mark-lazarowiczMark Lazarowicz, former MP for Edinburgh North and Leith, says we shouldn’t dismiss Sturgeon’s Brexit plan as just another excuse to push independence, but should back her proposal for Scotland-only membership of the EEA if the UK leaves the EU and EEA.


The publication of the Scottish Government’s options for Scotland’s relations in Europe post-Brexit drew predictable responses, not least within Scottish Labour. Although Kezia Dugdale wisely responded that by saying she would consider the proposals carefully, some of the more gung-ho Labour commentators and bloggers immediately damned the proposals as yet another cunning plan by the SNP to force Scotland on to the high road to a second independence referendum. So what should we make of the Scottish Government’s analysis and proposals for Scotland in Europe?

The first thing anyone should do is actually read what the document it says. It is true that the First Minister says that her preferred option is for an independent Scotland within the EU. Is anyone surprised at that? It was hardly a secret. But the possibility of a second independence referendum is way down on the list of the options. Her stated preference is that Scotland and the UK remain as full members of the EU. I agree with that. The next best option is for the entire UK to remain within the European Economic Area, the EEA. I agree with that too. It is only if those two options are rejected that the option of a Scotland-only membership of the EEA is proposed in the Scottish Government document.

Now, I still hope that the UK as a whole comes to its senses and decides to remain in the EU. And, if not, I see no reason why there could not be a majority in the UK Parliament for EEA membership for the UK as a whole. That could happen if it was backed by UK Labour – a combination of Labour, SNP, LibDem, SDLP, Green and pro-Europe Tory MPs could have a clear majority for that. But the Scottish Government cannot be criticised for looking at the options if that doesn’t happen – indeed, it would rightly be criticised if it did not.

So are the Scottish Government’s proposals for Scotland-only membership feasible? Their adoption would certainly be challenging. However, I believe that their model could work. One of the difficulties of trying to set up an arrangement where Scotland tried to stay in the EU and the UK, even where the rest of the UK left, would be that as the EU is a union of sovereign member states, it would seem inconceivable that the EU would let Scotland, as a non-sovereign state, be a member. However, members of the EEA do not participate in the EU decision-making and legislative structures. Furthermore, any EEA-type agreement for Scotland would have to be negotiated separately, and therefore make it more possible to take into account the special features of Scotland’s relationships with both the EU and the rest of the UK.

One undoubted area of difficulty for the Scottish Government’s proposals is how to deal with trade with the rest of the UK, if Scotland was to enter into an EEA-style relationship with the EU. Their proposals make it clear that they would want Scotland to remain in a customs union and single market with the rest of the UK. Their document make a number of suggestions as how this can be achieved in practical terms. These are not entirely convincing, and any such arrangements would need to be developed carefully if there was not to be a ‘hard border’ between Scotland and the rest of the UK. Equally, however, the solutions proposed are not outlandish, and it would be wrong to caricature the proposals as meaning Scotland would be turning its back on the UK single market if it tried to stay in the European single market. It certainly seems to me that the problems have the potential of being overcome if the political will was there.

And that, of course, is the nub of the matter. Are the Scottish Government’s proposals politically possible? What I say to that is at a time of fundamental threats to Europe, surely we cannot rule out the possibility of a flexibility within the EU to keep Scotland in as close as possible relationship even if that mean new structures to achieve that would need to be developed. It is also the case that Scottish Labour, in spite of its relative current weakness, could help make the difference between success and failure for an EEA option for Scotland. That is because support from Scottish Labour for such an option could help persuade the UK Labour Party to support it. And support from UK Labour could mean that, in turn, other social democratic and socialist forces within the rest of the EU – still a powerful force – would be persuaded to take such proposals seriously, and make their achievement more possible.

Now, some of the more excitable voices in Scottish Labour have suggested I am naïve in being prepared to take the Scottish government’s proposals seriously. Nicola Sturgeon has only put them forward in the knowledge they will be rejected, it is suggested, and that when that happens it will give her more powerful ammunition for a second independence referendum. That might be a fair criticism if the proposals were outrageously absurd. But the response from neutral and informed commentators (see, for example, is that they are certainly worth examining. If they are workable, they would certainly be a lot better for Scotland than being outside the EU, or the UK – or both.

