Salmond’s strange reluctance to come clean on his European ambitions

CATHERINE STIHLER asks a Question To Which The Answer Is “None of your business”


The SNP’s position on Europe is nothing short of farcical.

In May of this year I wrote to the Scottish Government, under a Freedom of Information Act, asking for the legal advice they had been given regarding entry to the EU if Scotland became an independent country. It had struck me that if those in government were so certain about automatic EU entry then they would also have the evidence to back their assertions up.

Instead of being able to back up their case with clear legal certainty, my request was refused as it was deemed “contrary to public interest”. How can a request to clarify such an important issue for the future of Scotland be against the public interest? Is this what openness means to nationalists in power? I am now appealing the decision.

Meanwhile in the European Parliament I am also asking for clarity from the European Commission who has responsibility for the application process of new member states.

It will be no surprise that the European Commission’s standard response so far has been that this is a “hypothetical question”. However in 2007 the former EU Fisheries Commissioner, Joe Borg, explained that if Scotland gained independence, it would be the rest of the UK – less Scotland – who would be considered an existing member of the EU.

With neither the Scottish Government nor European Commission willing to be clear with the Scottish people it remains our responsibility as Labour representatives to seek the truth.

Catherine Stihler is a Scottish Labour Member of the European Parliament. Follow her on Twitter at @c_stihler_MEP.

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37 thoughts on “Salmond’s strange reluctance to come clean on his European ambitions

  1. Good bit of work – well done Catherine – keep the pressure on the FOI

  2. Yes, well done, it’s vital that the SNP are attacked at every opportunity on every single issue under the sun.

      1. Its the Nats mindset……..Salmond and SNP can do no wrong. Rules for them (attack Labour for even breathing and jump on Labourites for having an opinion against SNP and their lack of transparency.

    1. So what do you suggest we do? Sit on our backsides and let the SNP do whatever they feel like?

      1. To answer the point about “Salmond and SNP can do no wrong”, patently that is not the case and it is just silly for anyone to claim that it is. Even to its most supportive of followers, no party or government can be perfect. If anyone believes the SNP are some sort of cult where everyone is brainwashed into thinking exactly the same as the leadership 100% of the time, then they are very much mistaken.

        If I was to say that Labour followers believed that “Tony Blair could do no wrong” then I’d be quite rightly ridiculed for making that claim, so it’s equally daft to say it about any other party.

        There are a couple of major issues and quite a few minor ones where I am in disagreement with the party hierarchy. But I still support the general aims of what they are trying to achieve. On those occasions I disagree with them, I do appreciate they always act with the best interests of Scotland in mind.

        One of the main reasons why there has been so little internal dissent in the SNP during the first 4 years in office is that they were a minority government with only one more seat than the next biggest party. This minority government could have been brought down at any time, so keeping party discipline tight was 100% vital.

        Now that there’s a majority, I would say it’s possibly more likely the strength in numbers means we will see occasions where backbenchers are a bit more daring and do find the courage to rebel a bit now and again, and if I’m being honest this is probably healthy for democracy. I don’t know exactly how often this may happen, or on what issues, but I do see there being interesting times ahead over the next 5 years.

    2. Imagine an SNP MEP issues an FOI about whether an “independent” Scotland could immediately join the EU. Imagine further that the Labour Executive refuses to say what that advice is. Imagine even further that the Labour Executive claims that the reason for not releasing the advice is that it is “not in the public interest”…..

      Dear oh dear! Cybernat explosion!!!! Not to mention the more “responsible” NatPols bombarding the airwaves and newspapers with righteous fury….

      What is it with the SNP and FOIs anyway? They refused to release information on their cockeyed Local Income Tax despite FOIs and they even went to court, spending public money, to stop the information becoming public….. now they are not releasing legal advice…?

      Do they believe in any degree of open democracy?

  3. Not at all surprising, the SNP strategy with potentially embarrassing FOI requests is to keep it secret for as long as they can. This from the executive whose leader promised “open government” is quite disgraceful. The Scottish people have a right to know what it’s executive is up to.

