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.”

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SNP conference opportunity for Michael Yellowlees

Michael Yellolees

When the SNP conference closed in Perth earlier this month the last person on the platform wasn’t First Minister Alex Salmond or even his deputy, Nicola Sturgeon. Instead the honour fell to young Scottish singer-songwriter Michael Yellowlees.

The Dunkeld-born Edinburgh University student had been handpicked by SNP chiefs to bring proceedings to a close at Perth Concert Hall with his new single Scotland is Ours. John Landau once claimed to have seen the future of rock and roll in Bruce Springsteen and it was another, somewhat more unlikely, John who was responsible for plucking Yellowlees from obscurity.

The young musician’s road to Perth began at a party meeting. Yellowlees explained: “I am a member of the SNP and I was invited to perform Scotland is Ours at a local party meeting. Our MSP is [finance minister] John Swinney and he liked the song and spoke to me about the possibility of performing it at the conference.

“A few weeks later I received a phone call from the conference organiser asking if I would like to perform the song at the conference.”

Spurred on by this, Yellowlees recorded the song and had a cd version produced for sale at the event. He is also in the process of recording his debut album which he hopes to have ready for release in November. While Scotland is Ours is very much in the folk-rock tradition he describes his other material as: “eclectic, some folk, some more rocky tracks and others bluesy.”

His debut single may lyrically be unashamedly political but the story behind the track is a deeply personal one. The words were written as a tribute to Yellowlees grandfather, John Cullen, a lifelong supporter of Scottish independence, who died in April. Adding to the poignancy it was Yellowlees father Robbie who helped him finish writing the song.

Yellowlees said: “One afternoon my dad came round and he helped finish the lyrics with a few lines that really worked.”

He is aware that his appearance is great exposure for an artist who has spent much of the last few years honing his musical skills as a busker. He clearly hopes that it will lead to increased interest in his forthcoming album and subsequent tour.

As for the big moment itself Yellowlees admited that performing this particular song in Perth could prove cathartic for him. He said: “My granddad never missed a [SNP] conference and this is my first one so yes it will be emotional being there.”

With the 2014 independence referendum and Glasgow Commonwealth Games on the horizon there could be a market for the track with its tartan This Land is Your Land feel, a comparison the artist acknowledges. Michael Yellowlees may be a name we are hearing a lot of over the next few years.

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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.

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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.

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Robinson names seven rookies in Scotland squad

The seven new faces named by Andy Robinson (Credit: Scottish Rugby Union)

Scotland coach Andy Robinson named seven uncapped players in his 34 man squad quad for training at St Andrews next week in preparation for the first EMC Test against New Zealand at Murrayfield next month.

Edinburgh pair Stuart McInally and Grant Gilchrist join Glasgows’ Alex Dunbar, Peter Horne, Peter Murchie, Tommy Seymour and Henry Pyrgos as the untested players named.

The addition of five uncapped players from Glasgow can be seen as a reward for their strong start to the season.

Scotland won all three tests on their summer tour against Australia, Fiji and Samoa and Robinson is keen to get the players back in the groove to build on this success. He said: “It’s some four months since Scotland last played an international so when the squad reconvenes there’ll be an element of renewing acquaintances and reigniting the spark and spirit that was such a key part of our success on our summer tour.”

However, Robinson is only too aware of the monumental challenge presented by the all conquering All Blacks, a side Scotland have never defeated. He said: “New Zealand are formidable opponents. They do the basics exceptionally well and play with a pace and ruthlessness. It’s no co-incidence that they are the best team in the world.

We must look to build on the physical commitment of our players against Australia, Fiji and Samoa. As ever the Scotland supporters are right behind us and with more than 55,000 tickets sold already for our game against New Zealand, the players are determined to give their all.”

The coach delayed naming a captain until next week with last seasons skipper Ross Ford and Saracens Kelly Brown, who returns to the squad after injury, the frontrunners for the armband.

