Scotland’s place in the EU was one of the key issues in the 2014 referendum campaign and at the time there was much talk of Spain vetoing Scotland’s potential membership of the EU in order to quell secessionist feeling in Catalonia. However now that the UK has voted to leave the EU, the Spanish government appear to have acknowledged the situation has changed and have now said that Spain wouldn’t block an independent Scotland from joining the EU post-Brexit. Although the political dynamics of this situation would appear to favour the pro-independence camp, it would be foolish to think that independence was now the pre-determined course of Scotland.
The Spanish Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis made his comments on Scotland to The Guardian. When asked directly if Spain would veto Scotland’s application to join the EU, Mr Dastis said “no, we wouldn’t”. However, he said that if the UK left the EU, and then Scotland left the UK, Scotland would have to apply for membership just like any other country. This is different to what the SNP have tried to argue which was that Scotland would essentially inherit the UK’s membership after Brexit was finalised.
This is one of the reasons that the pro-independence movement needs to adapt to these new developments. I was convinced that Spain would eventually say something like this because we are not in 2014 anymore. In 2014 the pro-independence movement argued that Scotland could seamlessly secede from the UK whilst remaining an EU county, and after the Brexit vote some figures like Alex Salmond were still arguing that this would be the case. On the day after the Brexit referendum, the former First Minister said to the BBC that “Scotland would have the option of remaining within Europe whilst the rest of the UK left”.
Whilst this is a more believable idea since the referendum, I still don’t believe that Scotland would be fast-tracked membership because the questions about currency are too great. For example, if an independent Scotland held on to the Pound I am not sure what the EU would say to a member state both sharing a currency with a non-EU member, and Scotland would have to be allowed to opt-out of adopting the Euro just like the UK was.
The words of the Mr Dastis also seem to validate my position. Spain is a proudly pro-EU country and therefore many Spaniards would sympathise with the plight of the Scottish people on this question. However, whilst Mr Dastis has said they wouldn’t veto Scotland’s membership, he also said that Scotland would have to apply for membership from the outside. This essentially reaffirms the Spanish government’s position from earlier this year.
The other question mark that the pro-independence movement needs to address is those people who backed both independence and Brexit. Some of the people who supported independence did so because of socio-economic factors and this also motivated them to support Brexit. If the SNP and other pro-independence parties keep talking about Scotland joining the EU, these voters may decide to stay within a UK outside the EU. The independence movement must articulate clearly how creating a new nation-state will make a material difference in people’s lives because otherwise voters in poorer parts of Scotland may not want to support secession.
Further, there are people like myself: left-wingers opposed to the EU and supportive of independence. Although if I lived in Scotland I would probably support independence anyway, there are many other left-wingers who support independence but are wary of nationalism and are opposed to Scotland rejoining the EU. If the pro-independence movement is going to win a second referendum they need to lock up the 45% that backed independence last time. Given how the polls have tightened in the last few months, it is imperative that the pro-independence movement acts to include a radical vision rather than the bland social democracy of the SNP.
The announcement from the Spanish Foreign Minister will give Theresa May a headache, and will strengthen the resolve of pro-independence activists. There must however be a recognition that Mr Dastis’ comments do not mean Scotland will be okay post-independence referendum. If the Tories continue to block a referendum, it doesn’t matter what other EU member states say because Scotland will still be in the UK and outside of the EU. Getting a clear position on EU membership will be vital if independence is going to be achieved, but again there also needs to be an acknowledgement that not all those who voted for Brexit in Scotland are right-wing Tories. Some voted for Brexit to attack the neoliberal foundations of the EU, and if the independence movement doesn’t recognise this Scotland is at risk of doing a Quebec.