  4. I always think it’s an absolute farce that the SNP seeks an ‘Independence’ it intends to throw away immediately by locking Scotland as deeply as possible into the EU. How on Earth do they think Scotland will have a greater voice in that undemocratic monstrosity than it does as part of the UK?

    If the Scots people decide they wish to be an independent nation, it will sadden me but I’ll at least understand. If they truly feel chained in the UK, wanting to be free is only natural.

    But to have the single chain removed from your ankle only to immediately volunteer to be chained head to toe and branded? I don’t understand that at all…

  5. If I was in charge….would I hide things? Very probably. You see when you’re in a competition you don’t give away your strategies to just any Tom, Stihler or admin!

    It’s the rules of the game silly…McCrone Report any one?

    1. There wasn’t a Freedom of Information Act then, it was morally wrong not to release that report, not legally.

      1. I agree, but the result is a devastating breach of political and emotional trust between Westminster and Scotland.

        It would not surprise me one bit if there were more skeletons waiting to be discovered.

        I suggest the Labour Party in Scotland should pay close attention to these type of issues, as nothing would send a clearer statement to the Scottish electorate about your committment to Scotland, than if you were to formulate a strategy to rectify these morally reprehensible actions.

  6. Catherine needs to look at the case of Greenland, which when it partly split from Denmark had the most difficult time in leaving the EEC( as it was then). I suspect that the EU would be loath to expel any part of its empire but it may be that an independent Scotland would do better outside as long as trade arrangements can be maintained.
    I cannot imagine “Joe Borg” is the most expert source in international law,and there are many other statements on this issue from EU BigWigs, but if Catherine ever gets a definitive opinion on both Scotland and RumpUKs legal status after independence, we would all be grateful.

    1. “Catherine needs to look at the case of Greenland…. ”

      Actually, Catherine wants to look at the case of the legal advice given to the Scottish Government, paid for by the Scottish people and relevant to the debate about Scottish “independence”.

      But the Nationalists won’t let her….

    2. Exactly all we want to know is what legal advice on EU membership the Scottish Executive has recieved. Why all the secrecy?

  7. I can just see the EU rejecting one of the biggest oil producing countries in Europe…

    1. Nobody sensible thinks they would reject Scotland. What has Labourites like myself worried is what conditions Sarkozy will attach. He has all ready promised no NEW member states. So it is likely he, and others, would want us to compromise alot. Most likely would be adoption of the Euro and to whatever new EU fiscal policy rules he and Merkel come up with to solve the Greece crisis. I also wouldn’t be surprised if he asked for us to sign up to Schengen which would require Passport control and Berwick.

  8. I daresay the bureaucrats in Brussels might be rather more exercised by the possibility of Flanders and Wallonia going their separate ways. Which of them would inherit Belgian membership of the EU? Economically powerful Flanders or Francophone Wallonia? And what of Brussels itself? Tricky, tricky…especially for those foreign technocrats with a home in Brussels…

    I rather suspect that pragmatism would win the day. Rather than suddenly creating a raft of illegal immigrants in Brussels, Antwerp or Liege I imagine common sense would prevail. It would be an awful lot easier all round if those people who had already had the benefits of EU membership continued to do so.

    Similarly in Scotland’s case, it would be a great deal easier to have both states (Scotland + “Rest of UK”) continue as EU members than to kick one out. Would the EU really like to see hundreds of thousands of Scots being deported up the M6 and A1 due to the democratic wishes of the Scottish electorate? No, I suspect that realpolitik would win the day. Oh, and the lawyers who would help with sorting out the various treaties.

    1. Greenland is still part of the Kingdom of Denmark, but although it chose to the leave the EU Greenlanders are still considered to be EU citizens.

      So EU membership and citizenship appear to be different issues, and that is an important distinction.

      Also Belgium throws up all sorts of intriguing possibilities because of the status of Brussels. Brussels-Flanders or Brussels-Wallonia could technically be considered to retain Belgium membership of the EU. However it has been touted that Brussels becomes a city-state, retains EU membership with Flanders and Wallonia becoming automentic new members. What way it turns out the people of Brussels, Flanders and Wallonia will still be EU citizens.

