Independent Scotland will gain automatic entry to Europe, says top EC expert

Graham Avery

An independent Scotland will continue to be a member of the European Union (EU) and will not have to re-apply according to Graham Avery, Honorary Director-General of the European Commission and Senior Adviser at the European Policy Centre in Brussels.

Mr Avery, one of the UK’s most experienced academic authorities on European affairs, has provided written evidence to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee at Westminster. In it he states: “Scotland’s five million people, having been members of the EU for 40 years, have acquired rights as European citizens.

“For practical and political reasons they could not be asked to leave the EU and apply for readmission.”

The report goes on to cite other EU states as parallels saying: “The point can be illustrated by considering another example: if a break-up of Belgium were agreed between Wallonia and Flanders, it is inconceivable that other EU members would require 11 million people to leave the EU and then reapply for membership.”

Avery’s submission claims that precedents have been set regarding changing entry criteria in special circumstances saying: “As in the case of German reunification, the EU would adopt a simplified procedure under which the Commission would be asked to conduct exploratory talks with Edinburgh, London and other capitals, and submit proposals. Although an intergovernmental conference would be needed, it would not be of the kind that handles accession negotiations with non-member countries.”

The findings were welcomed by Blair Jenkins, chief executive of Yes Scotland who said: “This is an extremely significant and important contribution from an eminent and vastly-experienced European policy adviser.

‘People in Scotland should be reassured that an independent Scotland will remain a member of the European Union.”

Political Wrangle

The report follows calls from Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie for first minister Alex Salmond to clarify an independent Scotland’s EU membership. He said “The SNP have been guessing that Scotland would continue in the European Union on the same terms. But Scotland deserves facts, not more guesswork.

“If the SNP is wrong the consequences could be severe – including being forced to join the Euro, accept Schengen and lose the rebate.”

Rennie went on to highlight the possibility that Spain may seek to block Scotland’s membership. He added: “If the Spanish veto an independent Scotland’s smooth transition to the EU in 2015 it will be too late for Scotland to turn back. We simply can’t wait until 2015 for a Spanish veto; we need to know before the referendum.”

The Liberal Democrat leader’s statement had been preceded by a stormy First Minister’s Questions where Rennie backed Labour leader Johann Lamont’s proposal for an independent judicial review into whether Salmond had lied over taking legal advice on an independent Scotland joining the European Union.

However, former Labour first minister Henry Mcleish poured scorn on such a review claiming that the Labour leader had her priorities wrong. He said: “I think our energy, our focus could be used in better ways because at the end of the day this is unlikely to happen. There are far more important areas where Labour could win many converts and score political goals.”

Speaking on STV’s Scotland Tonight programme Mcleish also claimed that while Salmond had mishandled the affair he did not think that the first minister had lied. He said: “I don’t think he’s misled. But he hasn’t handled the situation well.”

Original here

SNP hit back at Lib Dems over home rule

The SNP have once again slammed Lib Dem plans for extra powers for Holyrood as an alternative to independence.

In the wake of Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie’s conference address in Dunfermline, which highlighted the party’s home rule policy, on Saturday a SNP spokesperson said:  “The Lib Dems have been proposing Home Rule for one hundred years – how many more talking shops do they need?

“Far from being a way to achieve more powers for the Scottish Parliament, people are becoming increasingly aware that a No vote will roll back the achievements of devolution through continued Westminster austerity.

“Only a Yes vote can protect policies such as free personal care and free tuition, by giving Scotland the economic powers that can maximize the benefit of our vast natural and human resources and allow us to flourish.”

In his address Mr Rennie stressed that he saw home rule as a viable option saying: “Scotland has an alternative.

“If we want to keep our influential place in international bodies, but with strong domestic powers, people don’t have to look very far from this room.

“Home rule for Scotland in a federal United Kingdom keeps us as a powerful force for good in the world.”

Under the proposals a swathe of extra constitutional and financial powers would be devolved to Scotland from Westminster. Mr Rennie hailed the plan and said that it: “puts the Lib Dems, once again, ahead of the debate.”

The chairman of the committee responsible for the home rule proposals, Sir Menzies Campbell MP, claimed that they were a natural progression from the current devolution set-up. He said: “Since 1999 when devolution was in its infancy the Scottish Parliament has matured and grown in strength and authority.  The time has come for it to move to a fully-fledged partner as a Home Rule Parliament within a federal United Kingdom.

