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Michael Burnett: Ensuring a Scottish independence referendum is defeated will mean English politicians staying out of the fray

Michael Burnett was a candidate for the European Parliament in the West Midlands in 2009.

The SNP’s victory in last month’s Scottish Parliament election was a political earthquake whose aftershocks will persist.

Most of the attention so far has been on its implications for the United Kingdom: will it lead to Scottish independence and is a vote for the SNP equivalent to a vote for independence? Should England, Wales and Northern Ireland have a voice in any decision, perhaps by means of a parallel consultative referendum? Others have commented on whether or not Scotland could be economically viable, the implications for Scottish public finances and what would have been the implications of the banking crisis for an independent Scotland.

I'm sure, however, that the decision will not be purely economic. Czech colleagues have spoken in recent years about the peaceful separation of the Czech Republic and Slovakia in the 1990s, which showed that even two relatively poor countries could separate amicably. Their answer was in essence that Slovakia wanted to go and relations are happier on both sides now that they have. They couldn't really identify any loss to them in financial, economic or cultural terms. But Czechs who were married to Slovaks faced dilemmas about where to live after the separation - the languages are very close but would the job opportunities be equal?

And there are some things in life whose value is not appreciated until you don't have them. Will a Union of 300 years prove to mean more than one which lasted 75 years, much of which was spent under Nazi and then communist oppression?

However, in my view not much of this is any business of anyone else than the people of Scotland when they are offered the choice.  And while David Cameron rightly deserves praise for winning the vital AV referendum, I would suggest the best way to secure a Scottish Yes vote for independence is a No campaign in which English politicians of any party (or any English voices) play a prominent role. Even if this were not so, respect for the democratically expressed views of Scottish voters would suggest that a period of silence would be the appropriate response south of the border during any referendum campaign, even from those with impeccable Scottish surnames (including my own).

It is inconceivable that Scotland would want to be independent if it were not to be an EU member. The SNP have asserted that an independent Scotland would automatically become an EU Member State, but this is far from certain (see here and here, for example).

Would Scotland then have a smooth entry path to the EU? There is no precedent for EU enlargement arising from secession from an existing Member State and it is likely that the establishment of such a principle would raise uncomfortable issues for a number of EU Member States, such as, for example, Spain, Italy and Belgium. EU accession requires the consent of all existing Member States. Thus it can be envisaged that there would be a lively debate at EU level about the implications of Scottish EU accession following secession.

And, finally, where would the remainder of the UK stand on Scottish EU accession? It is very unlikely that the remainder of the UK would oppose EU membership for an independent Scotland. But, as is always the case when new states join the EU, we would, along with other Member States, look to protect our essential national interests. A neutral Scotland could be slightly inconvenient, unlike in the era of the Cold War when it might have been positively dangerous.

But in the case of Scottish entry to the EU, we have in reality only one vital national interest ie border controls following the creation of another land frontier. So the UK’s only condition for Scottish accession to the EU should be a legally binding agreement (not justiciable in the European Court of Justice) that an independent Scotland could not join the Schengen area except in the context of a common decision with the remainder of the UK and the Republic of Ireland to do so.

In a UK context, then, the decision about Scotland’s independence is essentially for the people of Scotland alone, but the wider context in which they will make it is very much a European one.


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