      So Scots in an independent Scotland would remain EU citizens and the EU will not want to lose a resource rich nation, so membership is a given, no matter what Scottish Labour has to say on the matter.

      1. And all this is based on a strict legal interpretation of the latest EU constitutional treaty?

        Of course all nationalists have an (utterly identical) opinion on the matter, but surely it would aid the debate if we could get a definitive legal ruling on the issue, or at the very least, be told what the Scottish Government’s lawyers think about it?

        1. And all this is based on a strict legal interpretation of the latest EU constitutional treaty?

          You exhibit a touching faith in both the legal profession and the contents of EU treaties!

          It’s a bit old now but you could do worse than check out this report from the Constitution Unit in 2001. It examines various angles on an independent Scotland’s prospective relationship with the EU.

          For the purposes of this thread the interesting bit is that there are no real provisions in EU treaties for secessions from member states. This is probably partly due to reluctance on the part of some member states (e.g. France, Spain) to countenance secession at all and partly because each case of secession will be very different, so it’s hard to devise a one-size-fits-all set of principles. As I mentioned above, Belgium poses a very different problem to Scotland – a member state pretty much splitting in half versus ~1/10 (by population) of a member state seceding.

          As I said above, the terms of Scotland’s EU membership will come down to the politics at the time. There aren’t any laws or rules set in stone to govern the process. Realpolitik will rule.

        2. All this faith in lawyers is touching, but perhaps misplaced.

          Ask yourself who will decide whether membership of the EEA is something that is succeeded to automatically. Will it be teams of lawyers armed with copies of the relevant agreements, considering the arguments dispassionately? Or will it be ministers or heads of government at an EU summit where the nightmarish prospect of part of the EEA disappearing into what amounts to a black hole on the hypothetical Independence Day needs to be addressed urgently? Idealists and lawyers might wish that it were otherwise, but politicians seem to find international law almost infinitely flexible. It seems almost inevitable that an independent Scotland would automagically find itself a fully signed up EEA member.

          And whatever a lawyer might make of the idea that EU membership was intended to be succeeded to – presumably they’d find it ridiculous, just as I do – expediency would likely demand that it turns out that way in practice. Even accelerated accession negotiations, as with the EFTA countries in the 90s, have taken years. And negotiations would be followed by a referendum. Referendums, as we all know, can never be taken for granted.

          The temptation would be very strong to bend procedures a little and avoid all that trouble and uncertainty. Think how awkward it would be to do things by the rules. That would mean fishermen from the EU being excluded from Scottish waters while negotiations dragged on. And indeed, left for too long the Scots might start wondering what it was they were gaining, above and beyond membership of the free trade and common travel areas that they had alread. Euroskeptics inside the UK and elsewhere in the EU might start to get restive at Scots seeming to get more choice than them on EU membership. And this sort of thing would never do, not when there’s an easy way to avoid all the nastiness.

  9. When/if Scotland and England(rumpuk) regain their independence, I would not be surprised if the EU did not use that opportunity to insist that membership of that body was on the same grounds as every other country- ever closer union, on a fiscal and political level.
    Given what is happening with the Euro, currency stability is essential, and the other members are not going to be happy with (new) countries piggy-backing on their painful, new shared sovereignty. So Catherine should ask after England/RumpUKs status, she may be in for a surprise!

    1. Catherine asks the Commission for their position on Scottish independence every year I think – and always gets the same answer.

      Maybe she should ask to see their legal advice as well?

  10. No government publishes legal advice unless they are forced to, as with the legal advice on the Iraq War. The answer Ms Stihler got is the standard response.

    I would be very surprised if the SG had been given any legal advice on the matter. Would they actually be allowed to – bearing in mind that SG civil servants are part of the UK civil service and that relations with the EU are reserved.

    The SNP may have been given legal advice of course and that may form part of the SG thinking. But legal advice given to the SNP is not subject to FOI.