“With home rule and federalism the Scottish Parliament would have permanent powers, not powers on loan.  This would give us the mature constitutional authority required to work in partnership with the rest of the UK’s parliaments and assembles.”

The Lib Dems policy will not be able to be considered until after the 2014 independence referendum as there will be no second question regarding extra powers for the Scottish parliament.

Original here

SNP point to nuclear free future

Bill Kidd MSP (Credit: Scottish Parliament)

The SNP have welcomed a report from the Westminster Scottish Affairs Committee which states that an independent Scotland could become nuclear free “within months”.

The party leadership will be keen to use the report to reassure backbenchers after the resignation of MSPs John Finnie and Jean Urqhart over the party’s decision to end its opposition to NATO membership.

Bill Kidd MSP, who is a member of the international group a member of the Council of Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament, hailed the report. He said: “These findings are to be welcomed, and only enhance the case for an independent Scotland where we can move forward towards a country free from Trident nuclear weapons.

“Trident is not wanted in Scotland, and never has been – yet the UK government are proposing to waste £100bn dumping another generation of Trident nuclear weapons on the River Clyde. With independence, we can ensure that Scotland’s shre of the money wasted on Trident is diverted to building a stronger and fairer society.”

The debate over whether the party should change its stance to NATO dominated the first half of last week’s SNP conference in Perth. Two days of fringe meetings and lobbying culminated in a fiery debate on Friday afternoon where the new policy was passed by a narrow margin.

The subsequent resignations from the party of Finnie and Urqhart had sparked fears that other MSPs such as Kidd, Jamie Hepburn and Sandra White, who all opposed the motion, could follow suit.

However, party chiefs will be hopeful that the report will appease disgruntled members with its statement that: “The Committee has heard in evidence that nuclear weapons in Scotland could be disarmed within days and removed within months.”

Kidd also raised the issue of an independent Scotland having a written constitution which would prohibit nuclear weapons, an idea that was floated in Perth. Kidd said: “A key advantage of independence is that it is the only constitutional option which gives Scotland the powers to have Trident removed from Scottish waters. And the SNP also propose a specific ban on basing nuclear weapons in Scotland in the written constitution of an independent Scotland.

Original here

Rennie backs Lib Dem vision of federalism

Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie

Scottish Lib Dem leader, Willie Rennie has spoken in support of the ‘Federalism: the best future for Scotland’, report from the Scottish Liberal Democrat’s Home Rule and Community Rule Commission.

The report claims that a form of enhanced devolution, with Scotland given full tax varying powers, within a federal United Kingdom is the best way forward for Scotland. At the launch of the report, which would see the historic Act of Union between Scotland and England being scrapped and replaced by a declaration of federal union, commission chairman Sir Menzies Campbell MP claimed that the current devolved set-up was “unsustainable”.

Mr Rennie stated that his party’s vision will serve Scotland better than the SNP’s independence policy. He said: “Our ambition is to improve the social, environmental and economic well-being of Scotland.

“That ambition can be best achieved when we have a parliament with the powers and responsibilities that enable it to be sensitive and flexible to local needs while able to share risks and rewards with the rest of the UK.

“Home Rule within a federal UK embeds that local power and the means to share with our partners.”

Mr Rennie goes on to acknowledge that the current constitutional setup is no longer relevant for Scotland. He said: “Since 1999 when devolution was in its infancy the Scottish Parliament has matured and grown in strength and authority. The time has come for it to move to a fully-fledged partner as a Home Rule Parliament within a federal United Kingdom.”

Despite the Lib Dems strong opposition to any question regarding enhanced devolution being included in the independence referendum, Mr Rennie claims that his party will be working towards increased federal powers for Holyrood stating: “We will use these plans to lead the debate, to build a consensus and secure a mandate for reform at the next general election. We urge people who like our plans to come on side and make the case for this change.”

Original article here

Tory independence dividend

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson

The party conference season is in full swing and the Conservative  party took centre stage this week. The early part of the week was dominated by the Scottish Conservatives and leader Ruth Davidson’s provocative claim that Scotland is a nation of benefit ‘junkies’. A statement that even Michael Forsyth questioned.

