediately. We are ready to play our part.

But providing a safe place for refugees is a short term solution. The EU needs to provide a political and long term solution. So far, we have not done as much as we need to do.

The UK has an opt-out that allows it to not participate in the mandatory distribution of 160,000 refugees among the EU’s member states. Does the Scottish National Party agree with this opt-out?

At the moment, this is a hypothetical question because Scotland has no competence in this matter. We do not see the need for an opt-out, but the UK has it.

But in the future I hope to see Scotland play an enthusiastic part in the whole of European politics. And I do not see the need for an opt-out because I do not believe certain countries should be given special treatment.

The Brexit campaign has begun in the UK. What is the Scottish perspective on the referendum on the future of the UK in Europe?

The Scottish perspective on the Brexit debate is very different from that of the UK as a whole.*

There is a very realistic possibility that the UK could vote to leave the European Union, but Scotland will almost certainly vote to stay. This would cause real anger in Scotland. For us, it would reopen the question of Scottish independence from the UK.

It’s only been a year since the referendum, but a lot has changed in Scottish politics in this short time. In the referendum, we had a vote which was clearly in favour of UK membership: 55% for to 45% against. But 45% is still a significant proportion of the population in favour of independence, and since the vote, that number has grown. The latest poll showed 53% of Scots in favour of independence.

Without majority support for a Brexit in all four nations of the UK, there should be no question of leaving the EU. But it is unlikely that Westminster will accept that before the referendum.

*In a recent poll by the Sunday Times, 66% of Scots said the UK should remain in the EU, and 53% said Scotland should be an independent country. 

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