  11. It seems to me that the only interesting information that might be revealed by seeing any legal advice is not so much in terms of the advice itself – if it is any good at all it will boil down to “we’re lawyers, not clairvoyants, please don’t ask us” – and more in terms of the questions that were put and what those say about hypothetical negotiating positions and any hints of “Plan B”. Whether there’s a good case for the materials in question being exempted from FoI, that’s impossible to know, but it doesn’t seem entirely unreasonable on the face of it.

    1. The rules on legal advice given to the Scottish Government are set out in the ministerial code, its pretty tightly regulated and was the same when Labour/Lib Dems were in administration. Presumably Catherine Stihler knows this – the ministerial code is a publicly available document after all. Anybody can look it up.

  12. @ Indy “No government publishes legal advice unless they are forced to, as with the legal advice on the Iraq War. The answer Ms Stihler got is the standard response.”

    So if we vote for “independence”, nothing will change? Why do you want that? Why is it worth the cost?

    1. That comment doesn’t even make any sense. As I said Scottish civil servants are part of the UK civil service. Would it make any difference if Scotland was independent? I don’t know. It would depend on the position taken by whoever was elected to government. But I would guess the position probably would not change as the reasons for not publishing legal advice are surely obvious?

      1. Indy, just making a general point from the particular point you made… if all governments are the same, as you imply, why not work to improve the one we’ve got rather than replacing it with one which will, at best, be no better, quite likely worse, and will still require improvement…?

  13. Have the FoI request Stihler submitted, and the response she received, been published so we can see what she asked for and how the reply was phrased?

  14. I think we have to be realistic here.
    Scotland is in Europe, and having worked in the oil industry for 21 years, I know fine that theres another 40 years of oil production around Scotland, combine that with Scotlands plans for renewables, and a whisky industry that generates more cash than the oil does, then no European union would want to turn Scotland away, do we really want to highlight this, because the Nationalists will just turn round and use the above for ammo.

  15. I m a bit late into the debate here, but I cant believe that Miss Stihler honestly thinks that an Independent Scotland will not get access to the European Union?

    With Oil reserves and the current plans for renewables, which Germany and France have shown great interest in, in the EU parliament, then theres is no way they would like to see Scotland out of Europe, the doors will be thrown open for us.

    We have to come away from the scaremonger and bully tactics against independence which backfires on us everytime we open our mouths to a favourable media. The Nats and many other not of Nat persuasion are starting to mistrust the media in Scotland. We should use the mdeia to our advantage.
    Why are you also so scared of independence?

    1. Hello MacRae
      You’re correct to claim that Scotland’s oil reserves are important to us. And equal to a significant part of EU oil consumption. UK production is mostly from Scottish waters and matches 11% of EU requirements. Production elsewhere in the EU matches for 6% of EU oil consumption. The other 83% of oil use is imported from outwith the EU.
      The last year I have figures for world oil output is 2009 when supply exceeded demand by 2%, which was somewhat more than the total of UK production.
      Keep in mind that Scotland is 1% of EU population and our external trades in a wide range of goods & services are also critical to our prosperity.

  16. Advice of a former Constitutional Rapporter of the European Parliament is that a separate Scotland would be a New Member and subject to normal scrutiny and criteria.
    The Copenhagen criteria (after the Copenhagen summit in June 1993) are the rules that define whether a country is eligible to join the European Union and would apply to Scotland. All new Members must comply with those social, trade and political criteria.
    Membership presupposes the candidate’s ability to take on each and every one of the obligations of membership including adherence to the aims of political, economic AND monetary union. So no ‘opt-outs’ from current rules would be permitted. And Scotland would have to agree to adopt the Euro: like Eire.
    Might the large States allow special ‘opt-outs’ for a separating Scotland? That would depend on each State’s view of the precedent such exemptions for Scotland might create for their own rebellious breakaways such as Basques, Catalonia, Corsica, et al.
    Then there’s the WTO, NATO, UN, IMF and Postal Union. Not to mention Scotland’s future relationships with the UK government in respect to tax collection, company law, migrants and so on. It will take a long time to set up those and other relationships.
    Law students may care to learn-up constitutional law: a nice little earner for their future!

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