And Scottish Labour would stand in much better stead with the voters if it shows that it is prepared to take a constructive approach to the Scottish Government’s proposals in their paper than if it is seen to adopt a position of knee-jerk negativity. I urge Kezia Dugdale to take the bold step of giving support in principle to the proposal of an EEA option for Scotland, if the UK as a whole leaves the EU and the EEA. That does not stop her from continuing to make clear that she would not support a second independence referendum. Such a position would reflect the views of Scottish Labour supporters and voters, who are overwhelmingly in favour of Scotland being in both the Europe and the UK.

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40 thoughts on “Scotland’s place in Europe?

  1. Mark,
    Although I agree that we should support the Scot Gov where we can, the border issue is key. I can’t see how Scotland can remain inside the EU when rUK is outside of it – particularly if we operate non-trivial differences in immigration/movement of people policy.

    I have not read the whole of the document, but it strikes me as being a bit of a wish list (I won’t mention Santa). Indeed, I think it is notable that it was not endorsed by the SNP Gov’s own expert panel on Brexit…

    Personally, I think (hope?) Brexit won’t be that bad. I think if we keep pressure on the Tories we will get something along the lines that Keir Starmer has been calling for:

    1. I believe Brexit will be bad – and certainly the UK govt approach has a high possibility of getting the worst of all possible worlds out of any eventual deal. Re Keir Starmer, he talks a lot of sense BUT I don’t think UK will be able to keep access/membership to single market without at the very least major concessions on free movement: and anyway, I do not think that Labour politicians should be giving up on the broad case for free movement.
      As regards the issue generally, you will know or have guessed that since the Iraq war I have disagreed with Tony Blair on many issues. But he is absolutely right to question the idea that the UK leaving the EU is an inevitability. Do we believe that UKIP and their allies in the Tory Party (and their handful of allies in Labour) would have just gone quiet if the referendum had gone the other way? If Brexit is going to take us over a cliff, shouldn’t we have second thoughts about jumping off?

      1. I agree to some extent – Brexit will be a process, not an event. We will transition away (over years) from a EU which is changing – that journey may never be complete.

        1. Yer gibbering again. You have no basis of fact or evidence to support your claims. All the indications we have from both the UK Government and the EU negotiating team point to a very speedy Brexit. That’s seems to be the only point of agreement coming out of both camps.
          You’re a willful fantasist. Is this you pushing for Leadership of Labour in Scotland now?

    2. The UK Government believes its plausible to operate such a border between NI and the RoI.
      In those terms the UK border will already be wide open so having the same border between Scotland and England would make zero impact or difference in terms of movement of people between the EU and the UK now will it?
      You’re just incapable of accepting anything the SNP proposes on principle or should I say lack of principle even when they are bending over backwards to provide options for Scotland to remain in both the EU and UK. Your own preferred option!
      Face it if Scotland cant remain in the EU single market as part of the UK then its ending the UK. Thats my preferred option yet you’re the one attacking a proposal that tries to get you your preferred option.
      You’re just being an arse as usual.
      Labour is poorly served by having the likes of you linked to it.

      1. Mike,
        There is no firm proposal for what will happen at the RoI/NI border. The Scotland/England border issue is non-trivial – read Mark’s comments above.

        Can you be clear about what you disagree in Kier Starmer’s speech?

        Oh, and I’m pretty sure this is not based on rational economic analysis: “Face it if Scotland cant remain in the EU single market as part of the UK then its ending the UK. Thats my preferred option yet you’re the one attacking a proposal that tries to get you your preferred option.”

        1. We aint discussing firm proposals at this point though are we? We are talking about possibilities plausibility planning and practicalities.
          Nicola Sturgeon has put forward feasible practical plausible proposals and plans for Scotland with regards to Brexit as she promised she would its now up to the UK Government to give them due consideration with regards to the consequences of taking action on them or ignoring them.
          The UK Government has already “STATED” clearly that it is willing and able to make consideration for keeping open borders between NI and RoI.
          Lets see if they will do the same with Scotland.

