Scottish Independence and Europe: Who does this Barroso guy think he is? - Spectator Blogs

11 December 2012

12:10 PM

11 December 2012

12:10 PM

Today’s Think Scotland column takes a gander at the rumpus over an independent Scotland’s accession to the EU. Until recently the SNP promised that said accession would be automatic. Now it’s simply “common-sense”.  This is because Jose Manuel Barroso, the Spanish Iberian agent* at the heart of the EU Commission, has made an awkward intervention. Scotland would, he says, not be an automatic member of the club at all. Intuitively this is obvious just as Scotland would not be an automatic member of the United Nations. It would have to apply. Once it applied it’s application would most probably be accepted. There are few plausible grounds upon which to reject it.

With regard to Brussels, however, the truth is that no-one quite knows precisely what would happen. It is most unlikely that Scotland would fail to meet the criteria for EU membership. It is also the case that Scotland would be in little position to dictate terms. Small countries do not have as much clout as they used to think they do. That doesn’t mean Scotland would lose out in every particular, merely that in exchange for favourable rulings on questions such as the currency and border control one would expect Scotland to have to cede ground on other matters. That’s how the game works.


But the SNP have mishandled this. As I write:

Hubris – or, if you prefer, a characteristic lack of attention to detail – has struck again. By pretending there’d be neither any downside to independence nor even any complicating matters that might ensure the journey to independence might have its rocky moments the nationalists have given their opponents the chance to make more of any obstacle than might otherwise have been the case. Even small stones can be made to seem like mighty boulders once you have assured people the road will be wholly smooth.

Had the SNP instead said something to the effect that “while of course the precise terms and conditions of Scottish entry into the EU would have to be negotiated at a later point there are no grounds for supposing a perfectly satisfactory agreement could not be reached. The Scottish government is confident all parties to these negotiations – London, Brussels and Edinburgh – will act promptly and in good faith.” True, they would have had to concede that some details – especially whether Scotland might inherit British opt-outs – are as yet unknowable but this would be preferable to the bland, cheery assurance that all will be for the best in this best of all possible worlds.

The people are not fools. Not all of them anyway. Or not all the time. They appreciate that independence is a leap into the not-quite-known. Admitting that is no great admission. But doing so purchases some credibility too. There are some questions to which the SNP cannot sensibly have an answer. Pretending not only that they do have an answer but that it is invariably the correct answer risks making them seem like chumps deluded by their own fantasies.

This is avoidable. In theory, at any rate. But it is also a reminder that, on the SNP benches, there are very few “utilitarian” nationalists. That is to say, the majority of SNP MSPs and, I fancy, the membership too, have an a priori belief in independence that is subsequently – even fortuitously – bolstered by an analysis of the costs and benefits of independence. There are precious few who could be persuaded to abandon the dream even if persuasive evidence could be placed before them demonstrating the advantages of remaining within the British Union.

That is fine and a perfectly respectable position to hold. But, alas, it is but a minority view. By comparison, there are relatively few “existentialist” nationalists amongst the general public. Hence the SNP’s “utilitarian” drive to persuade us that independence is the answer to everything that presently ails Scotland (though, of course, much of the country is not ailing at all). This is fine as far as it goes but it takes the SNP less distance than they appear to imagine. It muddies the argument, diverting attention from questions of principle towards sniping claim and counter-claim on matters that are impenetrable, unresolvable or irrelevant to the bigger, grander question at hand.

In this respect, the EU argument is a distraction from the greater issue. Detail matters, of course, but from a nationalist perspective this EU argument is akin to wrestling with a pig. Even if you win you end up dirty. The upside is limited and hard to find; the downside obvious.

Reducing uncertainty may be a necessary part of making the “utilitarian” case for independence but the mere existence of that case or argument implicitly concedes there is no great issue of principle or injustice for which Scottish independence is the obvious, necessary remedy. Uncertainty hurts the SNP but so does pretending, preposterously, there’d be no uncertainty at all.

Whole thing here. At present, it seems as though the SNP are playing this game on Unionist territory. And they are losing.

*Time, clearly, for Edinburgh University to revoke the Honorary Degree they awarded Mr Barroso.

Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.

Show comments
  • terregles2

    Scotland and Wales as small countries will be bullied and disregarded. That’s what we get at the moment therefore we wont be any worse off. Scotland is a country with rich resources and will prosper either in or out of Europe. The main thing is after Independence we will decide to stay in or out.

  • rndtechnologies786

    Nice view.

  • Watcher

    Barrosso is not that interested in Scotland, it’s just a little ‘county’ to him, he know one way or another Scotland will be back in Euroland and then he will dismantle it.

  • Fifer

    Scotland being outside of the EU would mean I would vote yes to independence. There is no such thing as independence as part of the EU. Scotland will have little influence as a new and small member of the EU, my vote will be for the first option that gets me out of Europe and that looks like the UK. Salmond/SNP have made a strange assumption that supporters of Scottish independence want to hand over the running of the country to the EU. Why is that?