Beyond this one of the main features of the conference was the extensive use of the union flag and a lot of better together rhetoric from the platform and across social media. Pretty much as you would expect from the party most strongly identified with unionism.

Unlike the Scottish Labour party who are now self-identified as a unionist party the Conservatives campaigned against devolution and even their official title in Scotland contains the word unionist. Yet, ironically, it was the very establishment of the Scottish parliament that they campaigned against, along with proportional representation, which made them a political factor in Scotland.

If Holyrood did not exist the Conservative representation on the national stage would comprise of a solitary Westminster MP. Without proportional representation, another innovation the party has railed against, their quota of MSPs would also be substantially reduced.

Now looking forward to what a post-independence Scotland could look like politically it is the very party that is most strenuously opposed to the concept that could be the biggest winners. The toxic Tories label still hangs around the neck of the party in Scotland preventing substantial electoral gains. Yet scratch below the surface and many Scots are conservative with a small c in their views and could quite easily support a centre-right party minus the Thatcher baggage.

Murdo Fraser recognised this in his 2011 leadership campaign and wanted to re-brand the party. It was too much of a leap of faith for the rank and file and the younger but more traditional Ruth Davidson triumphed. Any cutting, or even loosening, of ties with the UK party was unthinkable for many in the party but it is difficult not to come to the conclusion that it would be beneficial.

Some Conservatives in Scotland may have thought, indeed may still think, that they can ‘wait it out’ until the residual Thatcher inspired hatred subsides in Scotland. The problem is that it shows no signs of abating any time soon. How many people in Scotland agree with Conservative policies but claim they could never vote Tory because their dad/mum/grandparents would disown them? A whole generation of voters exist who were not even born when Thatcher was Prime Minister yet they have had it drummed into them by their parents that they can never forgive the Conservative party.

Similarly politicians such as Davidson and Gavin Brown are tarred with the toxic Tory brush despite being at school through the Thatcher years and regardless of their personal qualities and performance.

So if devolution made the Conservative party a political factor in Scotland it could be their nightmare scenario, an independent Scotland, that makes them a political force again.

Imagine a renamed and reinvigorated centre-right party in Scotland free from the shadow of Thatcherism and free from the image, real or imagined, of millionaire home county Tories imposing legislation on Scotland. Such a party could be a serious force in an independent Scotland. Or the party could get what it wants, the status quo with the Conservatives as hated as ever north of the border and gaining little more than a token elected presence.

Original article here

Scottish independence: Yes Scotland launch top team

Yes Scotland, the principle campaign group for a yes vote at the independence referendum, has announced five new executive directors.

The organisation’s chief executive Blair Jenkins OBE revealed that Jacqueline Caldwell, Susan Stewart, Shirley-Anne Somerville, Stan Blackley and Ian Dommett would make up the team.

Jacqueline Caldwell was previously a business manager for the RBS group and she becomes the director of operations. Of her new role she said: “’I am delighted to have the opportunity to contribute to this historic campaign and to play my part in helping to shape the future of Scotland.”

New director of communications, Susan Stewart, is a former senior diplomat who has been director of corporate communications at Glasgow University for the last seven years.

Shirley-Anne Somerville was a SNP MSP in the Lothians for four years until she lost her seat at the 2011 Holyrood elections. Since then she has been working as a strategist for the party and she will be the director of communities. Stan Blackley, ex-chief executive of Friends of the Earth Scotland, will be Ms Somervile’s deputy.

The director of marketing will be Ian Dommett who has a background in the area including playing a key role in devising and delivering the marketing strategy that helped return the SNP government to Holyrood with an overall majority last year.

Mr Jenkins insisted that the five new appointments provided Yes Scotland with the strongest possible team. He said: “I said when I took on this role that I wanted a team of the highest calibre to match such an important and historic event in Scotland’s future direction. I can say with certainty that with these appointments this goal has been achieved.

“I am thrilled and delighted to welcome aboard Jacqui, Susan, Shirley-Anne, Ian and Stan, marking another major step in building the country’s largest ever community-based campaign.

“Each one of them has a proven track record in his or her field of expertise and I am confident that with their input and commitment we can deliver a Yes vote in 2014.”