          “Oh, and I’m pretty sure this is not based on rational economic analysis:”

          Nothing about Brexit was based on rational economic analysis. It was based on xenophobia and an insurgence of English nationalism.

          Again you answer with nothing but willful gibbering because yer unable to have an actual genuine point of view worth arguing with.
          All you have in your miserable life is SNP bad.

          1. Mike, I asked if your view was based on “rational economic analysis”. You appear to be conceding that it’s not. I guess you, like UKIP, want independence at any cost.

            Nicola Sturgeon has put forward “practical plausible proposals and plans” which her own experts don’t support and Spain has rejected.

    3. “the border issue is key”

      Dr Scott on the news last night it said that there is no need for physical borders as the future of borders are being superseded by digital technology so in effect you don’t need a physical man made border if a border was needed at all it could be done by digital technology monitoring. As for Scotland if it can get an agreement from the UK government and the EU to stay in the single market and freedom of movement then the UK would not need a hard border because any Europeans working in Scotland would have a new Scottish national insurance number and if they sneaked into England would not be allowed to work claim benefits and remain there and would be deported back to Scotland. I am happy to see that through this article by Mark there is somebody who has come up with some good ideas and has not been blinkered and has a best for Scotland approach so I say jolly well done Mark.

        1. Scott. Ed Miliband stated that there would be a border with armed guards between Scotland and England, while both Labour and Tory parties want a minimalist border between Ireland and the UK.
          Is that still your position?
          You want to reward a country whose independence is due to an armed insurrection, which stayed neutral during an existential war, and some of whose citizens have bombed and shot UK citizens over the last hundred years—-meanwhile you want to punish Scots whose contribution to the defence of the UK is beyond reproach.
          Nice one, Scott!

          1. No he didn’t. It really is astonishing how the loudest voices decrying the dishonesty of the mainstream media are the very same ones who frequently echo the lies that suit them.

          2. Gavin,
            you need to calm down. I don’t want to “punish” anyone.

            We both know that that Scotland / rUK border would be an issue. Wishing it away won’t change that.

        2. Yes he did, Duncan. Don’t try to slide away from your party history.
          No one is “wishing away” the border issue Scott. What we want is consistency between the differing proposals for Ireland and for Scotland.
          What you BritNats are up to on this issue smacks of racism.

          1. No he did not. You are thinking of a mainstream media headline, not what he actually said. I repeat, for someone so keen on dismissing the evil MSM, you use their lies when it suits you.

          2. Gavin,
            Who is “we”? The situation with the RoI border is somewhat different, and there are no firm proposals to fix it!

            BTW: when you resort to name calling it’s a clear sign you’ve lost the argument.

        3. So Duncan, when the British Nationalist media push a propaganda story about a Labour Leaders speech we shouldn’t believe it? Well, that’s a new spin for you lot!
          But will you respond to the different things your media chums print about an English/Scottish border and an Irish/UK border. Is it true you and your Tory allies will reward the Irish and punish us Scots?

  2. Well done Mark, good to see that there are still people in the Labour party who can look at proposals put forward & judge them on their merits instead of the knee jerk responses of SNP bad & scrap independence that we’ve become used to. Perhaps there’s some hope for the Labour party yet.

  3. So Labours plan for handling Brexit is to keep everything crossed & hope. Brilliant strategy, masterful even

  4. Their you go, someone from labour offers a wee clink of light towards Scotland’s interests, then bang the door is slammed shut again, as someone with labour interests first, intervenes.

  5. An actual thoughtful article for a change. But it seems unionism is still unable to be honest about the actual constitutional setup of the UK.

    “it would seem inconceivable that the EU would let Scotland, as a non-sovereign state, be a member.”