  • global city

    What do these ‘independence’ parties think that those who may follow them understand the EUs’ ‘ever closer union’ to mean, especially with regards to their potential ‘independence’.
    I feel that the ‘independence’ parties who currently enjoy support in Wales, Scotland, etc, will eventually be choked by this inherent contradiction, as the EU card was only ever used as a dog whistle to say that the independent natiions could have all the protections afforded within the UK union, without the political compromises with regards to ceding sovereignty. We, of course have all been peddled this lie, as of course the EU has always been on the path to absorbing all member states independence in time.
    The Welsh and Scots should look at how small nations are disregarded and bullied right now, never mind in 20 years when ‘ever closer union’ is that much more centralised. They may think twice about betraying one largely good political union, only to be sucked to death by a quite nasty continental political one!

  • dercavalier

    Who can have any confidence in an article about the EU COMMISSION President when the writer doesn’t even know he is Portuguese and NOT Spanish

  • Hen Broon

    You can go back to 2007 when Eamonn Gallagher- former director general of the European Commission stated: “Scotland and the remainder of the UK would be equally entitled, and obliged, to continue the existing full membership of the EU. This was conceded by Emile Noel, one of Europe’s founding fathers and long-serving secretary-general of the European Commission, who said Scottish independence would create two states, which would have “equal status with each other and the other states”.

    This is backed up by Article 34 of the Vienna Convention on the Succession of States, which reads:

    “Any treaty in force at the date of succession of states in respect of the entire territory of the predecessor state continues in force in respect of each successor state so formed.”

    Or you COULD listened to Lord Mackenzie-Stuart, former president of the European Court of Justice who stated:

    “Independence would leave Scotland and something called the rest’ in the same legal boat. If Scotland had to re-apply, so would the rest. I am puzzled at the suggestion that there would be a difference in the status of Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom in terms of community law if the Act of Union was dissolved.”


    Scots along with the many other nationalities in Scotland, including over 300000 English, are citizens of the EU, it tells me that on my passport, and we have been for 40 years. Who is going to ring my doorbell and demand my passport back eh?
    Barrosso expressed opinion, which has been shown to be flawed and weak, the decision is not his to make, that would be for EU ministers. Who will know that they do not have the legal power to tell Scotland you are no longer citizens.

    No precedent or legal machinery exists in the EU to expel people who are already citizens of the EU. All this straw grasping and smearmogering has been given birth by the cravings of the desperate unionists who spend every hour of their lives grubbing and slithering around in the gutter desperately seeking the silver bullet to slay their nemisis Alex Salmond. (Remember Megrahi, and the brand new Saltires flown at Tripoli to greet him.) They honestly believe that without him the desire for Scottish independence will go away. They are so wrong.
    This wheeze to paint him as a liar quoting a piece from the Andrew Neil interview is evidence of their negative and dishonest behaviour that has seen all the unionist parties rejected in Scotland. To make the liar tag stick they had to remove 27 words from the transcript of the interview, which demonstrates their duplicity and desperation.
    Then the smearmachine tried to get the Washington Post involved (again) with an article so juvenile and illiterate in tone it must have been written by Johann Lamont and Ed Milliband. The Westminster elite are getting very scared, their fiefdom is under threat. The corrupt institutions of the UK are rotten to the core, and still they fight to survive. Scotland’s independence has now become essential and inevitable.

  • sunnydayrider

    “Hubris – or, if you prefer, a characteristic lack of attention to detail – has struck again:” Your right Mr. Massie, it has. Barroso is Portuguese not Spanish.

  • SidFalconer

    Article after article, Massie talks shite with a captial S. How he nominated for an Orwell prize is beyond me.

  • pierre

    massie merely offers up his opinion. what he fails to take cognizance of is that the Yes campaign hasn’t even begun.

  • Tamas Marcuis

    There always seems to be demands for simple yes no answers. He can’t say he makes the final decision for the EU. Serious opinion is less assured. International law “Vienna Convention On Treaty” says both Scotland and rUK would be successor states and still bound by the EU treaties. There is also the fact it would be very much in the interest of all EU states to smooth this matter out before it became a fracture. Scotland might not be comparable to a leg or an arm of Europe but its definitely like losing a few fingers. It would be noticed. If it was taken as symptomatic of how smaller countries are to be treated?

    Would it really be massively disadvantageous to Scotland? In the short term it could be very good for Scotland? So good that the Scots might not want to rejoin. How would that affect the attitudes of any disgruntled members? Do France and Germany want an example of an exit from the club? We’re not even getting to things like a joint ScotsNorseIcelandicFareo North Atlantic zone of fishing exclusion. Not a major matter but some opponents might point to the EU having peaked and now in decline to eventual dissolution. Yes that is a stretch but not in the minds of anti EU parties across Europe. Better to just to make light of the whole matter and continue on.

