Is it just me? Did no one else pick up on the line ”This Government has confirmed it does hold legal advice on this issue.” which was part of the UK government’s statement that they would not be asking the European Commission for legal advice concerning the position of Scotland in the EU following a yes vote in the independence referendum.
My understanding was that the UK government had refused a freedom of information request at the end of last year on this very subject citing public interest in much the same way as the Scottish government did and which caused such a big stooshie. Has the ministerial code been broken to reveal the existence of this advice? I think we should be told. Interestingly it was only in the Herald that I read this part of the statement. I actually contacted them to confirm this line was in the statement which they were able to do. Searching around later I did find the full text also quoted in the Guardian. No doubt readers can provide other examples I missed. Intriguingly the story on the BBC website cut this line and reference to the advice received.
However if this advice was public knowledge I am most surprised that it was not seized upon by nationalists or the Scottish government. Given that the opposition has been screaming to see the non-existent legal advice given to the Scottish government you would have thought there might be some mild interest in seeing the evidence held by the British government, particularly as the statement goes on to say,”Based on the overwhelming weight of international precedent it is the Government’s view that the remainder of the UK would continue to exercise the UK’s existing international rights and obligations and Scotland would form a new state. The most likely scenario is that the rest of the UK would be recognised as the continuing state and an independent Scotland would have to apply to join the EU as a new state, involving negotiation with the rest of the UK and other member states, the outcome of which cannot be predicted. Recent pronouncements from the commission support that view.
Surely not only independence supporters would be interested to see this information but also the anti independence parties. If as the UK government claims their advice is that the UK would be a continuing state and that Scotland would have to apply to join the EU it would be a body blow on the European question for nationalists and a big victory for the unionists. We should demand to see the advice underpinning this statement and be happy to publish the Scottish government’s legal advice when it is received. Of course it may be that the UK government is not quite so confident as its statement would imply.
The UK government is being breathtakingly arrogant when it asserts it does not need to obtain its legal advice from the European Commission. This is a bit like me applying to join the local golf club, ignoring their rules and telling them on what terms I will join. Regardless of what legal advice is given to the UK and Scottish governments this is the EU’s club and they make the rules. Therefore it is their legal advice, no doubt influenced by international law, that will actually count in this matter.
The UK government will not release their advice until after the referendum. Of course the UK government has its political reasons for this behaviour. It is all part of the plan to spread confusion and uncertainty in the hope of frightening the Scottish electorate into a no vote. It is also highly irresponsible and a breach of its obligations to the people of the United Kingdom. It continues a pattern set last week when the Defence Secretary, Philip Hammond, announced that he would move the Royal Navy’s entire submarine fleet to Faslane and create 1500 jobs. Thus leaving the civilian workers at the existing base in Portsmouth in fear for their jobs in order to serve the Tory party’s political ends.
Where stands the European Commission? The Commission has made it clear that now that the terms for the referendum have been agreed they are perfectly willing to give an opinion on EU membership. The proviso is that they will only give this information to an existing member. At the moment this means the UK and not Scotland. In the same way that the UK government has refused to ask for this advice the Spanish government has taken the same tack.
But how long can the European Commission sit on the fence? One can understand their current position as you probably don’t want every man and his dog bothering you with requests about the EU membership of the Isle of Wight. But in the longer run this is not sustainable. This decision affects 62 million EU citizens in the UK and ultimately may affect many millions more in Spain, Belgium and Italy. I say 62 million EU citizens in the UK because this is not only a Scottish question. If, as nationalists believe, and has been strongly backed by Graham Avery, Honorary Director-General of the European Commission, both Scotland and the rUK will emerge as successor states then both will require to negotiate the terms of membership. This will include areas of democratic representation such as the number of MEPs each country would have and critically the contribution each country would have to make to the EU budget. It will not have escaped the attention of readers that the UK government suffered a defeat in the Commons over this very subject earlier in the week.
Will the European Union become a new Soviet Union and deny the right to national identity and self-determination to its citizens or will it allow those citizens to choose their own political destiny whilst embracing the family of Europe. I think we should be told.