The announcement comes as the group prepares to participate in the first national march and rally for independence on 22 September. The independently organised event aims to give a platform to voices from across the political and social spectrum that back a yes vote in the independence referendum. Organisers plan to hold similar events in September 2013 and 2014 in the run up to the vote.

The inaugural event which will take place in Edinburgh will feature speakers such as first minister Alex Salmond, Green party leader Patrick Harvie MSP and a host of current and former MSP’s including Margo MacDonald, Dennis Canavan and Colin Fox.

Co-organiser Jeff Duncan was keen to stress that the rally will be a non-partisan affair. He said: “The event will bring together people from all political parties including the SNP, Greens, SSP, Labour and even some Liberal and Conservative voters whose views are not catered for within those parties.”

The rally and march follows a recent campaign weekend by the Better Together group, which is campaigning for a no vote, which held a number of smaller events in towns and cities throughout Scotland.

Original article here –

Nicola Sturgeon leaves health in reshuffle

Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has left her post as health secretary in a cabinet reshuffle announced today by Alex Salmond.

Ms Sturgeon, Scotland’s longest serving health secretary, will now become cabinet secretary for infrastructure, investment and cities. Her role as cabinet secretary for health and wellbeing will be assumed by Alex Neil.

She will combine her new post with responsibility for government strategy and the constitution, previously a full cabinet position held by Bruce Crawford. This role will see her driving the SNP government’s independence campaign. Ms Sturgeon commented on her move on Twitter. She said: “It has been a privilege to have been Health Sec – my thanks to all the wonderful people I have worked with. We are so very lucky in our NHS.

I am now really looking forward to [my] new job – working for economic recovery & making the case for Scotland’s future as an independent nation.”

The reshuffle was caused by the retirement of Mr Crawford along with two ministers, Brian Adams who was minister for parliamentary business and the Minister for Environment and Climate Change Stewart Stevenson.

Mr Adams will be replaced by Joe Fitzpatrick, MSP for Dundee City West while Paul Wheelhouse, MSP for South Scotland, will take over from Mr Stevenson.

Original article here –

Scottish independence: Unionist opponents attack Salmond’s referendum focus

Opposition politicians have accused First Minister Alex Salmond of giving the Scottish independence campaign priority over Scotland’s well-being.

The comments follow Mr Salmond’s decision to move his deputy Nicola Sturgeon from her post as health secretary to spearhead the government’s referendum campaign.

Critics have hit out at the move dubbing Ms Sturgeon the “minister for independence”. The Scottish Lib Dem leader, Willie Rennie, said: “This reshuffle shows that the SNP government only has eyes for independence. They are more interested in running the referendum than running the country. We have repeatedly warned that the SNP would use the power of Government to split Scotland from the rest of the UK.

Increasing numbers of civil servants are devoted to breaking up Britain draining desperately needed resources to the achieving the SNP’s ambition. With the appointment of the Deputy First Minister to the post of Minister for Independence our fears have been confirmed.”

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson echoed these sentiments claiming that the government should be concentrating on issues such as increasing NHS waiting lists. She went on to say:

“That the health of the nation now plays second fiddle to the break-up of Britain says it all about this SNP administration.

“The First Minister has moved his most trusted lieutenant from one of Scotland’s most critical briefs to pursue his narrow nationalist agenda.

“The sooner the distraction of the referendum is behind us the better, and Alex Salmond can do what he was elected to do which is to serve the best interests of all Scots, and not simply champion those of the separatist minority.”

Veteran Labour MSP Malcolm Chisholm also criticised Ms Sturgeon’s new role saying: “Alex Neil knows a thing or two about infrastructure little about health, Nicola Sturgeon vice versa. Appalling [that] only [the] referendum matters now.”

However, the Scottish Green Party were more conciliatory in their response with co-convener Patrick Harvie urging ministers to make the most of their new posts. Mr Harvie said: “We welcome the focus on building the case for independence and promoting economic recovery, and urge the Scottish Government to be bold. Nicola Sturgeon needs to build a positive, compelling vision of a more equal and forward-thinking Scotland rather than trying not to scare the horses.


Original article here –

Scottish independence: Salmond faces questions over EU membership

First Minister Alex Salmond clashed with Labour leader Johann Lamont and her Lib Dem counterpart Willie Rennie over the issue of whether an independent Scotland will automatically be a member of EU should Scots vote for independence in 2014.