    Can the Unionist even say they the UK will be in the EU in five years time? If the YES campaign were saying they intended leaving I think we can count on the cynical nature of political debate for the Unionist to complete reverse their stated opinions.
    Lastly if Scotland is not bound by the EU Treaties is she bound by this logic with any treaty? Copyright, extradition, arms trading ect ect…?

    • Wessex Man

      So what is this rUk you arrogant commentator you, the yes vote in Scotland is going through the floor as Scottish people realise that their bread is most definitely buttered on the other side and that they would be in a very poor place with the English paying for their excesses through the Barnett Formula.

      However with your usual Scottish self importance you’ve failed to notice that resentment is now very high in England and will continue to grows. We’ve had enough of a country with a population less than that of London constantly bitching about us. Go do your own thing, just remember that it wasn’t the English that were responsible for the Highland Clearances but you own Clan Chiefs, that there were more Scots on Butcher Billy’s side than on Bonnie Prince Charlie’s, that he couldn’t speak anything but French.

      Have a miserable day!

      • Hen Broon

        Thankyou Wessex Man for your perfect illustration of why Scotlands Independence is inevitable. You apparently speak for England who have had enough of we Scots, and you took all the trouble to log on here to tell us so. Word of advice, no one I know in Scotland where I have lived these past several decades gives a shit. England is not the centre of Scotlands universe that would be Scotland, perhaps that is what drives your phlegm of a morning. Have a nice day, missing you already.

        • Wessex Man

          If that’s how you really feel why did you reply?

          • Wessex Man

            and another little aside for you to moan about Hen Broon, The Cato Insitute, the 14th most influential think tank in the world THINKS!

            and follows

            The country would “discover the failures of socialism pretty quickly” if responsible for it’s own economy, the Cato Institute argues. It also questions First Minister Alex Salmond’s eagerness to challenge the Washington Post’s assertion that Scotland would be unable to contribute meaningfully to global security.

            David Boaz, Executive Vice President then says-“The land of Adam Smith has become one of the poorest and most socialist parts of Great Britain. So maybe a libertarian shouldn’t look forward to Scottish Independence. The people who produced the enlightenment are smart enough to discover the failures of socialism pretty quickly if they become free, independent and responsible for their own future.”

            He means Scotland of course Hen Broon not people like you and Tamas Marcuis.

            • dercavalier

              The Cato Institute?! Haw, Haw, haw, haw, haw! A shower of right wing fanatics.

              • Wessex Man

                and your economic analysis and growth predictions come from where decavalier? The daily trash and slash and the Sunday soapsuds going by previous comments from which were so cutting edge?

                Are you Minister of poorly propaganda for the fatty First Minister?

                • GEORGEROV

                  Wessex man falls into the trap of personal insults against the FM . Shows his arguement is shallow and lost !.

      • Tamas Marcuis

        Another ethnic based rant without relation to the matter under discussion. You could have copy pasted this behind any post on the internet.

  • themiddleground

    The SNP keep shouting from the rooftops about how great things are in Norway and that we should look to them as an example of a similarly sized country that is ‘independent’. Norway, of course, are not members of the EU.
    Why in that case must Scotland join the EU in the first place? Surely if we can make it on our own there can be no reasonable argument for entering such a union?
    Or can the SNP’s plans for investment not succeed without handouts from the EU?

  • MichtyMe

    Can we have a guarantee from Unionists, that if Scotland votes No, it will never be outwith the EU?

  • Judy

    The reason why Scotland will have a very tough time getting into the EU is that there are key EU members who will go to almost any length to avoid precedents being set for their own regions to make similar bids for independence under the EU flag.

    The most obvious is Spain, where there is a very strong Catalonian independence movement — not to mention the Basques– and there’s the Belgian Flem-Walloon movements for separation. All the member states have to agree to a new member. Why should Spain say yes?

  • George Igler

    Barroso is Portuguese.

    • Tamas Marcuis

      I think it can be agreed he could be placed under great pressure, as a senior civil servant, by the Spanish goverment. He has made sweeping statements that don’t make any mention of the inclusion of East Germany with little more than a few grumbles from Margaret Thatcher. There seems to be no legal logic involved or even reference to the article 50. Even UN Treaty Law contradicts his statements in the area of joint sovereignty.

  • andrew kerins

    In its introverted little world, much of the Scottish political class thinks that the outside world; (a) takes Scotland as seriously as Scotland takes itself. (b) is populated by nice people who want only to be nice to the nice Scots. If they had been watched how the Irish were told to vote in favour of the Lisbon Treaty – and foolishly did so – they would not be surprized by Barroso.

    • KS1982

      If the Irish hadn’t voted for the Lisbon Treaty they would be in even worse shape than they are now. Not that I’m a fan of the EU but it is worth pointing out.

      • emale

        That may be true if they remained shackled to the Euro, but Iceland has done a much better job of looking after its people than Ireland has and will emerge from their difficulties sooner and in better shape than Ireland can possibly hope for.

        • GEORGEROV

          Aided by the fact they let their banks go to the wall and didn’t bail them out (rightly in my opinion ) and increased taxes sharply on basic items . we should have done the same .