    How can Scotland be perceived as a non sovereign state when its territory is recognised Internationally as being defined within National borders.
    Scotland the Nation State is in a Parliamentary union with the Nation States of England and Wales. The territory of Scotland was not annexed. Scotland kept its sovereignty within this joint Parliamentary union.
    We’re told constantly we are a Union of equals in terms of our distinctive and separate National identities.
    The UK Governments own submission describing the Constitutional setup of the UK to the United Nations confirms this.
    Therefore Scotland is already a Sovereign nation state within the UN as is England and Wales. Westminster is the Joint Parliamentary representation of these Nation States in the same way that Brussels is the Joint Parliamentary representation between its member States inclusive of Scotland England and Wales.
    NI has its own separate treaty with the Parliament of the UK and is already outwith the constitutional setup of the UK anyway.
    The concept we’re supposed to believe is that the UK is England and England is the UK. It may actually operate in this manner but its doing so unconstitutionally illegitimately and illegally.
    Brexit being a case in point. There is no constitutional justification to remove Scotland and NI out of the EU based on a Majority UK wide vote.
    Yoons need to stop pretending that the UK is a Nation State and acknowledge that its simply a parliamentary representation between nation states.

    1. The UK Government seem to admit that Scotland is a separate country themselves:

      10.2.1 United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
      (Usually shortened to United Kingdom)
      The United Kingdom is a constitutional Monarchy consisting of four constituent parts:
      ** 2 countries: England + Scotland
      * 1 principality: Wales
      * I province: Northern Ireland.
      The abbreviation is UK or U.K.; the code (according to the ISO 3166-1 standard) is GB/GBR.
      10.2.2 Great Britain
      Great Britain consists of England + Scotland + Wales. The term is exclusive of Northern Ireland and is therefore not a synonym for the term United Kingdom. Note that the word “Great” is not in any way intended as an indicator of self-styled “greatness”; it simply derives from the French term Grande-Bretagne (“Greater Brittany” or “Larger Brittany”), used since mediaeval times to distinguish the British Isles from Bretagne (“Brittany”, the region of north-western France).

  6. The SNP position on the EU referendum is a total joke. If they were truly interested in more power being invested upon the Scottish people they would want out of the EU.

    The “there will be another referendum if Scotland is taken out of the EU against her will” is a third rate con trick.

    In 2014 Scotland voted to remain part of the UK.

    In 2016 we voted as the UK whether to remain in, or leave the EU.

    It was a UK wide vote, every vote stacked and every vote counted.

    How Scotland voted made not one shred of difference.

    The SNP’s latest set of “proposals” are an undemocratic dog’s dinner. Only the truly gullible or desperate would think that they were any good.

    Face the facts Mark, it’s over.

    1. “How Scotland voted made not one shred of difference.”

      And right there is the constitutional deficit that is the UK. That’s the problem right there from Scotlands perspective. And every Scot should be disgusted and deeply concerned about that point! What kind of a Scot would actually support that concept?
      You people have no sense of self awareness at all.
      This crap even tops yer rant about the people of Scotland having the privilege of serving the Labour party.
      What is it with Labour drones and gibbering drivel?

      1. Mike,

        The people of Scotland voted to remain part of the UK.

        The people of the UK voted to leave the EU.

        Do you get it now? Cloth ears.

        1. Andy, why did Tony Blair, John Major, David Cameron, Nick Clegg and a whole host of other BritNats state there would be a second independence referendum, if there was a differential vote between Scotland and England in the Brexit referendum?
          They presumably think Scots have a democratic and sovereign right to their point of view.
          In a Union of Equals, why don’t you?

          1. Gavin,

            You’re being taken for a ride.

            There isn’t going to be a second Scottish independence referendum.

            The Scottish working class has never been weaker or more divided.

            The SNP……..

            Stronger for Scotland?

            Pass the sick bag.

          2. My prediction is that there will be Indyref2 by 2022. Brexit is going to be a catastrophe in economic terms.
            May and Corbyn are utterly out of their depths on this. Corbyn has committed electoral suicide by following behind UKIP on this.
            Scottish Labour conned the Scots for half a century about their place in “the Union”.
            No wonder you feel queasy—you’ve been rumbled!

        2. So now your saying Scotlands vote does count? Your gibbering is all over the place.
          The people of Scotland voted to remain part of the UK in 2014. Time didn’t stop at that point Andy it continued on as did people rights and privileges to vote and vote again for what they want. We’re even allowed to change our minds. All of us. If you don’t want to vote again in another Indyref you don’t actually have to but you cant stop those of us who do want to vote again. You don’t actually have the right to try.
          The people of Scotland and NI voted to remain in the EU ONLY the people of England and Wales voted to leave. So NO the people of the UK did not voted to leave at all. The UK is a Parliamentary representation of 4 distinct separate States. 2 voted to remain 2 voted to leave that’s a constitutional impasse.
          Get it now? Gibbering fantasist.

