The result of the EU referendum (Brexit) has caused one of the biggest crisis in recent times for the UK. In the early hours of Friday June 24th 2016, the United Kingdom effectively died as the poll results showed Scotland voting to remain in the EU by a considerable margin whilst England and Wales voted to leave. The overall result for the UK was for Brexit, triggering the nightmare scenario of Scotland being ‘dragged’ out of the EU against the will of its voters or its best interests (together with Gibraltar and Northern Ireland). Scotland is a very pro-European country, making this the worst possible scenario possible for its people and those EU citizens that have chosen to make Scotland their home.
The weekend following the referendum saw one of the most astounding situations in British political history that I have ever witnessed: The total lack of, well, anything really. A total power vacuum as senior government ministers vanished from sight. The very people that should have had a contingency plan ready to drop into place to calm the financial markets and reassure EU citizens living in the UK simply vanished without a murmur – for days.
Such a vacuum presented the Labour Party a golden opportunity to gain ground against the Conservative party – except – the Blairite side of the Parliamentary Labour Party chose the time to create a crisis of their own and challenge its leader with a vote of no confidence. As for the ‘Leave’ campaigners – they too managed to make a complete hash of their increasingly hollow victory with contradictory media statements. Clearly, they too has made no plans of their own – not even anything written on the back of an envelope. This was topped by the effective abdication of responsibility by senior figures involved in the Leave campaign as they resigned or withdrew in droves (along with the England football team coach, but that’s another matter!).
There was certainly no plan A anywhere except in Scotland. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and her team had made contingency plans for a leave vote and quickly implemented it. Ms Sturgeon outlined her determination to keep Scotland in the EU and would take all necessary steps to achieve that goal. IndyRef2 is firmly back on the table and she was keen to reassure EU citizens living in Scotland that their contribution was valued and they were always welcome.
At the time, retaining EU membership looked liked it would be an uphill struggle – a serious struggle. However, the Scottish Government openend a charm offensive which saw Ms Sturgeon visit Brussels, organise meetings with the diplomatic corps and establish a team of experts to look at ways in which Scotland could remain in the EU after Brexit. One option on the table is the ‘reverse Greenland’ scenario where Scotland would retain EU membership whilst remaining in the UK. Ms Sturgeon has to consider that option in the light of those who voted ‘No’ in the 2014 independence referendum.
However, I suspect that the EU will have little time for that sort of option (Spain has objected alongside France). The ‘federal UK’ option being bandied about by unionist party leaders in Scotland won’t gain any traction either for a multitude of reasons. Europe won’t like anything that allows rUK to have a toe in the EU water after Brexit. It wants a clean break with the UK – no negotiations until Article 50 has been triggered. As far as some European leaders are concerned, should Scotland be part of the UK at the point of Brexit, Scotland leaves too, even though some are aware that than out-in for Scotland would be a preposterous situation and one that would prove costly and wasteful to both sides.
Many pro-UK media commentators have seen this as a snub to Scotland and have taken the stance that we should lump it and accept the EU referendum result as a nationwide poll. This ignores the fact that Scotland is a country and a nation even though it does not have statehood – something many UK citizens do not fully appreciate. This is a fact that is being fast recognised by our fellow European citizens – that Scotland is not a region or shire county of England, but a separate country, with its own laws, culture and economy, and one that wants desperately to remain part of the family of EU nations.
In the week following the vote, Ms Sturgeon visited Brussels where she had meetings with senior EU leaders including Jean-Claude Juncker and Martin Schulz. Contrary to what was reported in much of the UK media, it appears that Scotland is pushing against doors that are at least ajar, if not wide open. Ms Sturgeon was widely and warmly welcomed as EU officials came to realise that Scotland would be the post Brexit damage-limitation exercise they desperately needed. Scotland’s positive approach together with the market turmoil following the leave vote has silenced many eurosceptic voices throughout the continent. Scotland also has a great deal to offer Europe as a member state.
However, there is one over-riding feature of all the amazing encouragement that Scotland has received from Europe in the last two weeks. It is not difficult to see where Europe is going with its interaction with Scotland:
Guy Verhofstadt – Former Belgian prime minister and MEP: “No big obstacle to independent Scotland joining EU.”
Jean-Claude Juncker – President of the European Commission: “Scotland won their right to be heard in Brussels.”
Manfred Weber, a top MEP and key ally of German chancellor Angela Merkel: “Scotland and even Northern Ireland would be welcome to remain members of the EU.”
Gunther Krichbaum, a member of Angela Merkel’s conservatives and chairman of the European affairs committee in parliament, said an independent Scotland would be welcome to join the European Union. “The EU will still consist of 28 member states, as I expect a new independence referendum in Scotland, which will then be successful. We should respond quickly to an application for admission from this EU-friendly country”, he told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper.
Micheál Martin, leader of Fianna Fáil, the second largest party in the Republic of Ireland: “I and my party believe that it would be unacceptable for Scotland to be treated as a normal candidate country should it seek to remain as a member of the EU. It currently implements all EU laws. It manifestly would not need to be reviewed for its standards of governance and ability to implement EU laws. It has a strong administration, a distinct legal system and an absolute commitment to European ideals. Scotland is strong enough to advocate for itself, but Ireland should be its friend and demand fair play should it seek to remain in the EU.”
Robert Fico, the prime minister of Slovakia said his diplomats would help to negotiate an amicable separation modelled on the so-called velvet divorce that resulted in the break up of Czechoslovakia in 1993 if Scotland decides to leave the UK in order to stay in the EU. It appears that Lubomir Rehak, the Slovakian Ambassador to the UK has already engaged in talks with Scottish Government ministers.