Britain left the bloc at 11pm on January 31, but not everyone in the UK has given up on EU membership. Despite Prime Minister Boris Johnson repeatedly rejecting her independence calls, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is still determined to hold a second referendum in the spring. The SNP leader believes Scots are being “dragged” out of the bloc against their will.
In a speech in Brussels earlier this year, Ms Sturgeon said: “Ultimately, when – and I believe that it is a when – Scotland gains independence, I believe that the case for us joining the EU will be an overwhelming one.”
However, while Brexit might have made the case for Scottish independence stronger, it has also made it practically more difficult.
An independent Scotland in the EU would now border a non-EU country, likely requiring infrastructure and border checks between regions whose communities are deeply intertwined – similar to the problem of the Irish border that severely complicated Brexit talks.
Scotland could also be rejected by Brussels due to its current deficit of seven percent of GDP, unless it adopted a strict austerity programme from the EU as well as potentially adopting the euro.
Nicola Sturgeon confessed Scotland’s EU membership ‘may be phased’
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Moreover, new members can only be allowed into the bloc through a unanimous vote from existing member states – and Holyrood would undoubtedly ruffle feathers if it were to join.
Despite Ms Sturgeon’s latest claims underestimating these issues, in 2017, the First Minister did actually admit joining the EU might not be so easy.
Ms Sturgeon confirmed Scotland may need a “phased” approach to becoming a full EU member.
She said that “by necessity”, in the event of a vote to break-up the UK, Scotland might have to pursue membership of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), whose members include Norway and Iceland, before achieving full EU membership.
Alex Salmond, Ms Sturgeon’s predecessor, long argued that by following the so-called “Norway model” an independent Scotland could have “continuous” membership of the EU’s single market.
However, the Scottish Conservatives said Ms Sturgeon’s position on Europe had descended into “complete chaos”.
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Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon
Former Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond
The First Minister told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that her position remained that she wanted an independent Scotland to be in the EU.
She added: ”If Scotland is independent our position always has been, as long as I’ve been in the SNP and continues to be, that we want Scotland to be a full member of the European Union.
“We have to set out, if we’re in an independence referendum, and we’re not in that right now, the process for regaining or retaining, depending on where we are in the Brexit process, EU membership.
“Now it may be that we have a phased approach to that by necessity.”
Asked whether that could mean EFTA membership first and EU membership later, she said: “It may be by necessity, even if we didn’t want that.
“We have to set that out at the time because there are still some uncertainties, many uncertainties, around the Brexit process.”
Not long after Ms Sturgeon’s interview, Norway’s former Trade Minister Monica Maeland ruled out the EFTA model for Scotland.
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Norway’s former Trade Minister Monica Maeland
At a meeting of ministers of the four EFTA members in Geneva, she claimed Scotland did not have the competence to join the organisation “for now”.
Speaking as it emerged that former First Minister Alex Salmond had held informal talks with EFTA members in Switzerland, Ms Maeland said the Scottish Government should have spoken to the UK Government instead as it was “an internal matter for the UK”.
She said: “As for now, I think Scotland has not the competence to go into this EFTA but I think this is an internal matter for the UK, so I think Scotland should talk to the government in the UK about these matters.”
Moreover, Ms Meland’s comments came as it was disclosed Ms Sturgeon had unveiled a report before the 2014 independence referendum that had warned against the so-called “Norway plan” as it was not a “desirable option” from an economic or democratic standpoint.
Murdo Fraser, the Scottish Conservatives’ Shadow Finance Minister
Murdo Fraser, the Scottish Conservatives’ Shadow Finance Minister, said at the time: “Norway’s trade minister has now joined many other European figures in pointing out that a deal like this is simply not going to happen.
“And even if it were possible, the SNP government itself said only two years ago that it would not be right for Scotland.
“The SNP’s own analysis set out that EEA membership would deprive people in Scotland of any influence over EU laws and regulations.”
He urged the SNP to work with the UK Government to help get the right Brexit deal for the entire country rather than engaging in “pointless day trips to Geneva”.