          1. BINGO!!!!!

            You’ve got it Mike, you’ve finally cracked it.

            Well done Mike. I’m so very proud of you.

            In the New Year we will work hard on the next part which is……..The people of the UK voted to leave the EU in 2016.

            Merry Christmas

            PS – remember to leave a carrot and a glass of milk out for Santa.

  7. Good article and refreshing to hear Labour contributors not just rubbish something straight away because it comes from the SNP.

    I appreciate there are many hurdles in the way from a practical point of view but I do think Scotland can remain in the EEA even if the rUK doesn’t, while still complying with our membership of the UK.

    From 2016 onwards people domiciled in Scotland will have a tax status or code associated with living in Scotland.

    Different voting rights for the different layers of elections is possible due to where a person has a registered home address on the electoral role.

    I can’t see why there would be a higher risk of fraud attached to someone having EEA status in Scotland.

    Where businesses are registered and operate might be more complex.

    But in any case, I don’t think wild claims about the prospect of a hard border between Scotland have any credibility.

    For as long as the MOD own or operate major facilities in Scotland, they need to be able to transport supplies and logistics around the UK to the bases by road freely and easily.

    There are currently some 50-60 MOD facilities based in Scotland and most are there because they have a major strategic importance for being there.

    It just wouldn’t be practical for safety reasons to have nuclear convoys taking the warheads to and from Coulport to the AWE in Berkshire for maintenance, if they had to stop at customs queues and border checks.

    The convoys would be a sitting duck for terrorists.

    You could create a special separate lane at the customs point on the roads to allow them to pass through without waiting but if there were longer queues leading to tailbacks and traffics jams on the main road then that wouldn’t necessarily solve the problem.

    Even if Scotland had chosen independence, it would take some 5-10 years, taking an optimistic point of view, for the MOD to close and relocate all of their major facilities from Scotland to somewhere else in the UK.

    Coulport took 5 years to build when it hosted Polaris and 13 years to complete the upgrade for the Trident programme.

    You would need to keep the bases on the Clyde until replacements were designed and built and in order to keep the bases operating effectively, you would need an open border between Scotland and England at least in the short to medium term.

  8. Excellent article. If Labour is ever to be taken seriously in Scotland again it needs to approach things differently from the past: it should always put Scotland’s interests ahead of wider UK interests and it should be willing to agree with other parties when what they say makes sense.

  9. Scott Arthur

    “I asked if your view was based on “rational economic analysis”.

    No you actually didn’t you bare faced compulsive liar.

    What you did was pass a judgement not ask any question about my point of view on anything.

    “Oh, and I’m pretty sure this is not based on rational economic analysis”

    But if you are asking then the answer is clearly yes because in simple straight forward economic terms Full fiscal autonomy (Economic Independence) will always be greater in value than less than full fiscal autonomy (Economic Devolution).

    Show me I’m wrong.

  10. “Nicola Sturgeon has put forward “practical plausible proposals and plans” which her own experts don’t support and Spain has rejected.”

    Spain is the only EU member to reject the proposals Scott. Shame Spain isn’t negotiating Brexit though eh Scott? Shame they wont actually be able to reject anything about Brexit though eh? Didn’t you get the memo?

    Spains “rejection” is meaningless. As long as the EU negotiators are in favour then that’s the way it will go. AND THEY ARE!

    It was Nicola Sturgeons “OWN EXPERTS” who put together the proposal you willful lying wee troll.

  11. family away home telly on oxygen on queen on and I don’t mean Freddie. so switch the laptop on and what do I see you wilful lying wee troll and gibbering bullshit as usual. and we are not even over Christmas yet. better than the telly. happy days

  12. It’s heartening to see that there is still a rump of automatic SNPBAD Labour(!) people like Andy around. We need them to be as vocal as possible to ensure that the present Labour Party in Scotland dies soon, and can then be replaced by a real left-wing party which will work in Scotland’s interests.

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