Scotland squad (sponsor RBS) for training camp at St Andrews 29-31 October in preparation for the EMC Test against New Zealand at Murrayfield on Sunday 11 November (kick-off 2.30pm)

Backs: Mike Blair (Brive), Nick De Luca (Edinburgh Rugby), Alex Dunbar (Glasgow Warriors), Max Evans (Castres), Stuart Hogg, Peter Horne and Ruaridh Jackson (all Glasgow Warriors), Lee Jones, Greig Laidlaw (both Edinburgh Rugby), Sean Lamont (Glasgow Warriors), Rory Lawson (Newcastle Falcons), Peter Murchie, Henry Pyrgos (both Glasgow Warriors), Matt Scott (Edinburgh Rugby), Tommy Seymour (Glasgow Warriors) and Tim Visser (Edinburgh Rugby)

Forwards: John Barclay (Glasgow Warriors), Kelly Brown (Saracens), Geoff Cross, David Denton, Ross Ford and Grant Gilchrist (all Edinburgh Rugby), Ryan Grant (Glasgow Warriors), Richie Gray (Sale Sharks), Dougie Hall (Glasgow Warriors), Jim Hamilton (Gloucester), Allan Jacobsen (Edinburgh Rugby), Alastair Kellock (Glasgow Warriors), Scott Lawson (London Irish), Stuart McInally and Ross Rennie (both Edinburgh Rugby), Tom Ryder (Glasgow Warriors), Alasdair Strokosch (Perpignan) and Kyle Traynor (Bristol Rugby).

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Tonks and Atiga return for Edinburgh Rugby

Edinburgh’s Greig Tonks

Full-back Greig Tonks and centre Ben Atiga have recovered from injury to make to make their Heineken Cup debuts for  Edinburgh against Munster on Sunday.

The duo are among five changes made by head coach Michael Bradley as his team look to bounce back from last week’s disastrous 45-0 home defeat at the hands of Saracens. Tonks and Atiga replace Tom Brown and Matt Scott, who both drop to the bench, respectively.

The capital side have a point to prove after the Saracens result but Bradley is  acutely aware that a trip to face Munster on their Limerick home turf is a daunting one. Bradley said: ““Thomond Park is a fortress, steeped in the Heineken Cup history. The fans and the players will be fired up for this, so we’ll need to front up to the physical aspects of the game from the outset.”

Bradley’s will be hoping that his changes will give his side both a physical and attacking edge for the vital fixture. Fijian Number 8 Netani Talei  returns to the back row with Stuart McInally moving to open-side flanker in place of Ross Rennie who does not make the match-day squad. Scotland prop Geoff Cross comes back into the pack at tight-head in place of Willem Nel. Club captain Greig Laidlaw has failed to recover from the shoulder injury he sustained in last week’s match  and his place at stand-off goes to Gregor Hunter while second row Sean Cox will skipper the team.

To win the match Bradley insists that Edinburgh must front up against the two-times former European champions and silence the home crowd. He said: “If we match them physically, and are patient and accurate in possession, then we have a chance to impose our game plan and not be dictated to by the Munster players and a Thomond Park crowd that will be desperate for a home win.”

Edinburgh Rugby team to play Munster in round two of the Heineken Cup at Thomond Park, Limerick (kick-off 12.45) – live on SkySports

15 Greig Tonks

14 Lee Jones
13 Nick De Luca
12 Ben Atiga
11 Tim Visser

10 Gregor Hunter
9 Richie Rees

1 John Yapp
2 Ross Ford
3 Geoff Cross
4 Grant Gilchrist
5 Sean Cox CAPTAIN
6 David Denton
7 Stuart McInally
8 Netani Talei

Substitutes
16 Andy Titterrell
17 Robin Hislop
18 Willem Nel
19 Robert McAlpine
20 Dimitri Basilaia
21 Chris Leck
22 Matt Scott
23 Tom Brown

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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.”

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