Ms Lamont went on the attack citing comments from the president of the European commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, which had been reported as suggesting that an independent Scotland would have to reapply for membership.

The Labour leader at Holyrood asked whether Mr Barroso was wrong to say this. Mr Salmond responded by accusing the Labour leader of misquoting EU officials.

Mr Salmond went on to defend his government’s stance on EU membership stating that a post-independence Scotland would still be part of the EU and would not have to apply for membership in the same way as a country outside the EU such as Turkey would.

He said: “Scotland is not an accession state; we’ve been members of the European Union for 40 years.
“We are not in the position of a country which is not part of the European Union, and that means of course there have to be negotiations, but the crucial point is that these negotiations take place from within the context of the European Union.”

When his opportunity to question the first minister arrived, LibDem leader Willie Rennie asked if Mr Salmond had considered the consequences if his view on the subject was wrong. He said: “Could we be forced to join the Eurozone and the Schengen agreement? Could we lose the European rebate? These are serious questions which voters deserve legitimate and expert answers to. It is unacceptable to ask people to vote for independence on the basis of an assessment cobbled together by the SNP.”

Mr Salmond countered by claiming that, contrary to claims made by Unionist politicians, no one in Europe wants to force Scotland out of the EU.

The argument flared up as it emerged that Scotland could find itself outside the EU if it remains part of the United Kingdom. A survey called Transatlantic Trends, conducted by the Washington-based GMF think-tank has shown that the majority of UK citizens believe that membership of the EU is not good for the domestic economy.

The figures show that only 40 percent of Britons now believe the EU is good for the British economy. With Prime Minister David Cameron seemingly committed to holding a referendum on EU membership when the opportunity arises there appears to be doubt over Scotland’s on-going EU membership regardless of the independence referendum result.


Original article here –

Labour group liveblog

On Monday I took part in a liveblog with the Edinburgh Council Labour group for the Edinburgh Reporter. It was the first one I have been involved in running and it was a good, if somewhat stressful experience.

The day started slowly as a number of technical issues prevented us from getting Andrew Burns and Ricky Henderson from the Labour group online. We were also worried that there were very few questions coming in from the public as the whole point of these events is to get the public involved and give them a chance to question their elected officials directly.

Once we got up and running and started tweeting about the event questions did begin to come in. The main reason for the timing of the blog was the launch of Labours Moving Edinburgh Forward consultation document last week. Councillors Burns and Henderson were very generous with their time and open with their answers. However, looking back at the event and the Moving Edinburgh Forward launch a few potential pitfalls struck me.

Firstly during the liveblog the councillors occasionally fell into ‘political speak’ using phrases like ‘rationalisation’. If they really want to engage with the public and sell them their ideas they will have to speak plainly in language people can understand and not in ways that can be seen as ‘waffle’. Secondly they will have to be on their guard that the co-operative model is not the ‘big society’ by another name. There are many appealing aspects to co-operatives and they should be highlighted – to be fair Burns and Henderson did a fair job of this during the liveblog.

The final point I would say is that it would be very easy for the Labour campaign to become a negative one. So far the group and Burns in particular have been at pains to be positive. They have concentrated on their ideas for improving the city and called for more cross party co-operation. There is a danger however of this changing as election day approaches. There are parts of the literature that could be seen as talking Edinburgh down and making things seem worse than they actually are. Also despite Burns best efforts to keep things positive I get the impression that some in the party are straining at the leash to give the current administration a real kicking and launch  personal campaigns against certain individuals. This would be a mistake, The Labour party suffered a heavy defeat in May’s Holyrood elections on the back of an incredibly negative campaign. Iain Gray appeared to  have a blind spot to the fact this type of campaign wasn’t working. In fact he appears to still have the blind spot as his farewell speech to conference was full of negativity towards the SNP where a positive speech about Labour’s future would have achieved so much more. The party in Edinburgh must learn from these past mistakes.

All in all the event was a success. Hopefully the other political parties in the capital will take up the offer to participate in their own liveblog. It gives the party a chance to speak directly to the electorate and gives the voter a chance to question the people they vote for and that can only be a god thing.